Catalans vote on whether to remain in Spain

Economic woes are fuelling separatist feeling in the region

Catalonia's 300-year-old internal debate on whether it wants to remain part of Spain or gain full independence enters a crucial phase today in regional elections that could see the region's 7.5 million people take their first definitive steps towards forming a new European state.

Polls this year have indicated pro-separatist feeling in Catalonia is running at its highest ever since Spain returned to democracy in the mid-1970s, with anything up to 57 per cent of Catalans saying that they want their own country – a figure that has nearly doubled since Spain's current economic turmoil began in 2008. And Catalonia's regional government, run by the conservative nationalist Convergence and Union (CiU) party, has centred almost its entire election campaign on the promise of a referendum on independence within the next four years.

Although polling is not permitted in the week leading up to elections in Spain, pro-independence parties are expected to take the majority of the Catalan parliament's 135 seats by a comfortable margin, with the CiU retaining its position as the biggest party. The largest left-leaning nationalist party, the Republican Left (ERC), is predicted to make the biggest gains of any grouping, doubling its seats to around 18.

"There is a sense of anticipation in the air, similar to that which preceded the 11 September demonstration," Catalan journalist Lluis Simon said on Friday, referring to Catalonia's biggest pro-independence show of strength of recent times, when more than a million people took to the streets of Barcelona this autumn. "Everybody knows how important these elections are. Postal votes are up by 40 per cent already."

Should the nationalists retain or increase their majority, CiU's president Artur Mas has promised he will hold all-party talks, with the referendum process getting under way by early January 2013.

However, Catalonia's possible path towards independence is set to be anything but obstacle-free. The Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's ruling Partido Popular (PP) has taken a tough line on defending the status quo for Catalonia – and is expected to increase its number of seats in the parliament. The PP has repeatedly stated that a referendum held in just one of Spain's 17 regions is not permitted under the country's constitution. Mr Rajoy himself has warned Catalan voters of the perils of "buying a one-way ticket to an unknown destination".

There have even been rumblings of discontent among Spain's military, with one association of retired and active officers saying that war should be declared on an independent Catalonia. And the ex-Civil Guard colonel, Antonio Tejero, who co-led a failed coup d'état attempt in 1981, has filed a court case against Mr Mas this week for "his continuous attempts to get an important part of Spain to secede".

The Catalan electorate, famous in the rest of Spain for their hard-headed business acumen, appears to be concerned primarily with economic rather than political or military matters: whether Catalonia, responsible for around a fifth of Spain's economic output, would have to rejoin the European Union. Although separatists argue that the EU would have to respect a large vote in favour of self-determination, polls show Catalans have considerably less support for nationhood if it means being outside the EU.

The voters' jitters about leaving the EU are understandable: despite being one of Spain's richest regions, Catalonia is in dire economic straits. Having overspent for the last decade, it is unable to borrow on the markets because its debt has been downgraded to junk status, and Mr Mas has already had to ask Madrid for a €5.4bn bailout.

Madrid's right-leaning media play on these fears: "[Catalonia] would lack the euro's stability, have a devalued currency, generating inflation, loss of capital and a rise in the cost of its imports", claimed the conservative ABC newspaper yesterday. "Catalonia would be a non-aligned country, suffering from isolation." A boycott of Catalan products in Spain, which receives around 45 per cent of its exports, seems certain, as well as Spain probably blocking any attempt to join the EU.

However, although most of the 40 or so major multinational companies in the region remain silent on their future in an independent Catalonia, a survey this summer of tens of thousands of smaller and medium-sized companies in the region came out with a majority in favour of splitting from Spain. And nobody denies that widespread general resentment in Catalonia over what they regard as an excessive contribution to Madrid's tax coffers – to the tune of €16bn, Mr Mas's government has claimed – and alleged neglect of Catalonia's transport system in a time of recession has helped to fuel nationalist sentiment.

"While we had a euro in our purses, we were willing to be robbed [by Spain]," one pro-Catalan independence activist, Joan Vericat, said last week. "But now we haven't got anything at all – we've had enough."

Suggested Topics
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn