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Catalonia Referendum: What happening in Spain? Why Catalans want “The Right to Statehood”?

Catalans protesting against Spanish Police during referendum

In a statement posted by Spain Report late last night, First Minister Carles Puigdemont said: “The Catalan government will transmit to the Catalan Parliament, the seat and expression of the sovereignty of our people, the results of the referendum, so that it can act according to that laid out in the referendum law.

“Catalonia has won sovereignty and respect and its institutions have the duty to implement that result.”

He said the door was open to a unilateral declaration of independence after Catalan officials said voters had backed secession with a 42.3% turnout.

Spain’s government has warned it could suspend Catalan autonomy. The constitutional court banned the vote and almost 900 people were hurt as police tried to stop it going ahead. Officers from the national police and paramilitary Civil Guard seized ballot papers and boxes at polling stations.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Catalans had been fooled into taking part in an illegal vote. More than 2.2 million people were reported to have voted, according to Catalan authorities, out of 5.3 million registered voters. Just under 90% of those who voted backed independence, they said.

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A Catalan spokesman said more than 750,000 votes could not be counted because polling stations were closed and urns were confiscated.

After the violent scenes in Catalonia yesterday, as National Police and Civil Guard tried to stop the illegal independence referendum from going ahead, the regional government has stated it is prepared to declare independence from Spain in the coming days.

A general strike has been called in the region for Tuesday, in protest at the violence meted out by the authorities. And a total of 844 people needed medical assistance after the ugly scenes played out, and which were beamed around the world.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is set to make an appearance in Congress, and is due to call together all political parties in a bid to deal with the Catalan crisis.

Data from the poll shows some 90% of voters in the region cast their ballots in favor of independence. However, participation was just 2,262,424 of a total voter pool of 5,343,358, for a turnout rate of 42%, according to the Catalan government’s own figures. The abstention rate was 58%.

The Barcelona City Council has released an email address ( to which citizens can send proof of assaults by the authorities on Sunday, meanwhile, FC Barcelona soccer club announces it will be taking part in the general strike tomorrow..

Why Catalans want to be separated from Spain?

Catalonia is one of Spain’s wealthiest and most productive regions and has a distinct history dating back almost 1,000 years. Before the Spanish Civil War it enjoyed broad autonomy but that was suppressed under decades of Gen Francisco Franco’s dictatorship from 1939-75.

When Franco died, Catalan nationalism was revived and eventually the north-eastern region was granted autonomy again, under the 1978 constitution.

A 2006 statute granted even greater powers, boosting Catalonia’s financial clout and describing it as a “nation”, but Spain’s Constitutional Court reversed much of this in 2010, to the anger of the regional authorities.

Angered by having their autonomy watered down as well as by years of recession and cuts in public spending, Catalans held an unofficial vote on independence in November 2014. More than two million of the region’s 5.4 million eligible voters took part and officials declared that 80% had backed secession.

Separatists won Catalonia’s election in 2015 and set to work on holding a binding referendum, defying Spain’s constitution, which states that Spain is indivisible.

What was the question?

The Catalan parliament enacted its own law in a vote on 6 September. There was just one question on the ballot paper:

“Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?”

And there were two boxes: Yes or No.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont signed the referendum bill into local law almost immediately..

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont insisted that “no other court or political body” could suspend his government from power.

How did that go down in Madrid?

Badly. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy condemned the vote as illegal: “I say this both calmly and firmly: there will be no referendum, it won’t happen.”

Acting at Mr Rajoy’s request, the Constitutional Court suspended the lawpassed by the Catalans. The Spanish government also moved to take control of the region’s finances and policing.

Catalan officials involved in organising the vote were arrested, some 10 million ballot papers impounded, and websites informing Catalans about the election were shut down.

Prime Minister Rajoy has steadily refused to countenance a referendum
What happened on the day?

Voting did take place in some form in some areas, but more than 400 people were injured when police used force to try to stop the referendum.

The national authorities had brought in 4,000 police from outside Catalonia to help thousands of local Mossos police and national officers to keep security and stop the vote.

Parties loyal to Spain who won about 40% in the 2015 Catalan election boycotted it, so the No vote is likely to be tiny and hugely unrepresentative. And yet, it will be hard for Madrid to deny Catalan secessionists have a case if there is a strong turnout.

Under the Catalan government’s referendum law, a declaration of independence has to take place within 48 hours of a Yes vote. That seems a highly unlikely step now, and Carles Puigdemont has said “a unilateral declaration of independence is not on the table”.

Do Catalans really want independence?

Pro-independence supporters have certainly produced large-scale demonstrations in favour of secession. A million people turned out in Barcelona for the national day on 11 September.

Opinion polls are hard to come by but the clearest indication came in July, when a public survey commissioned by the Catalan government suggested 41% were in favour and 49% were opposed to independence.

We know that 2.2 million voters backed independence in the previous vote in November 2014, and that coalition of separatist parties called Junts pel Si (Together for Yes), with the support of a radical left-wing party, the CUP, won 48% of the vote in 2015 elections.

There was a sense that support for independence may have been ebbing, but the hardline strategy of the Spanish authorities to stop the vote going ahead may equally have re-energised backing for the vote itself to take place.

Does Catalonia have a good claim to nationhood?

It is certainly long-lived. It has its own language, a recorded history of more than 1,000 years as a distinct region, and a population nearly as big as Switzerland’s (7.5 million).

It also happens to be a vital part of the Spanish state, locked in since the 15th Century, and – according to supporters of independence – subjected periodically to repressive campaigns to make it “more Spanish”.

(The news excerepts from, &

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Ashok Kumar

Dr. Ashok Kumar is Chemistry Professor, Blogger, Film maker, Writer and Traveler.

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