Catalans Vote for Independence in Controversial Referendum

Analysis and opinion about the controversial independence vote in Catalonia.

Catalans wait in line in Barcelona to vote in a referendum about independence from Spain, October 1
Catalans wait in line in Barcelona to vote in a referendum about independence from Spain, October 1 (HazteOir)
  • Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy maintains “no self-determination referendum” was held in Catalonia on Sunday, although millions voted.
  • Regional president Carles Puigdemont claims the region has “won the right to be an independent state”.
  • Hundreds of Catalans were injured in altercations with Spanish riot police.
  • Spanish courts had declared the referendum illegal.
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 1 Oct 201712:55 PM


Welcome to our live blog. We’ll be providing live analysis and opinion here of the independence vote in Catalonia today.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 1 Oct 201712:59 PM

Reading list

To learn more about the Catalan independence movement, here is a selection of our top stories:

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 1 Oct 20171:05 PM

Dozens injured by Spanish police key

At least 38 people have been wounded in altercations with riot police, according to Catalan authorities.

At various locations, members of the Guardia Civil (gendarmerie) fired rubber bullets into crowds of Catalan protesters. Agents used hammers and shields to break into polling stations and seize ballot boxes.

Activists who had occupied polling stations overnight in an attempt to prevent Spanish police from shutting them down were kicked out.

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has said the police’s brutality “will forever shame those who justify it.” Barcelona mayor Ada Colau has called for Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s resignation.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 1 Oct 20171:08 PM

A failure of leadership in Spain

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy arrives at parliament in Madrid, October 29, 2016
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy arrives at parliament in Madrid, October 29, 2016 (La Moncloa)

Mariano Rajoy has delegated responsibility for squashing the Catalan rebellion to police and prosecutors at a time when Spain needs compromise and statesmanship. Rajoy hasn’t shown a capacity for either.

Indeed, he has barely shown himself at all. He has refused to meet Catalan leaders and hear out their demands. In the few public appearances he has made in recent weeks, Rajoy has only robotically maintained that the law must obeyed, betraying no appreciation of the aspirations of millions of Catalans.

An independence referendum is impossible under the current Spanish Constitution. But when three out of four Catalans demand one, sticking to the letter of the law is not a solution.

Click here to learn more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 1 Oct 20171:34 PM

Mossos refrain from violence

The regional Catalan police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, have refrained from violence. They did follow Spanish orders to show up at polling stations this morning but, faced with large crowds and the prospect of altercations, they did not intervene.

The Catalan interior minister, Joaquim Forn, had warned the Mossos would only follow orders to seal off polling places if this could be done without enflaming social tensions.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 1 Oct 20171:39 PM

Spanish actions throw doubt on voting results

Overnight, agents of the Guardia Civil raided the Catalan government’s IT headquarters to prevent the centralized tabulation of voting results.

In addition to ballot boxes being seized today, that means Spain will at the very least succeed in throwing doubt on the outcome.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 1 Oct 20171:51 PM

79 out of 2,315 polling places closed

The Interior Ministry says the Guardia Civil and National Police have closed 79 out of 2,315 polling places and made three arrests.

The Catalan governments reports that 337 people have shown up in hospital following clashes with police. Ninety are confirmed injured and one seriously wounded.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 1 Oct 20172:38 PM

The view from other European countries

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 1 Oct 20172:58 PM

Catalan vote has polarized Spain

The European Council on Foreign Relations’ Francisco de Borja Lasheras writes that the Catalan crisis has divided Spain into two.

On one side are the proponents of “popular democracy” (Catalan separatists, Podemos and others on the far left), who emphasize street politics and “the will of the people”. On the other are the defenders of the rule of law (the mainstream Spanish parties, Ciudadanos and Catalans who favor a legal referendum), who stress constitutional order and institutions.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 1 Oct 20173:44 PM

Rajoy criticized for legalistic approach key

Although few Spaniards recognize a Catalan right to self-determination — the Center for Sociological Research found that barely 10 percent believe Catalonia should be allowed to secede — Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has been criticized for his legalistic approach to the crisis.

El País, the largest Spanish newspaper, has called his government’s silence disconcerting and irresponsible:

Does the government really have nothing to say to its citizens, to those who live inside Catalonia and those who live outside? Is it not necessary to explain the coercive measures that have been put in place by the justice system? Does the government not feel obliged to take responsibility for these measures?

Socialist Party leader Pedro Sánchez has similarly wondered, “What is the point of a government that delegates all its responsibilities to the courts?”

Pablo Iglesias of the far-left Podemos is the only major-party leader who supports the referendum. “Defending Spain requires providing political solutions to historical problems,” he has argued. “Prison and repression will only compound the problems.”

