A Referendum in Catalunya

Although entirely unrecorded by the London-based media, I came across a story that I think will be of interest to all those who want to see stateless nations in Europe become independent.

As I'm sure many of us will know, the Spanish Constitutional Court's response to calls for referendums on independence in both Euskadi (the Basque Country) and Catalunya has been to prevent such referendums from taking place at all on the grounds that they are against the Spanish constitution. That was what happened to Juan José Ibarretxe's proposed referendum this time last year.

The situation in Catalunya has been slightly different in that the Statute of Autonomy of Catalunya was passed by the Cortes in Madrid and supported by 73% in a referendum in 2006. However its legitimacy has been challenged and it still waits to be fully implemented, pending a decision by the Spanish Constitutional Court which has been much delayed, but is now expected in only a few weeks' time.

One of the things that would be allowed if the Statute of Autonomy were to be implemented would be for the Catalunian government to hold consultative referendums. As far as I can make out, the general expectation is that the Constitutional Court will will reject the Statute of Autonomy for this very reason, which would be consistent with their ruling on the Ibarretxe referendum.

So the pattern seems pretty clear. Spain's way of handling democratic calls for independence is to refuse to allow people to vote on the issue.


This background information should help make sense of what happened last weekend. A small Catalunian town called Arenys de Munt held its own referendum on independence. The courts stepped in to ban the town authorities from holding the referendum as originally planned on the grounds that only Madrid can decide whether to call a referendum. But the town got round the ban by arranging for another group to organize the referendum instead.

The result was quite remarkable:

Do you agree on Catalonia becoming an independent, democratic and social state-of-law, integrated in the European Union?

Yes ... 2,569 ... 96.2%
No ... 61 ... 2.3%

Turnout ... 41.0%


Now of course the results are distorted in that most of those who are against independence would have seen no need to vote. But the turnout in the 2006 referendum was only 49% so, on that basis, an official referendum would still be won very easily.

The repercussions of this vote are likely to be far more significant than the way one town in one part of Catalunya voted. This is from one of the more informative blogs I read:

Future Consequences of the Arenys Referendum

The referendum of Arenys de Munt has mobilized the Catalan independentistes in a way which I have not seen since we came here in 2005. This movement - or rather, these movements, since it (quite typical for Catalans, I think) is split into many factions - has agreed on December 13 as the day to hold referendums in as many municipalities as possible. What started in Catalan heartlands - the comarques Berguedà and Osona – has spread to a hundred municipalities and will grow further. Today, Barcelona “suburbs” like Gavà and big cities like Tarragona and Reus have announced their possible participation.

The Arenys referendum has also forced a lot of politicians to “come out of the closet”. In the name of social realities and more urgent priorities, these people usually avoid demanding independence, but for their own credibility, they will have to stand up for a “sí” if there is a vote.

Finally, many until now mainstream catalanistes – including members of the ruling socialist party (PSC) - reveal that they do not accept for the autonomy charter (l’Estatut) of Catalonia to be diluted, and that is exactly what is expected to happen when the Spanish Constitutional Court’s finally makes its verdict on it.

The text of the Estatut has been ratified democratically three times: by the Spanish parliament on the highest level, but before that by the Generalitat and subsequently through a referendum in Catalonia. If that is not enough, many Catalans will ask themselves if it makes sense to negotiate about autonomy with Madrid. Before the end of the year we will have a better picture how many prefer a more far-reaching solution.

Wirdheim in Vilanova, 18 September 2009

To my mind it seems unbelievable that that even a limited degree of autonomy, backed by the Catalunian Goverentment, the Madrid Government and a referendum could be ruled as being "illegal" under the Spanish constitution. And it seems equally clear that if the democratic calls for referenda are repeatedly blocked, public opinion is only going to intensify.

So let's see what happens in the next few months. If only a half a dozen or so towns and cities organize similar referendums, maybe things will fizzle out. But if the momentum builds and twenty ... or fifty ... or a hundred towns and cities do it, then such pressure will be impossible for the Spanish authorities to ignore.


In one respect the situation in Spain right now is very similar to the situation of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom before the peace agreement. One key breakthrough was that the UK declared in 1993 that it had no strategic interest in the province, thus paving the way for its future to be decided entirely by the people who live there.

If Spain could bring itself to make a similar decision it may well not lead to inevitable independence. The opinion polls (see the tables at the bottom of this page) show figures which are roughly equivalent to those in Scotland. Given a two-way choice between independence and the status quo, between 30% and 40% of people would vote for independence. But given a three-way choice between independence, greater autonomy (in Catalunya's case as a nation within a federal Spain) and the status quo, most would take one step rather than jump two.

The issue is one of democracy. If Spain does allow the people of Catalunya (and by implication the people of Euskadi) the right to decide their own future then these countries might well continue to be part of Spain in some form. But if that basic right is denied—which I suspect will happen—it can only polarize things and therefore increase the likelihood of outright independence from Spain.


These two reports picked up the Reuters' wire on the story:

     New York Times

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MH said...

Just found another version of the story here:


It's interesting to note that SIXTY municipalities are now set to hold referendums ... if they can agree on the date! Actually, the 6th December would be an even better choice than the 13th, as it marks the 77th anniversary of the establisment of the pre-Franco Catalunian Parliament in 1932.

I expected it, of course, but it's good to see that Jill Evans and the EFA support these referendums.

Anonymous said...

and here too last week:

MH said...

Drat! NMM beat me to it!

Well done, that man.

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