What do Catalans actually say about the upcoming referendum?

On the 25th October, one of the most anticipated games in European football will take place – the El Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona. However, with only 16 days before the Catalan Independence Referendum takes place, the first El Clasico this year will probably be about more than just football.

The main driver behind the most recent push for independence in Cataluña can be traced to 2010, when the Constitutional Court in Madrid decided to annul and/or rewrite several articles from the Statute of Autonomy of Cataluña which was accepted in 2006. The most important restrictions to Catalan self-government were in the areas of economic independence, local organization, decentralization of justice and the protection of the Catalan language. Since then, the two sides (personified mainly by the Catalan President Artur Mas and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy) have been involved in a constant battle – one trying to hold the referendum at all costs and the other trying to make it illegal and illegitimate in any way possible.

Another significant, and very interesting difference between the Scottish and Catalan independence is that there are three possible outcomes to the Catalan Independence vote. If the main question, “Do you want Catalonia to become a State” is answered in the affirmative, the voter then has to answer a complementary question: “Do you want this State to be independent?”

The matter at stake in the November referendum is extremely important for the Catalan people and this explains the high level of agitation among the electorate. The excitement is hardly explainable by a foreigner; therefore, I interviewed some of the people who will vote on the 9th of November to get some direct impressions. The opinions I collected all come from young professionals, studying Master programs in the ESADE of Barcelona, one of the most prestigious Universities in the world. These local students will be shaping the political, social and, most importantly, the economical future of Cataluña (and Spain), therefore this referendum is very meaningful for their close future.

Interestingly, most Catalans do not wish to be completely separate from Spain. The most important goals are to have economic, as well as some political independence. The main frustration from the current situation stems from the fact that, unlike Basques, Catalans are not able to determine the amount of tax money their regional government has at its disposal. Instead, the government in Madrid allocates some amount it sees fit, not the amount the region has raised. Most Catalan people that I spoke with would be content with a “Yes/No” outcome of the voting, provided it grants them the freedoms they want. The main problem is that the government in Madrid has not shown any signs that they are open for such debates. This is the main reason for the increasing tensions and polarization of the Independence movement. It also seems to make the ultimate result very hard to guess – some still believe that the Spanish government will legitimize a “Yes/No” vote, others view the situation as desperate and that nothing but a “Yes/Yes” outcome would ensure their future wellbeing. There are even some that have started to question the whole Referendum as they expect the Madrid government to not legitimize the vote at all.

With so many variables, it is certainly very difficult to predict any kind of an outcome, even 2 weeks before the actual Referendum. What is certain is that, regardless of the vote, this is a very interesting and potentially history-defining moment not only for Cataluña and Spain, but for Europe as well.

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Alex Ivanov

Alex Ivanov