Exclusive – Catalonia may hold indy ref days before Scotland votes


   By a Newsnet reporter

The ERC (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya – Republican Left of Catalonia), the second largest in the coalition of pro-independence parties governing Catalonia, is urging that the date of the country’s independence referendum be brought forward to the first fortnight in September 2014.

The party fears that a possible No vote in Scotland’s independence referendum, due to be held on September 18 2014, may discourage Catalans from opting for an independent Catalan state.

In an interview this weekend with Europa Press, Marta Rovira, the Secretary General of the ERC, said that her party was in favour of bringing forward the date of the Catalan referendum, because “Catalan experts see the risk that the Scottish referendum may end up being an influence in the Catalan process”. 

Ms Rovira said that she favoured holding Catalonia’s independence referendum some time between the European elections due in May 2014, and the Scottish independence referendum on September 18.  The ERC is understood to be pressing for the Catalan referendum to be held on Sunday 7th or Sunday 14th September.  Sunday is the traditional day for holding elections in much of Europe.

Ms Rovira ruled out holding the Catalan referendum on the same day as Scotland’s referendum, as this would mean the vote being held on a Thursday.  She noted that in Catalonia people “are not used to voting on a work day”, and said that the ERC would prefer holding the ballot on the nearest Sunday before or after September 11 2014. 

September 11 is La Diada – the Catalan national day.  This would see the vote held on Sunday September 7 or September 14.

Last year over one and a half million Catalans took to the streets on La Diada to demand independence, and this year pro-independence campaigners hope that up to a million will participate in a human chain running from Catalonia’s border with France in the north, to the southern border on the Ebro river.  Holding the independence referendum close to La Diada will capitalise on pro-nationalist sentiment, and independence campaigners believe this will produce the best chance of a large vote in favour of a Catalan state.

The pro-independence parties governing Catalonia have agreed that the referendum must be held before the end of 2014, but it is thought that the CiU – the other large party in the pro-independence coalition – favours holding the Catalan vote either simultaneously with the Scottish referendum, or shortly afterwards.

For the ERC, Ms Rovira stressed that she was merely stating her party’s proposal, but recognised that the final date of the referendum must be agreed by all parties and was subject to negotiation.

The Spanish government in Madrid has said that it would refuse to recognise Catalan independence, and has repeatedly stated that any referendum would be invalid and illegal.  Madrid cites the Spanish constitution, which declares Spain to be “indivisible”. 

Madrid has threatened to veto Catalan accession to the EU, and reportedly has even studied the possibility of a military occupation of Catalonia in order to forestall independence. 

However it was reported in the Spanish media that after defence chiefs presented their plans to the Spanish government, the idea was ruled out due to the excessive cost.  It was also felt that Catalan resistance to Spanish military occupation could result in violence and loss of life which would do incalculable damage to Spain’s international reputation.

Madrid insists that the Scottish and Catalan situations are totally different from one another, as the UK constitutional settlement does permit an independence referendum in Scotland, and a Yes vote on September 18 2014 will be recognised and accepted by the Westminster Parliament. 

Speaking in London after the international conference on Somalia in February this year, Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo confirmed that Spain would accept Scottish independence and would not attempt to block Scottish membership of the EU.

Mr García-Margallo said: “If the two parts of the United Kingdom are in agreement that [Scottish independence] is in accord with their constitutional arrangement, written or unwritten, Spain would have nothing to say, we would simply maintain that it does not affect us.”

With opinion polls in Scotland apparently showing a lead for the No vote, many in Catalonia fear that a Scottish rejection of independence may discourage Catalans from voting Yes in their own referendum.  However most in Catalonia depend upon mainstream UK media outlets for their news about Scottish affairs, meaning that few in Catalonia appreciate the true strength of pro-independence sentiment in Scotland.

Catalans also find it peculiar that in Scotland there is little in the way of the massive pro-independence demonstrations which characterise the Catalan campaign.  With a sunny and warm Mediterranean climate, Catalonia is far more suited to outdoors events than cold and wet Scotland. 

According to opinion polls, independence currently enjoys a massive lead amongst the Catalan population.  The most recent poll from the Centre d’Estudis d’Opinió shows Yes enjoys the support of 55.6%, with No on just 23.4%.  20.4% said they would abstain, did not know, or would not give a response.  Translated into a referendum, this would produce a Yes vote of 70.4%.

A Yes vote from Catalonia just days before the Scottish referendum may have a significant impact on the Scottish result, encouraging waverers to opt for independence.