Catalan MPs vote to hold independence referendum

The Catalonian parliament emphatically passed the regional law to call a vote. Pic: AFP
The Catalonian parliament emphatically passed the regional law to call a vote. Pic: AFP
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THE parliament in Spain’s Catalonia region overwhelmingly gave its leader the power to call an independence referendum, a move that the central government in Madrid has denounced as illegal, just a day after Scotland’s own independence poll.

The prospect of an independent Scotland had captivated European independence movements. Besides the Catalans, their ranks include pro-independence Basques in northern Spain; Corsicans who want to break away from France; Italians from several northern regions; and Flemish speakers in Belgium demanding more autonomy, independence or union with the Netherlands.

Ferran Abello, a 38-year-old dog trainer, said if Scotland had chosen independence that would have provided a roadmap for how to break up a nation that would later seek to re-enter the 28-nation European Union.

“There are steps that Scotland would have taken first,” he said in the Catalan capital, Barcelona. “But they had the chance to vote and voted No, so we will have to knock that door down.”

Scotland’s decision could delay successful secessionist efforts for years, said Marc Hooghe, a political science professor at the University of Leuven in Belgium.

“The Scots could have led the way for other regions. They failed. So we will need a new `pioneer’ now, and that new pioneer has much less opportunity to get EU membership in a smooth manner,” he said.

Catalonia’s regional president, Artur Mas, supported a Yes vote in Scotland, but stressed Catalans simply want the same chance as Scots.

Four Catalonians drive 1,500 miles to support Yes

“What happened in Scotland and the United Kingdom is not a setback for us because what we really want in Catalonia is to have the chance to vote, the same possibility,” Mas said.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has repeatedly said he will block a planned Nov. 9 vote for Catalans in the wealthy northeastern region of 7.5 million people.

Unlike the Scotland vote, the referendum in Catalonia wouldn’t result in secession. It would ask Catalans whether they favor secession. If the answer is Yes, Mas says that would give him a political mandate to negotiate a path toward independence.

But Spain’s constitution doesn’t allow referendums that don’t include all Spaniards, and experts say its Constitutional Court would rule the vote illegal.

Later Friday, the Catalan parliament voted 106-28 to give Mas the power to call a referendum. He didn’t say when he would sign a decree needed to set the vote.

Santi Rodriguez, a member of the Catalan parliament who represents Rajoy’s center-right Popular Party, said it wouldn’t be fair for Catalonia’s citizens to be the only voters.

“There are not just 7 million of us who would be affected by this, there are 47 million,” he said.

Rajoy didn’t mention the situation in Catalonia in his reaction to Scotland’s vote. He congratulated “Scottish citizens who yesterday decided in a clear and unequivocal manner to continue being part of the United Kingdom, and consequently, the European Union.”

Catalonia shares cultural traits with the rest of Spain, but many Catalans take pride in the deep differences based on their language. The region, a financial powerhouse, is key to helping Spain emerge from its economic crisis. But many Catalans feel short-changed by the economic benefits the region provides to the rest of Spain.

Get the latest referendum news, opinion and analysis from across Scotland and beyond on our new Scottish Independence website

Polls indicate Catalans are roughly evenly split on independence - but that figure drops significantly when people are asked if they favor an independent Catalonia outside the European Union.

Italy’s Northern League party sent half a dozen observers to Scotland in hopes a Yes victory would boost its own push for greater autonomy for the northern Veneto and Lombard regions.

“At least the Scots went to the polls,” said Matteo Mognaschi, one of the League’s observers in Edinburgh. “They won’t even let us vote here.”