Catalonia’s independence: the Catalan Parliament says “no” and the popular consultation process says “yes”

The Catalan Parliament rejected a law proposal on Catalonia’s independence three days after the popular consultation process on the issue ended with a clear “yes”. This civil society voting was not an official referendum and it was not organised by public powers. It took place over the course of 18 months, and Barcelona closed the process on Sunday. 21% of the electoral census turned out (885.000 citizens) and 90% of the voters backed Catalonia’s independence from Spain. Members of the Catalan Government cast their vote, including the President.

CNA / Gaspar Pericay Coll

April 15, 2011 02:12 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- Within the same week, the Catalan independence movement saw great success with its popular consultation process and a defeat at the Catalan Parliament. A Populist Pro-Independence party, ‘Solidaritat Catalana per la Independència’ (SI), which won four seats in the 135-seat Catalan Parliament at the last elctions, presented a law proposal to declare Catalonia’s independence from Spain. It was rejected by the Catalan Parliament after receiving only 14 positive votes. The party in charge of the Catalan Government, the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition Convergència i Unió (CiU), abstained together with the Catalan Green Socialist Party (ICV). Both argued that they do not reject the idea of Catalonia’s independence if it were backed by a large majority of Catalans, but they made it clear that this was not the time as it is still a minority option. The popular consultation process was a way to take a temperature reading on the support of citizens for Catalonia’s independence from Spain. 20% of the electorate turned out (18% taking into account all the people allowed to vote in the consultation process, as registered foreigners and youngsters of 16-17 years old could also vote). More than 885.000 citizens cast their vote, including members of the Catalan Government, such as the Catalan President Artur Mas. 90% of the voters backed Catalonia’s independence. This consultation process had absolutely no legal value; neither was backed by public powers despite the individual participation of politicians. However, organisers considered a great success and it gives strength to the Catalan independence movement. It also shows the movement counts with significant and organised support, which is expressed in an absolutely democratic way.

The popular consultation process on Catalonia’s independence

In an unprecedented consultation process that closed on Sunday, 90% of voters backed Catalonia’s independence from Spain. Voting was not officially organised, and neither was it binding. It is a civil society initiative, run by civil society without any legal consequences. However, it had an enormous impact, in Catalonia, Spain and even abroad. This consultation process did not have the intention of declaring independence from Spain now, but it wanted to prove that Catalonia’s independence has a broad and organised support. It also showed that something is happening in Spain and in Catalonia. It also proved that the last episodes and waves of Spanish Nationalism and centralism have found an answer in the Catalan independence camp.

On Sunday April 10th, the last wave of consultations, in Barcelona and some 20 other Catalan towns took place; although citizens were also allowed to vote in advance. The first voting of this entire process was held a year and a half ago, in a small town 50 km north from Barcelona. During these last 18 months, more than half of the cities and villages of Catalonia have held a vote.

The electoral census (Spanish nationals older than 17) could vote as well as foreigners registered in their municipalities and also 16 and 17 year olds. A total of 885,144 people turned out. However, the turnout was higher among people from the electorate allowed to vote in regular-elections compared with foreigners. It also seems that nationals are more in support of Catalonia’s independence than foreigners, when data is crossed. Taking only into account the electorate, 20% cast their vote. Taking into account all the people allowed to vote in the consultation process, the total turnout was 18%.

The “yes” side won by a very large majority: 89.7% of voters backed Catalonia’s independence from Spain and 8.8% voted against it. In the Catalan capital, 257,645 people voted, the turnout was 21.37% of the electoral census and the “yes” side won with 91.46%.

Voting in Barcelona was also significant as some members of the Catalan Government cast their vote. The President of the Catalan Government Artur Mas voted in advance some days ago and voted for Catalan independence “as a private citizen and not as the Catalan President”. The day of the voting, on Sunday, the Vice President Joana Ortega also cast her vote. As expected both Mas’ and Ortega’s votes caused debate and controversy. However, they insisted they did not do it as members of a government but instead as individual citizens.

Where did this voting initiative originate?

