8 Nov 2014

Catalonia heads to the ‘polls’ – but how will Spain respond?

Catalonia holds a “symbolic referendum” on Sunday in which its people will vote on separating from Spain. But the Spanish government has refused to recognise the ballot, branding it illegal.

On Sunday the people of Catalonia are expected make their strongest statement of intent to break away from Spain when it holds an unofficial poll billed as a symbolic referendum of independence.

As with Scotland’s referendum, there will be a surge of passion in what is billed in some eyes as a Spanish region moving a tiny step closer towards eventual self-determination. Unlike Scotland, the vote will not amount to anything beyond a statement of sentiment. In Spain’s eyes the whole process is illegal.

For Spain’s central government has refused to authorise a single vote. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said such a move is against the country’s 1978 constitution, while Catalonia itself, he argues already has powers, including its own parliament, police force and education system.

Nonetheless a high turnout is expected and the event is being seen by many as a dress rehearsal for what could one day be the real thing.

The unofficial two-question “consultation” form will see voters asked: would you like a vote on self-determination? If yes, would you like an independent Catalonia?

Triggering change?

What happens after that remains to be seen. Certainly for Catalonia, a wealthy region of 7.5 million people, has vowed to push forward in defiance of the a court order. “We will continue with the participative process,” the Catalan government spokesperson Francesc Homs said earlier this week. “And we’ll do it with all the consequences.”

For Spain, the occasion will also mark a test. After months of legal wrangling, it remains to be seen whether Madrid’s response will result in arrests and a subsequent crackdown on all involved, or whether the event will be allowed to to pass peacefully.

In either case, a new chapter of Catalan’s history is being written. It may not garner immediate changes, but it will certainly leave the world under no illusion. For whether or not Spain chooses to respond – or even acknowledge the ballot – the people of Catalonia will have spoken. Their ultimate destiny is one step closer to being determined.