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Catalan referendum 4 years on: independence camp still split on what's next

October 1, 2017 vote and Spanish police violence remain key in Catalan politics, but campaign for breakup with Spain now stuck


01 October 2021 01:11 PM



Four years on, October 1 remains a key date in Catalonia, and not only for the independence campaign. The events of October 1, 2017 feature heavily in most speeches made by politicians and activists in favor of a split with Spain and are still the source of many judicial procedures by courts.

That date continues to be very relevant, especially because the independence camp is still struggling to come to terms with what happened and is unable to find a consensus on how to move towards a Catalan republic.

Two million voters, 1,000 injured

But what happened that day? This Friday marks the fourth anniversary of the day the country hit the headlines worldwide: over two million people participated in a referendum on Catalonia's independence that took place despite a Constitutional Court ban.

Thousands of Spanish police officers were deployed and charged at protesters, injuring over 1,000 people according to the Catalan government's health department.

Four years on, that day remains ingrained in the collective memory of the independence camp as a significant milestone despite its most direct consequences being the imprisonment and exile of the movement’s top political and social leaders, as well as the temporary suspension of Catalonia's self-rule. While the nine politicians and activists sentenced to roughly a decade in jail were pardoned in June, there are still six leaders in exile, including the mastermind of the referendum, former president Carles Puigdemont, whose extradition to Spain remains an ongoing issue.

Serious discrepancies on next steps

The main political parties agree that October 1 was a milestone – but what should the way forward be from now on?

The results of the independence campaigners in the latest Catalan election were historic, obtaining over half of the total ballots for the first time ever – although turnout, in the midst of the pandemic, was lower than ever before.

Yet, that was enough for the two main pro-independence parties to form a government with the help of a third, but not for them to agree on a joint roadmap.

While the most voted party within the independence camp, Esquerra, prioritizes talks with Spain and persuading Madrid to hold an agreed referendum, Junts, the other party in the cabinet, would like to continue the path started on October 1, 2017, which they describe as "intelligent confrontation."

As for the other pro-independence party in parliament, CUP, which supports the government from the opposition, they, like Junts, are also skeptical of the talks with Spain, but are expected to tolerate them for two years until 2023. Yet, at the same time, their proposal is to hold another referendum that is internationally recognized in 2025.

The annual general policy debate that ended on Thursday was just another example of how divided these parties are since CUP's motion calling for a vote within the four years was rejected by the other pro-independence parties, while Esquerra's motion on dialogue was not backed by Junts and CUP.

They only agreed to draft an amnesty bill, which would benefit members of the independence movement who have become embroiled in legal disputes, and seek its approval in Spain's Congress.  

"The right to self-determination is the democratic way of solving the conflict between Catalonia and Spain," the text reads.

The infighting in the pro-independence movement is likely to continue as no party has, as of yet, been able to bridge the gap between the different factions. 


  • A woman casts her vote in the independence referendum on October 1, 2017 (by Guillem Roset)

  • A woman casts her vote in the independence referendum on October 1, 2017 (by Guillem Roset)