From 2006, several civil society organisations supporting Catalonia’s independence from Spain created the ‘Platform for the Right to Decide’ (called in Catalan ‘Plataforma pel Dret a Decidir’). They claimed that the Catalan people had the right to self-determination, a right recognised in the United Nations charter. However, the Spanish Constitution does not recognise such a right within the Spanish State. According to Spain’s main law, the Catalan people cannot decide on their own future. This platform vindicated this right with several demonstrations across Catalonia, manifestos and activities.

In 2009, a civil society organisation started to organise an “independence referendum” in a small town near Barcelona: Arenys de Munt (in the Maresme county). They decided to do it on their own. The Mayor of the town offered a municipal venue be used for the vote. News spread throughout Catalonia and Spain. Spanish Nationalist media and parties said that an illegal referendum was being organised. The Spanish Government intervened and Maria Teresa Fernández de la Vega, Vice President at the time, stated that public powers could not back the voting. Since it was a civil society initiative, not organised by public powers, the Courts did not stop the consultation process, and neither did the Spanish Government. Voting was held amid protests from Franco’s Fascist Party (which is still legal in Spain) and cheering from pro-Catalan independence supporters. The voting was portrayed in the media all over the world, mainly due to free publicity from Spanish nationalist media.

Taking into account the success of the first experience, other civil society organisations organised other consultation processes in other towns and villages. Despite some initial differences about which organisation or person was leading the initiative, the movement finally organised itself. 554 cities, towns and small villages out of the 947 Catalonia participated in the initiative and held voting polls. The consultation process was scheduled in different waves, with voting taking place in several municipalities at the same time. The organisation put in place an IT system with the entire electorate’s data that enabled a person voting twice during the entire 18 months of the process.

Barcelona was left for the end of the process, considering the size of the Catalan capital and the technical difficulties of organising such a vote. In order to facilitate the voting in Barcelona, advance voting was allowed. On April 10th at 8pm polls closed in Barcelona and 21 other towns. It also marked the end of the consultation process. International observers have been monitoring the voting and declared it a clean process.

How many people support Catalonia’s independence from Spain?

In Catalonia there is significant support for declaring Catalonia an independent nation from Spain. However, never before has the question been asked directly to citizens via a voting process, which initially wanted to be called a referendum. Several surveys and  electoral results have permitted estimates regarding the extent of the political change supported by Catalan citizens. However, a clear figure cannot be given as support fluctuates, as does the degree and commitment of such support.

The last study carried out on the issue, presented on Monday by the ‘Baròmetre de la Comunicació’ which asked 5,084 people older than 18, found that 34% of Catalans would vote for independence “if a referendum were held tomorrow”. 30% would vote against it, 23% do not know what to vote or did not answer the question, 9% would not vote and 3% would cast a NOTA vote (would leave the ballot empty).

How the independence movement is evolving?

Independence support fluctuates with time, mainly depending on relations between Spain and Catalonia. Currently, the movement seems to be quite strong. There are more pro-independence parties with institutional representation than ever before in Catalonia and they are very vocal. However, supporters of Catalonia’s independence can be found supporting parties that do not declare themselves as a pro-independence party. The main change in the last number of years is that support for Catalonia’s independence is gaining a more transversal voice that has started to include part of “the establishment”.

In fact, the independence movement has been growing in the last 15 years, especially since the Conservative and Spanish Nationalist Government of José Maria Aznar, as electoral results show. However, in the last five years, and even more since late 2009, it seems that support is even larger and that it went beyond the traditional pro-independence circles to reach leading politicians, important businessmen and intellectuals with an international dimension. The reason for this last increase of support is the attitude of the Spanish institutions, pushed by Spanish Nationalism, to trim the new Catalan Statute of Autonomy (Catalonia’s main law). This Catalan “Constitution” was approved by the Catalan Parliament first, then rewritten by the Spanish Parliament and lastly approved in a binding referendum held in Catalonia in 2006. However, the Spanish Constitutional Court started a long debate, pushed by Spanish Nationalists. The debate lasted four long years, while the Catalan law was already into force. At the end, in the summer of 2010, the Court trimmed the Catalan Statute of Autonomy, after many months of rumours and public statements. The reaction of the Catalan Nationalism was the indignation. In fact, those days, some surveys pointed that the Catalan independence could reach a support of more than 50%. Meanwhile, the consultation process was going on.

Will there be enough support one day to Catalonia’s independence to see a change in a law proposal on the independence passing in the Catalan Parliament?