Catalonia independence: ‘There will be ballots’, says Catalan leader despite Madrid court ruling to suspend referendum

Artur Mas now plans a 'consultation', but conceded that the 9 November poll had now become a 'preliminary vote before the definitive one'

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The Independent Online

The Catalan President Artur Mas has announced new plans for an alternative, non-binding, vote on independence from Spain – in what appeared to be a last-ditch attempt to outflank a Madrid court ruling that had suspended next month’s referendum on exactly the same question.

Mr Mas’ latest manoeuvre, predictably enough, has infuriated Spanish politicians already opposed to the Catalan referendum. But in a lengthy press conference, Mr Mas insisted a legal framework existed for a consultation to go ahead.

“There will be ballots and ballot boxes. We can’t apply the decree [to hold a referendum] but it will be possible to vote,” said Mr Mas. His plans are for 20,000 volunteers to oversee the procedure, as civil servants’ would be breaking the law if they actively participated, with a result announced – just like the initial referendum – on 10 November.

Seemingly keen to emphasise similarities between his earlier plans and the new goal of a “consulta” (consultation), Mr Mas made his announcement in the same Barcelona government building where, just a few weeks before, he had signed off the legislation allowing the original referendum to go ahead. The voting forms would contain the same question as the referendum, he added – something Spain’s Justice Minister, Rafael Catalá, later said might be challenged in court.

While Madrid conservative media instantly ridiculed the new plan, calling it “a pantomime”, Mr Mas conceded that the vote on 9 November had now become a “preliminary vote before the definitive one”. A “definitive” vote could now only happen in normal elections, he said, which all nationalist parties should fight with a joint manifesto – “thereby becoming a de facto referendum”.

Political analysts argue that the Catalan president’s new plan, produced after a lengthy meeting on Monday between the pro-referendum parties ended without agreement, aims to outmanouvre the suspension of the original referendum.

“He has exhausted [the possibilities] of one direction, and now opened up another,” argued David Gonzalez, political editor-in-chief of Catalonia’s respected La Vanguardia newspaper, argued,

However, Mr Mas has also admitted that after Monday’s 10-hour meeting – the third in 10 days – any unity between his allies was in danger of crumbling. “Right now there is no consensus,” he said.

Indeed, Mr Mas’ new proposal has already seen one pro-referendum ally, the CUP party, announce it will not support a single nationalist ticket in any upcoming elections. Another, the left-wing ICV party, said it did not support the new, watered-down, “consulta”, either. “This country deserves a consulta which is worthy of the name, with cast-iron guarantees,” Joan Herrera, the leader of the ICV, argued, before saying Mr Mas’ new plan “was not that”.

Meanwhile in Madrid, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy warmly welcomed initial reports this morning that the referendum had been cancelled, calling it “excellent news”.

“Excellent news sometimes only lasts a few hours,” Mr Mas responded sharply a little later, where he announced that the referendum had in fact been substituted by the alternative consulta. However, Mr Rajoy’s Partido Popular [PP] party poured fresh scorn, too, on Mr Mas new plan.

“He can’t carry out the referendum, it’s over...all is he looking for is a way out so as not to appear ridiculous,” claimed Alicia Sánchez-Camacho, the PP’s president in Catalonia.