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 1 Oct 20174:57 PM

The view from other minorities

  • Basque Country: Fears of a domino effect are overblown. The Basques have adapted to Spanish rule.
  • Val d’Aran: The Aranese, separated from the rest of Catalonia by the Pyrenees, are less supportive of independence.
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 1 Oct 20175:30 PM

International reactions

  • Belgian prime minister Charles Michel tweets: “Violence can never be the answer!”
  • Slovenian prime minister Miro Cerar writes that he is “concerned” about situation. “I call for political dialogue, rule of law and peaceful solutions.”
  • Gianni Pittella, the leader of the social democrats in the European Parliament, blames Rajoy: “It is disgraceful that the conservative government in Spain did not open a dialogue before and disregarded the voice of so many citizens in Catalonia.”
  • Guy Verhofdstadt, leader of the liberal party in the European Parliament, condemns the Catalan separatists for going ahead with an illegal referendum as well as the “disproportionate violence” of Spanish police.
  • Martin Schulz, the German Social Democratic Party leader, calls the escalation “worrying”.
  • British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn urges Prime Minister Theresa May to appeal to her Spanish counterpart “to end police violence in Catalonia”.
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 1 Oct 20175:50 PM

Brutal headlines around Europe key

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 1 Oct 20176:01 PM

Polls close

Polling stations closed at 8 PM local time, although people waiting in line will still be allowed to vote.

The regional government estimates that three out of 5.3 million eligible voters turned out.

Voting was interrupted or stopped at 319 out of 2,315 polling places, according to a Catalan government spokesman.

Prime Minister Rajoy is due to make a statement at 8:15.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 1 Oct 20176:29 PM

761 people injured

Catalan emergency services report that 761 people were injured today, half of them in the city of Barcelona.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 1 Oct 20176:46 PM

No magnanimity from Rajoy key

Rajoy showed no magnanimity in his speech, going so far as to maintain “there has been no self-determination referendum in Catalonia” today.

A process that only served to sow division, create confrontation among citizens, cause unrest in the streets and provoke unwanted situations has failed.

He said Spanish forces “acted within the law and only within the law” to defend the Constitution.

Rajoy did not rule out talks, saying, “I have always offered dialogue” — which is a bit disingenuous when he previously refused to meet Catalan leaders, much less hear out their demands.

For many here, it will anyway be too little, too late.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 1 Oct 20178:09 PM

Sánchez criticizes Rajoy’s inaction

Without naming Rajoy, Socialist Party leader Pedro Sánchez has said that “doing nothing is the worst way of solving any problem” and promised to open “a political negotiation channel that is more urgent than ever”.

Sánchez has previously raised the possibility of constitutional reform.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 1 Oct 20178:47 PM

“We have won the right to independence”: Puigdemont key

Regional president Carles Puigdemont claims Catalonia has “won the right to be an independent state” in an address from the Palau de la Generalitat in central Barcelona.

He accuses Spain of writing a “shameful page” in the history of its relationship with Catalonia, but says he is still open “to proposals of dialogue that respect the will of the Catalan people.”

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 1 Oct 20179:05 PM

Results not expected tonight

The first results have started coming in from small polling stations — all with huge wins for the independence side — but full results are not expected tonight, given that all the votes must be counted and tabulated by hand.

Civil Guards occupied the regional government’s IT headquarters overnight to prevent the centralized processing of voting results. Online voter rolls were also taken offline, delaying voting in many places.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 1 Oct 20179:47 PM

CUP demands declaration of independence

The Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), a small far-left party Puigdemont needs for his majority in the regional parliament, has demanded an immediate proclamation of independence in case the “yes” side prevails.

The law that made the referendum possible — which was suspended by Spain’s Constitutional Court — calls for a declaration of independence within two days.

This could create a tension in the separatist 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.

If Puigdemont hesitates, the left may force him to call snap elections. Polls suggest the balance between pro- and anti-independence parties could be unchanged, but the Republican Left — the third ruling party — would probably replace Puigdemont’s Democrats as the largest party.

So far, 90 percent of the votes counted are in favor of independence. La Vanguardia has the up-to-date results.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 1 Oct 20179:51 PM

Ciudadanos leader takes separatists to task

Albert Rivera, the leader of the liberal Ciudadanos — the largest opposition party in Catalonia and the fourth party nationally — says Puigdemont and the separatists are closer to their objective: “Break Catalonia in half and separate it from the rest of Spain and Europe.”

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 1 Oct 201710:54 PM

90 percent vote for independence key

Some 2.2 million votes have been counted, with 90 percent in favor of independence. The regional government estimates that 770,000 votes were lost due to Spanish police actions.

5.3 million Catalans were eligible to vote, putting turnout at 42 to 56 percent.

According to Oriol Junqueras, the Catalan vice president and leader of the Republican Left, “Catalonia has earned the right to become a new republic if that is the decision of parliament.”

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 2 Oct 201712:24 AM

Procedural shortcomings

In addition to the estimated 770,000 votes that were lost due to Spanish police actions, Politico reports there were other procedural shortcomings that throw doubt on the legitimacy of the outcome:

There was no electoral commission overseeing the referendum. Some polling stations were sealed. The Catalan government made last-minute changes in the organization of the vote. The central government took down the referendum’s digital infrastructure. Polling stations were packed with secession supporters who were in charge of counting the votes. There were unconfirmed reports of people voting more than once.

Ainslie Noble Ainslie Noble 2 Oct 20172:30 PM

Violence in Catalonia may aid separatist aspiration

Rajoy’s refusal to allow a referendum in Catalonia may have encouraged those who were not supporters of independence to make a statement — not so much about the right for Catalonia to become an independent state, but rather for their right to decide

The same can be said for the violence that occurred as police confiscated ballot boxes and restrained those trying to vote. While in Spain, police leaving for Catalonia were cheered on by Spanish partisans waving flags, on the European and international stage their behavior may have only raised support for the Catalan cause.