Proudly displaying two Spanish flags he brought to wave at a Vox rally, retired police officer Jose Antonio Corrales Sierra says he will vote for the far-right party in Sunday’s election and is ditching the mainstream PP conservatives because of Catalonia.

The northeastern region’s independence drive has been an agent of radical change. It was instrumental in triggering the election, has been a pivotal issue throughout campaigning and is expected to be crucial in determining the composition of the next government.

“I used to vote PP, but I will never do it again because they are traitors,” said 61-year-old Corrales Sierra, blaming the party, in office in 2017 when Catalonia defied national authorities to hold an independence referendum, for not doing enough to prevent that banned vote.

The pensioner’s words struck as irrevocable a tone as his actions, but reflected the unbridled emotions in play in the wider debate over national identity that has polarised the country like no other and whose consequences the right wing parties may have misjudged.

“Traitor” is, after all, what PP leader Pablo Casado labelled Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, simply for his willingness to enter discussions with Catalonia’s separatists. Sanchez has consistently opposed any move towards independence.

Vox chief Santiago Abascal called him “insane” and told the rally in Toledo attended by Corrales Sierra that Spain’s survival as a nation was at stake.

Centre-right Ciudadanos’ leader Albert Rivera, meanwhile, said Sanchez wanted to “liquidate” the country.

Things are much calmer on the ground in Catalonia than in October 2017 when the crisis upended Spanish politics, helping Vox rise from near-anonymity to the certainty of becoming the first far-right party to sit in parliament in almost 40 years.

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