Catalonia's ambiguous vote.

AuthorGuntermann, Eric
PositionBRITAIN/EUROPE - Autonomy

On Sunday, November 9, more II than two million citizens in Catalonia went to the polls in a "participatory process on the future of their region." The result was 81 per cent support for independence of this relatively wealthy region in the northeast of Spain, most of whose 7.5 million people speak Catalan, a language different from Spanish. Given the informality of the process, it is hard to be precise on the proportion of potential voters who took part, but it was less than 50 per cent (68 per cent voted in the last Catalan election).

After failing to get the Spanish government to a agree to a full-blown referendum, the Catalan government decided to hold a "non-referendum consultation," which the central government referred to the Constitutional Court, thus automatically suspending it for five months. In response, the Catalan government decided to ask citizens to vote instead in an informal process run mostly by volunteers. The central government similarly got this process suspended by the top court. Nevertheless, the Catalan government went ahead with the vote. As a result, the debate in Catalonia focused essentially on Catalans' right to decide their future and not on independence per se.

The proportional electoral system used in Catalonia has produced a very divided party system (see table 1), with various parties with varying proposals for the future of Catalonia competing for the nationalist vote. Only the ERC and CUP have long supported independence, while the CDC recently shifted from support for autonomy within Spain to support for outright independence. Two others, the UDC (the CDC's partner in government) and the ICV, are divided on the issue, hut their leaders have declared their support for increased autonomy for Catalonia within Spain, not independence.

All five of these parties, with 87 of the 135 members of the Catalan Parliament, supported the vote, though only three support independence. Moreover, one of these three, the CDC, has generally avoided voicing direct support for independence, but like the ICV and UDC has mostly focused on Catalans' right to vote on their future. The CDC's leader has called for a Catalan state, which does not necessary entail independence (see ballot). What unites these five parties is support for Catalans' right to decide their future. By contrast, the two main non-nationalist parties, the Spanish conservative People's Party and to a lesser extent the Catalan Socialist Party, dismissed the...

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