Referendum on independence for Catalonia was recently held. Catalan officials have claimed that preliminary results of its referendum have shown 90% in favour of independence in the vote vehemently opposed by Spain.
The referendum, declared illegal by Spain’s central government, has thrown the country into its worst constitutional crisis in decades and deepened a centuries-old rift between Madrid and Barcelona.
The ballot will have no legal status as it has been blocked by Spain’s Constitutional Court and Madrid for being at odds with the 1978 constitution.
Why does the referendum matter?
Catalonia, an area in northeastern Spain of 7.5 million people, accounts for 15% of Spain’s population and 20% of its economic output. About 1.6 million people live in Barcelona, Catalonia’s capital, which is a major tourist destination.
The latest referendum was the region’s second referendum on independence in three years. The previous ballot, a non-binding vote in November 2014, returned an 80% result in favour of an independent Catalan state. However, less than half of the 5.4 million eligible voters participated.
Demand for independence:
Catalonia has a distinct history, culture and language. First referenced in the 12th century, a defined region of Catalonia had existed for more than 250 years before it joined Spain during the country’s formation in the 16th Century.
As such, identity plays a large role in the debate surrounding independence. Under the military government of Francisco Franco, from 1939-1975, Catalan culture was suppressed.
Symbols of Catalan identity such as the castells, or human towers, were prohibited and parents were forced to choose Spanish names for their children. The Catalan language was also restricted.
The push for full autonomy appears to have gathered pace in recent years, most notably since Spain’s 2008 debt crisis. In that moment, people in Catalonia demanded more self-government and control over what is done with their money.
Pro-independence supporters claim Catalonia, which is one of Spain’s wealthiest regions, offers more financial support to Spain than it receives from the central government in Madrid. Many view the region’s strong economy as an indicator that it would be viable as a sovereign state.
Following a ruling by Spain’s constitutional court in 2010, which stated there is no legal basis for recognising Catalonia as a nation, independence appears to have taken preference over reform for a portion of the region’s population.
What powers does Catalonia already have?
In 1931, when Spain became a republic, Catalonia was given greater political autonomy within the confines of the state. However, by 1939 its powers had been revoked following the Nationalists’ victory in the Spanish Civil War.
In 1979 a new Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia was issued, which restored the Catalan parliament. Elections for the 135-member body were held the following year.
The region, which forms one of Spain’s 17 “autonomous communities”, has its own police force and powers over affairs such as education, healthcare and welfare. There are also provisions in place to protect Catalan identity, including joint language status for Catalan and Castilian and a law that requires teachers, doctors and public sector employees to use the Catalan language in their places of work.