Separatist parties won 47.7% of the vote in the recent Catalonian regional elections. While such a result shows continuing support for secession from Spain, the victory fell short of the decisive margin pro-independence parties were hoping for and has raised questions about the actual level of support for a breakaway from Spain.
Artur Más, the Catalonian regional premier, had previously described independence as necessary for the region to maintain it’s self control, accusing Madrid of reducing the amount of power held by Spain’s regional assemblies:
Self-government in the regions of Spain, and especially in Catalonia, is being reduced because there’s a very harsh campaign of recentralization of power in Madrid…There are more independence supporters today than a few years ago because it’s evident that this process is occurring. And accompanying this process is a great lack of respect for Catalan identity, language and culture.
In a separate development Más has also been taken to court over the unofficial independence referendum conducted in 2014, accused of disobedience and abuse of power as well as embezzling public funds. His spokesman denounced the charges as ‘politically motivated’ and an exhibition of the ‘central state’s political cowardice’.
Voter turnout in the election was also low at around 40%, leading to questions as to whether Mr Mas can say his call for Catalonian independence is legitimate. The majority held by pro-independence parties within the Catalonian regional assembly is an uneasy union between Mr Mas’s centrist group and a further 10 seats provided by leftist parties in order to complete the majority. The fact that pro independence parties have in the past publically expressed their desire to see Mas replaced as the Catalonian premier does little to contribute to the government’s hold on power.
For Spain’s part, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has continued to insist that the union of Spain is not up for discussion, insisting that he will not ‘talk about either the unity of Spain, or sovereignty’ and does not wish to ‘liquidate the law’. He has, however, paved the way for further negotiation about the powers devolved to the Generalitat (Catalonian Regional Parliament), expressing his readiness both to talk and to listen.
There are also divisions within the population of Catalonia as to whether a move towards independence would actually be a positive step. Supporters of secession argue that the region, which is the richest in Spain in terms of GDP, has received unfair treatment at the hands of the Madrid government and is forced to pay too much tax to Madrid in return for an insufficient amount of state investment. Those against claim there are too many risks attached to secession, and that the economy would suffer with many big businesses and investors threatening to move elsewhere if the region severs it’s ties with Spain.