In the recent unofficial referendum on independence held in the Spanish region of Catalonia, 80% of voters came out in favour of independence. Despite this, Spain’s government repeatedly stated that an official independence referendum would be illegal under the country’s constitution, and are ignoring the result. But why are Catalans so in favour of independence, and why is Spain so determined to block any such vote from taking place?
The Catalan demand for independence mainly stems from the current state of the economy in Spain. Catalonia is one of Spain’s wealthiest regions and is home to a variety of advanced industries and businesses. Recent estimates have suggested that Catalonia accounts for 18.8 percent of Spain’s GDP, which is a larger contribution than that of Madrid.
The wealth of the region has led to some suggestion that its success is being used to support and ‘prop up’ other less wealthy regions of Spain, which are struggling with deficits and high rates of unemployment.
Indeed, Catalonia as an independent country would become the world’s 34th largest economy, and it would have a GDP per capita of $35,000, higher than that of Italy. In the event of independence Catalonia would be responsible for taking on a share of the Spanish deficit, which reached a record high of 942.8 billion euros (£792.5 billion) in June last year. Spain would also suffer if Catalonia left the country and became an independent state, as Catalonia produces almost 20% of Spain’s economic output, double the amount that Scotland contributes to the economy of the UK.
The continuing popularity and relevance of Catalonia’s regional language also forms part of its demand for independence. The Catalan language is a major factor behind this – the last census to be taken in the region indicated that 73% of the region’s population speaks the language, which some view as having been discriminated against by the Spanish people and government along with some elements of Catalonian culture. Many view this as being unique and distinct from the cultural image of the rest of Spain.
Another reason given in support of independence is the feeling that Catalonia is not in control of its own destiny with regard to political matters. The Partido Popular (People’s Party) which is currently the governing party in the national Spanish Parliament has repeatedly blocked any attempt to hold a vote or discussion on the issue of independence for the region. With regard to the unofficial referendum on the issue that was held on the 9th November, a senior figure in the party said that the poll had been conducted ‘outside of the legal framework’, and condemned the Catalonian regional government for going ahead with it, saying ‘there was a not achieved attempt to violate national sovereignty’.
There was a not achieved attempt to violate national sovereigntyMaría Dolores de CospedalSpanish People's Party
The People’s Party is the fourth most popular party in the Catalan region and has made itself more unpopular among many in Catalonia by rejecting independence. Some nationalist parties in Catalonia, such as Esquerra Republica de Catalunya, which supports the Catalonian minority government through a stability pact, have began to call for more direct forms of action as they believe that the Spanish government has rejected a ‘very clear democratic mandate’ for Catalonian independence. The ERC has threatened to withdraw support for the Catalonian government if a referendum is not held by 2015, which could cause massive implications for Catalonian politics.
Many believe that independence would lead to a more representative political system, which would be better at protecting Catalonian interests due to the powers it would have to better control areas such as the economy and the Catalonian language. With the demand for independence growing as Catalonians become more aware of the potential benefits, the Spanish government’s position on the issue is looking increasingly untenable, and it is clear that some concessions toward independence will have to be made.