Catalans braced for divisive independence vote

Two-thirds plan to vote if referendum goes ahead despite Madrid’s attempts to block it

Catalan independence supporters gather at the Montjuich fountains in Barcelona on Friday ahead of Sunday’s planned referendum. Photograph: Felipe Dana/AP

Catalan independence supporters gather at the Montjuich fountains in Barcelona on Friday ahead of Sunday’s planned referendum. Photograph: Felipe Dana/AP


A controversial referendum on Catalan independence which has plunged Spain into its deepest political crisis for decades is scheduled for this Sunday, with uncertainty surrounding the vote due to the Spanish government’s opposition to it.

According to the northeastern region’s nationalist government, 5.3 million voters will be eligible to vote yes or no to the question: “Do you want Catalonia to be an independent state in the form of a republic?”

If a majority answers yes, then the Catalan parliament intends to make a proclamation of independence within 48 hours of the results being confirmed.

However, it is unclear whether the referendum will go ahead as planned or even at all, due to measures taken by the central government of Mariano Rajoy which deems it illegal.

Íñigo Méndez de Vigo, spokesman for the central government, said on Friday that it would ensure the law is obeyed, adding that “we are all responsible for our acts and whoever breaks the law will have to face the consequences”.

Several thousand police reinforcements have been deployed to Catalonia from other parts of Spain ahead of the referendum. In addition, the government has taken control of part of the region’s finances in an effort to prevent public money being used for the vote.

On September 20th, civil guards raided premises of the Catalan regional government, arresting officials before seizing millions of voting slips and other electoral material.

Regional police

The central government has ordered the Catalan regional police to come under its control for the referendum and to guard schools across the region in order to prevent voting from taking place in them.

However, the Catalan government remains defiant.

“Even if you close one school and take away one, or 100, or 200 ballot boxes, there are many ways of voting,” said Jordi Turull, spokesman for the Catalan administration. “Because there are a lot of schools, a lot of ways of ensuring citizens vote.”

Families started to occupy schools on Friday night intending to defy Madrid, and an internal memo leaked to the Spanish media hinted that the regional police would disregard the Spanish government orders and allow people to vote.

Catalan deputy premier Oriol Junqueras said there would be 2,315 voting stations and he also showed off one of the ballot boxes his government plans to use on the day.

Although pro-independence Catalans have tended to be a minority in recent years and many observers had expected the turnout on Sunday to be low, the Spanish state’s crackdown on the referendum appears to have galvanised many people to vote.

A poll published by La Sexta television on Friday showed that 52 per cent of Catalans are in favour of the referendum. Fifty-five per cent of those polled said they were “not pro-independence”. A GAPS survey showed about two-thirds of Catalans intended to vote.

Voting logistics

Agricultural workers took to the streets across the region on Friday, to demand the right to vote, with 400 tractors driving through central Barcelona, brandishing the red-and-yellow Catalan independence flag.

The Spanish authorities have continued their efforts to thwart the logistics of the vote right up to the day of the referendum. A judge called on Google to withdraw from its app store an application designed to inform Catalans about where and how to cast their vote on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the European Union has been following developments, apparently concerned at the mounting tension in Spain.

European Parliament president Antonio Tajani said that although “on a legal level Madrid is right”, there would need to be political discussions the day after the referendum.

“This is a test for Spanish democracy,” said sociologist Josep Lobera. “It’s a very uncertain situation and I’m not sure if we have the politicians who can rise to the occasion.”