Catalan Separatists Press Ahead Despite Minority Support

Even without a majority, Catalonia’s separatists continue the process of breaking from Spain.

Catalan regional president Artur Mas speaks at a rally of pro-independence parties in Castelldefels, September 3
Catalan regional president Artur Mas speaks at a rally of pro-independence parties in Castelldefels, September 3 (CDC)

Catalonia’s regional president, Artur Mas, has vowed to press ahead with a plan to secede from Spain even though the parties that support him fell short of an absolute majority in last month’s election.

Writing for Politico, the Catalan leader claims a mandate for separation as the parties that advocate independence won a four-seat majority in the regional legislature.

But they only got 48 percent support.

Mas argues that opponents of independence got even less support: 39 percent. The balance went to parties that support Catalan self-determination but are undecided about independence.

“Given these results, the victory of the pro-independence camp is unmistakable,” writes Mas.

His plan is to build up state institutions, including foreign embassies and a tax agency, over the next eighteen months before breaking away from Spain.

Resistance

The obstacles are formidable. The central government insists the Constitution does not allow for any region to go it alone. The European Commission has also called into doubt the separatists’ claim that Catalonia would remain part of the European Union after seceding — which means it could also be ejected from the euro to the detriment of Catalonia’s trade and tourism industry.

Mas’ reading of the election results also seems overly optimistic.

GeoCurrents points out that there is a strong rural-urban divide in support for independence. Catalans in the inland areas disproportionately favor seceding from Spain and their districts are disproportionately represented in the regional legislature. Support for the Mas’ separatist alliance was lowest in the urban region of Barcelona, by contrast.

Catalan frustration

Separatist sentiment has nevertheless risen sharply in recent years.

As recently as 2010, only one in five Catalans wanted to break away from Spain. The turning point came when the country’s Constitutional Court threw out most of Catalonia’s autonomy statute that year. The same court later blocked an independence referendum and Madrid has tried to frustrate and water down Catalan autonomy at every turn. Now almost half of Catalans see no alternative to going it alone.

The other half remains unconvinced.

A majority of Catalans does want a say in their future. There is overwhelming support for a formal independence referendum.

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