Catalan Parliament votes to hold independence referendum


   By a Newsnet reporter

For the first time in Catalan history, the Catalan Parliament has approved a motion to hold an independence referendum soon after the next elections, which are being brought forward to November 25.  84 deputies voted in favour of the motion, 21 voted against, and 25 – mostly from the PSC (Partit Socialiste Catalá Catalan Socialist Party, broadly equivalent to the Labour party in Scottish politics) – abstained.  One PSC representative, former Education Minister Ernest Maragall, broke party ranks and voted in favour of the motion.

The resolution, jointly proposed by the ruling CiU (Convergencia i Unió, a coalition of centre-right Catalan parties) and the opposition ERC (Esquerra Republicana Catalana – Catalan Republican Left), does not specify an exact date or question for the referendum.  The smaller Ecosocialist party proposed an amendment making it obligatory for the referendum to be held within the next four years, but this was out-voted.

The decision to bring forward elections to the Catalan Parliament to November 25 was made after the Catalan government, led by Artur Mas of the CiU, proposed to Madrid that a separate Catalan tax agency should be created, similar to the one already in operation in the Basque Country.  However this was rejected outright by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the Partido Popular, who claimed it was contrary to the Spanish Constitution.  

Given the refusal by Madrid to consider Catalonia’s demands, the CiU, which has traditionally been wary of outright support for independence, then said they would seek a referendum on an independent Catalonia.

If opinion polls are to be believed, the CiU is likely to win an absolute majority at the elections on Nov 25.  This would strengthening the push towards independence and deliver a major blow to Mr Rajoy, who has called for national unity to counter the country’s economic crisis.

Catalan anger is fuelled by public awareness that Catalonia pays 16 billion euros more to the Spanish state than it receives, while Madrid announces budget cuts of €40 billion.  On the celebrations to mark Catalonia’s national day La Diada on September 11, 1.5 million people filled the streets of Barcelona calling for Catalan independence.  Recent opinion polls suggest that there is an absolute majority in favour of Catalan independence, supporters of the creation of an independent Catalan state apparently outnumber the combined number of those against and those who don’t know.

The Catalan parliament has passed the independence referendum decision despite the fact that the Spanish constitution expressly denies the right of any part of the Spanish state to seek self-determination.  Thursday’s historic vote in the Catalan capìtal of Barcelona will be seen as a direct challenge to the unpopular Madrid government.

It is certain that the Madrid government will attempt to overturn yesterday’s Catalan vote in the courts. In a furious response to the Catalan decision, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría said last night that Mr Rajoy’s goverment was prepared to “make use of all instruments” in order to block the referendum, and added that not only did the Spanish goverment possess all the necessary legal authority to block the referendum, but that it would use them.

In a further statement, the secretary general of the Partido Popular María Dolores de Cospedal, raised the level of Madrid’s threats by saying that the Spanish government had not ruled out making the holding of the referendum a criminal offence, and adding that it was “resoundingly illegal” and that the Spanish government “would not consent to a political leader who does not uphold the law”.  Ms Cospedal was speaking in response to an editorial in yesterday’s El Mundo newspaper which called for Mr Mas to be arrested if he went ahead with the

The referendum move by the Catalan government comes as market pressure increases on the beleaguered Spanish government.  The Spanish economy continues to stagnate.  News that Catalonia, which is responsible for one fifth of Spain’s economic output, is to hold an independence referendum caused further jitters on the markets last night.