Madrid celebrates as Catalonia looks for positives
Rajoy says Scottish people made right choice but Artur Mas admits result is setback
Catalan leader Artur Mas said staging of the referendum itself had been a triumph that Spain should let Catalonia emulate. Photograph: David Ramos/Getty Images
The Spanish government yesterday warmly welcomed Scotland’s decision not to secede from the UK, just hours before the northeastern region of Catalonia approved a law paving the way for a controversial independence referendum of its own.
Catalan nationalists’ plan to hold a November 9th non-binding referendum, which the central government deems illegal, has dragged Spain into a political crisis. It also meant Spaniards on both sides of the debate watched the Scottish vote with keen interest.
Although Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has repeatedly played down comparisons between the two scenarios, he took the unusual step of issuing a prerecorded video reaction to Thursday’s result.
“With their decision, the Scottish people have avoided the serious economic, social, institutional and political consequences that their separation from the UK and Europe would have caused. Yesterday they chose between segregation and integration, between isolation and openness, between stability and uncertainty, between security and certain risk.”
“What we’ve seen in Scotland is the way, the right way, the only way to resolve political problems,” said the head of the Catalan government, Artur Mas, in a press conference.
He conceded the victory of the “No” campaign had been a setback for Catalonia’s own independence project, but only in that it meant the issue of a newly independent state’s EU membership would not be tackled.
Mr Mas said the staging of the referendum itself had been a triumph that Spain should let Catalonia emulate and insisted that he planned to continue with the November vote.
“Is Catalonia less than Scotland?” he asked. “Is Catalonia less of a nation, less mobilised than Scotland when it comes to deciding its own future?”
Last week, on Catalonia’s annual national day, hundreds of thousands of people filled the streets of Barcelona to demand that the November referendum should go ahead.
Catalonia has 7.5 million inhabitants and its economy is the largest of all of Spain’s 17 regions. Nationalists complain it pays out much more in taxes than it receives in investment from the state. They also say Madrid interferes in the region’s affairs and refuses to acknowledge its distinct identity.
Yesterday, the Catalan regional parliament overwhelmingly approved a law setting out the legal framework for the November referendum, the final step before Mr Mas is expected to announce the vote officially.
The central government has warned it will use any legal mechanisms available to thwart the referendum, starting with an appeal before the constitutional court.
There has been increasing speculation Mr Mas will delay the referendum if it is blocked. However, he is also under pressure from fellow pro-independence groups, particularly the Catalan Republican Left , to ignore the opposition of the central government and stage the ballot anyway.
Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez drew parallels between a federal “third way” alternative his party is proposing and the increased autonomy that British prime minister David Cameron has promised the Scots.
“[The Scottish people] have chosen in an undeniable way self-government, the strengthening of their institutions and above all to share their future with the rest of the UK,” he said. “That’s a lesson we should heed in Spain.”