Madrid and Barcelona’s war of words over Catalan referendum

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  By a Newsnet reporter

The war of words between the Catalan Government and the Spanish Government in Madrid continues to worsen, with no sign that a compromise is about to be reached.  

Last week, the Catalan Parliament overwhelmingly passed a historic resolution calling for an independence referendum to be held as soon as possible after the elections to the body, due to be held on November 25.  

The resolution provoked a furious response from the government in Madrid, which denounced the Catalan plan as illegal and contrary to the Spanish Constitution. 

Section 2 of the Spanish Constitution states:

“The Constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards; it recognises and guarantees the right to self-government of the nationalities and regions of which it is composed and the solidarity among them all.”  

According to an opinion poll published this weekend in El Periódico newspaper, 71.3% of Catalans support the decision to hold an independence referendum.  Advance releases of an opinion poll due to be published in La Vanguardia say that the parties which support independence are likely to make big gains in the November 25 elections.   

If the poll findings are reliable, the pro-independence parties will gain at least another 10 seats in the Catalan Parliament, at the expense of the anti-independence parties.  The increased majority will take the pro-Catalan sovereignty parties over the 2/3 threshold required to make changes to the Catalan statute of autonomy.  

The Prime Minister of the Spanish Government, Mariano Rajoy of the Partido Popular, today used to a pre-election gathering of Partido Popular supporters in the Basque Country to launch an attack on Catalan and Basque nationalism.  

According to Mr Rajoy, those who “are determined to break Spain” are “going against the current of the times” and are impeding the advance of Spain’s struggle against the economic crisis facing the country.

Mr Rajoy said: “The worst thing that could be done in the face of the crisis is to upset political stability.  Instability is the enemy of the economy.

“We’re going to tell them [the Catalan Government] that provoking division and confrontation is the worst thing to do in a critical situation.”  

On Thursday, the Spanish Government said in a statement in reponse to the Catalan decision that it would “take all necessary steps” to block the referendum plans.  

The right wing Spanish press has called for the Catalan referendum to be declared a criminal act, and have demanded the arrest of Catalan Prime Minister Artur Mas should he proceed.  In an editorial in the business newspaper El Mundo Financiero Mr Mas was described as “that traitor who intends to become the president of another country”.

However, emboldened by September 11’s mass demonstration in favour of independence, when 1.5 million took to the streets of Barcelona to demand that Catalonia become “a new European state”, the Catalan Government is determined to press ahead.  

Speaking in Barcelona on Friday, Mr Mas said:

“We’re not keen on doing things which may be outside the bounds of legality, but no one can impede a people who have 1000 years of history, who have a project for the future and want to ensure their wellbeing, from declaring on their future.”

The Catalan Prime Minister asserted that after the November 25 the Catalan legislature would implement its referendum plans, irrespective of whether Madrid gave permission or not.

The desire for independence has grown in the last few years in Catalonia.  The current Spanish financial crisis has convinced many Catalans that they would be economically more secure if they did not form a part of Spain.