Politicians in the northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia voted Thursday to demand the right to hold a referendum on independence from Spain. The vote is the latest development in an ongoing saga of Catalonia’s attempts to separate from Spain’s central government.
The vote took place in the Catalan capital city of Barcelona, and is the result of years of growing tensions between residents in Catalonia and government officials in Madrid. Catalonia is home to 6 million Spaniards, or roughly 12 percent of the nation’s population, and has a culture and language entirely different from the rest of the country.
The measure passed by a vote of 87 to 43 and requires an official response from the national parliament. Catalan regional president Artur Mas hopes to schedule the referendum vote for Nov.9.
But this victory for the independence movement could be largely symbolic; Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has repeatedly said that any gesture toward Catalan secession would be unconstitutional and that Madrid would block any such moves. Still, pro-separatist supporters in Catalonia view the referendum as yet another step in the right direction.
“There are people who think this step is pointless, because it is pretty clear that the response will be negative,” Marta Rovira, a member of the Catalan parliament for pro-independence party ERC, said during the voting assembly.
“But as the Spanish parliament declines to negotiate, this will only expose its stance to the world, and give us legitimacy to stay our course.”
In addition to having its own unique language and customs, Catalonia has long been the most economically prosperous region of Spain. Catalonia contributes a fifth of the nation’s roughly $1.5 trillion GDP, which is equivalent to the entire GDP of Portugal.
Catalans bristled in September 2012 when Rajoy refused to negotiate a deal to lower the tax revenue that Catalonia has to donate to the 16 poorer regions of Spain. Last September, a reported 1 million people joined hands to form a 250-mile-long human chain across Catalonia in a moving show of support for independence. This past holiday season, for the first time ever, Spanish king Juan Carlos’ Christmas Eve address was blocked from Catalan television, the result of a 30-minute strike organized by pro-independence workers at Catalonia’s public television broadcaster.
According to recent opinion poll results, only 52 percent of Catalonia residents support secession from Spain, but the support for the right of self-determination is much larger at 80 percent. One of the questions tampering support for secession is whether or not Catalonia would be guaranteed admission into the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the euro currency zone after their independence. Those same questions are hampering a similar search for independence in Scotland.
By contrast, the Scottish government was granted the permission to hold a referendum on independence in September of this year by the British parliamentary.