Catalan self-determination: the idea of a few politicians or grassroots civil society?
CATALONIA VOTES – Polls show that 80% of all Catalans want to vote in a referendum on their political future
Some observers have attempted to portray the Catalan self-determination process as a minority interest, a project driven by a small, out-of-touch elite which has no real roots among the population as a whole. Nothing could be further from the truth. Various polls taken over the last year show that 80% of all Catalans want a chance to vote in a referendum on their political future. Though the Spanish government has been unwilling to negotiate on this issue, polls in the rest of Spain, outside Catalonia, also show that millions of Spaniards across Spain think it is only fair for Catalonia to vote, just like the Scots are doing in the U.K.
How did things come to this state of public opinion? Many think one of the key factors was a decision by the Spanish Constitutional Court. In 2010, that Court unilaterally annulled and amended key elements of Catalonia’s Statute of Autonomy, the law which had been agreed upon as a means of devolving powers to the Autonomous Region of Catalonia. The Statute had already been approved by the Spanish Parliament in Madrid as well as the Catalan Parliament in Barcelona. A referendum was then held and the Catalan people approved the Statute with some 75% in favor of the Statute.
So why or how would the Constitutional Court meddle with this law? Some say that the unexpected and unjustified reduction in regional powers by the Spanish Constitutional Court was a turning point for public opinion in Catalonia. It was the moment when public opinion turned because people finally lost hope that Catalonia’s unique language and culture could be made to fit inside post-Franco Spain, despite the high hopes that this would be possible as Spain transitioned to democracy.
Millions take the streets
Since then, popular pressure for Catalonia to vote on its future relationship with Spain has been growing to the point where it is now immense. This has been demonstrated by the numbers of people prepared to go onto the streets to show their support for Catalonia’s choice. On 10 July 2010, 1 million citizens protested against the Constitutional Court’s ruling. On Catalonia’s national day in 2012, 11 September, well over 1.5 million people marched peacefully through Barcelona calling for Catalonia to become a new state. Again, on 11 September 2013, some 2 million people formed a 480-kilometre human chain, the Via Catalana (Catalan Way), from the northern to the southern frontiers of Catalonia, demanding the right to vote on their own future.
In the referendum to be held on 9 November 2014, voters will be asked “Do you want Catalonia to become a State? If yes, Do you want this State to be independent?” This referendum has the support of the vast majority of the public in Catalonia, and has been approved by five political parties controlling almost two-thirds of the seats in the Catalan Parliament. The most recent opinion survey, carried out by the Centre for Opinion Studies in Barcelona, found that over 50% of respondents would vote “Yes” to both parts of the referendum question, and only 19.3% would vote “No”.
Finally, the strength of popular feeling was demonstrated in the results of the recent European Parliament elections, held on 25 May, in which parties supporting self-determination won 61% of the vote, an increase of 24 percentage points from 2009 – with an increase of 10 percentage points in voter turnout.
Public opinion in Catalonia is very clear and the opinion is broad and deep: Catalonia wants to vote and will vote on 9 November.