By Paloma Delgado
Catalonia’s separationist government has called a referendum to decide if the region
should leave Spain on Sunday, October 1. Spanish leadership and the country’s highest
court have banned the referendum and rejected the vote as illegal. Spain's
Constitutional Court has argued that such a vote would be unconstitutional.
These past few weeks, several senior Catalan officials have been arrested, sparking mass
protests in Catalonia’s capital of Barcelona and other towns. Such a vote risks propelling the country into one of the worst political crises from the time of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship.
Catalonia is a very wealthy region of Spain with its own regional government that
already has vast control over its peoples taxes, healthcare and education. Before the time
of the Spanish Civil War, the province basked in its self-governance until General
Francisco Franco’s dictatorship from 1939 to 1975. After Franco’s death, a spirit of nationalism swept through the region and soon they were allowed autonomy under the 1978 Constitution. Throughout the years, Catalonia’s financial clout grew larger until Spain’s Constitutional Court began to overturn much of the laws that provided them with such influence.
In November of 2014, Catalans held an unofficial vote on their independence with
officials declaring that of the two million who voted, 80% supported the disunion.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was against the referendum and offered no
concessions to Catalan secessionists demand for a legal vote. He has pledged to do the
same this year. Spanish unionists argue that Catalonia already enjoys great autonomy as part of Spain. Police have sealed off 1,300 of 2,315 schools that have been set up as polling stations.
Officers have seized ballot papers and prosecutors have ordered the shutdown of all
websites and applications connected to the vote.
On Friday, thousands of Catalan activists held their final campaign rally in Barcelona as
they waved the Catalan flag as a cry for independence. Catalan President Carles Puigdemont gave a spirited speech, calling on supporters of Catalonia’s independence to vote despite the obstacles. "Friends, so that victory is definite,” Puigdemont said, “on Sunday, let's dress up in
referendum (clothes) and leave home prepared to change history, to end the process and
start progress, social progress, economic progress and cultural and national progress."
The Spanish ambassador to the U.K., Carlos Bastarreche, explains the danger that could
arise if Catalonia was to break off from Spain. “If the Catalan government succeed it will be a drama for Europe, starting with the UK, because it will mean that a region can disobey the rule of law,” he said. This is in response to many British commentators suggestions that the Spanish
government should follow the example of David Cameron’s coalition government, which
allowed the Scottish people a referendum. “This is not a dispute between Madrid and Catalonia,” Bastarreche said. “On the one side is a democratic Spain and its independent judicial system, and on the other side not Catalonia, but a group of radical nationalists and left wing extremists in the regional power that are not complying with the law.”
The government of the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, stated that any vote on the
secession of Catalonia would have to be held throughout the entirety of Spain, not just in
Catalonia. Ruben Satinya, a citizen of Catalonia, was not originally sure if he would vote on Sunday but after the Spanish government efforts to prevent such an event from taking place has
convinced him to vote. "I am Catalan, but my fight is for social and civil rights, and that is what this about, he said. "I believe in the basic right of self-determination."