Undeterred by Scottish “No”, Catalonia Demands Referendum

Regional president Artur Mas wants to consult Catalan voters on the question of independence.

Catalans demonstrate for independence from Spain in Barcelona, July 10, 2010
Catalans demonstrate for independence from Spain in Barcelona, July 10, 2010 (SBA73)

Undeterred by Scotland’s vote against independence a day earlier, the leader of Catalonia said on Friday his region would organize a referendum in less than two months on whether or not to secede from Spain.

“What happened in Scotland is not a setback for us, because what we really want in Catalonia is to have the chance to vote,” said Artur Mas, Catalonia’s president and leader of its ruling Convergence and Union party.

The region’s parliament was due to pass a bill later in the day to give Mas the power to call a referendum.

The plebiscite will not be binding, however, and might not pave the way for Catalan secession as the central government in Madrid says it will not allow the region to split from Spain.

By far most Catalans desire a say in their future. Polls show some 80 percent of the region’s 7.5 million inhabitants are in favor of a referendum. Hundreds of thousands marched in the streets of Barcelona last week for the right to hold a vote.

Many Catalans, who are among the richest people in Spain, feel they are bearing the brunt of the country’s economic crisis. The region accounts for 16 percent of Spain’s population but more than a fifth of its economic output with an economy the size of Denmark’s. An estimated $21 billion in Catalan taxes, equivalent to 8 percent of the region’s gross domestic product, is invested in other parts of Spain.

But independence for Catalonia involves many more uncertainties than it did for Scotland. Despite criticism that it was unprepared for secession, Scotland’s government had a plan and the region would have been able to continue using the British pound in the months following a “yes” vote. The remaining United Kingdom was also unlikely to block Scottish accession to the European Union.

Spain, by contrast, could veto Catalan membership of the European Union — which would eject it from the Schengen customs union and preclude the region from formally adopting the euro.

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