Catalonia Unlikely to Declare Independence After Referendum

Even if a majority votes to break away, the regional government could balk at declaring independence unilaterally.

The palace of the Catalan regional government in Barcelona, Spain, September 26, 2012
The palace of the Catalan regional government in Barcelona, Spain, September 26, 2012 (Wikimedia Commons/Andriy Sadivskyy)

Catalonia is unlikely to declare its independence from Spain even if a majority votes to break away on Sunday.

The law that made the referendum possible — and which has been suspended by Spain’s Constitutional Court — calls for a declaration of independence within two days of a “yes” vote.

But Carles Puigdemont, the regional president and separatist leader, has told French television he wants to open up a transitional period of talks after the plebiscite.

Divide in the ruling coalition

It is possible a majority will vote to secede, assuming Spanish police are unable to stop them. Separatists are motivated to turn out, but opponents could boycott the vote. Many did the last time Catalonia tried to vote on independence, in 2014. Turnout was between 37 and 42 percent that year.

If that happens again, and Puigdemont balks at declaring independence, it could split his ruling coalition.

Carles Campuzano, the parliamentary spokesman for Puigdemont’s center-right Democratic Party, has pointed out that no declaration of independence was in their party platform.

But the Republican Left and far-left Popular Unity Candidacy, both of whom Puigdemont needs for his majority, take a harder line.

Next: elections

The best outcome, from the perspective of political stability, would be a vote against independence. That way, everybody can save face.

The more likely outcome is snap elections. Polls suggest the Republican Left would replace the Democrats as the largest party, but the balance between pro- and anti-independence parties may be virtually unchanged.