Opposition to Catalan independence grows

Barcelona government under increasing pressure to rethink secessionist strategy

Protesters hold Spanish flags during a demonstration in Barcelona on Sunday called by “Societat Civil Catalana” (Catalan Civil Society) to support the unity of Spain. Photograph:  Jorge Guerrero/AFP/Getty Images

Protesters hold Spanish flags during a demonstration in Barcelona on Sunday called by “Societat Civil Catalana” (Catalan Civil Society) to support the unity of Spain. Photograph: Jorge Guerrero/AFP/Getty Images

 

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Barcelona on Sunday to voice opposition to the Catalan government’s plans to issue a unilateral declaration of independence. With Madrid insisting it will maintain Spain’s territorial unity and a number of major businesses moving their tax base out of the region, pressure is building on the Catalan government to rethink its secessionist strategy.

The demonstration took place exactly a week after a referendum on independence organised by the Catalan government of Carles Puigdemont and which the Spanish administration deemed illegal.

Sunday’s march was the biggest show of force by unionists since the Catalan crisis began, reflecting their concern at the speed with which things are moving. It followed other demonstrations across Spain on Saturday in which participants called on Madrid and the Catalan government to talk.

Peruvian-Spanish novelist Mario Vargas Llosa told Sunday’s demonstrators that they were “democrats who do not believe they are traitors, Catalans who do not consider the adversary an enemy, who believe in democracy, in freedom, in the rule of law, in the constitution”.

Notable absentee

Senior figures in the conservative Popular Party (PP) of prime minister Mariano Rajoy were present, as were members of Ciudadanos, which also opposes Catalonia’s right to stage a referendum. However, the opposition Socialist Party was a notable absentee, as was the leftist Podemos, which proposes a negotiated, Scotland-style referendum.

The October 1st referendum results showed 90 per cent of participants favoured independence, although turnout was only 43 per cent. Police disrupted the vote after the courts had ruled it unconstitutional.

In an interview with El País newspaper, Mr Rajoy pledged that “this battle will be fought and it will be won” and refused to rule out triggering an article in the constitution that would allow his government to wrest back Catalonia’s autonomous powers. He also said he could not consider accepting the Catalan government’s offer to negotiate while it wielded the threat of independence.

Businesses to move

In recent days several major businesses have announced they will move their registered offices out of Catalonia, including lenders Sabadell and Caixabank and energy giant Gas Natural.

Mr Puigdemont is scheduled to appear in the Catalan parliament on Tuesday, an occasion he could use to issue an independence declaration.

However, there are reports that the corporate exodus and other pressures within his government could mean he at least delays issuing a declaration of secession. El Mundo newspaper said Mr Puigdemont had met with business leader Juan José Brugera over the weekend and that those present had the impression that the Catalan leader “is looking for ways to buy time”.