Catalan vote faces legal action by Spain

Catalonia’s non-binding independence referendum may be derailed by courts

Pro-independence supporters display banners reading “Live free or die”and “We are a nation” in front of the Palau de la Generalitat in Barcelona. Photograph: Gustau Nacarino/Reuters

Pro-independence supporters display banners reading “Live free or die”and “We are a nation” in front of the Palau de la Generalitat in Barcelona. Photograph: Gustau Nacarino/Reuters

 

“Today is the beginning of a new road that will represent a new chapter in the long history of Catalonia,” said Catalan premier Artur Mas on Saturday, after signing the decree allowing the non-binding referendum to take place. In a highly symbolic setting, he delivered his speech in Catalan, Spanish and English as he stood next to a statute of St Jordi, Catalonia’s patron, in the regional presidency building in Barcelona.

“In a democracy, we must solve the challenges that lie ahead of us with more democracy. It should scare no one that somebody expresses their opinion with a vote at the ballot box.”

Independence yes or no

The central government in Madrid insists the referendum would violate the constitution and has promised to block it by lodging appeals before the Constitutional Court in the coming days. Those appeals will seek to neutralise both a “referendum law” approved by the Catalan regional parliament earlier this month and Mr Mas’s decree. Once the appeals are registered, the referendum law and decree will automatically be suspended. The court is then widely expected to rule against them.

Dividing Catalan society

She added that the Spanish people as a whole should be consulted on the future of one of the country’s 17 regions, rather than just 7.5 million Catalans.

The unionist organisation, Catalan Civil Society, issued a statement in which it accused Mr Mas of “dramatising the conflict with the Spanish government . . . in a way that is both dangerous and irresponsible.”

While the Spanish government’s legal actions are entirely expected, Mr Mas’s response to them is less certain. He has repeatedly said he wants the referendum to take place within a legal framework, which suggests he might postpone the vote if it is blocked. However, pressure is building on him from pro-independence grass roots groups and radical political parties. In the meantime, nationalists are expected to stage a series of pro-referendum demonstrations as the date approaches.