Spain dismisses referendum on Catalan independence

Thursday 12 December 2013 20.27
Catalan regional government head Artur Mas claims a referendum can be held legally
Catalan regional government head Artur Mas claims a referendum can be held legally

The Spanish government has poured cold water on proposals by separatist parties in the Catalonia region to hold a referendum on the region’s independence on November 9 2014.

Catalan regional government head Artur Mas said the vote, which the Spanish government says would be unconstitutional, would ask two questions: "Do you want Catalonia to be a state?" and "Do you want that state to be independent?"

Calls for independence in Catalonia, a wealthy industrial region of north-eastern Spain, which accounts for a fifth of the country's economic output, have grown as a prolonged recession and cuts in public spending have hit the area, creating a headache for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

Mr Mas has argued that there was a way for the vote to be held legally, but within minutes of his statement, Spanish Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon said the vote could not take place because Spain's constitution would not allow it.

Mr Rajoy later reiterated that he saw no elbow room on Madrid's stance against the referendum.

"As prime minister I have sworn to uphold the constitution and the law and, because of this, I guarantee that this referendum will not happen," Mr Rajoy said during a joint news conference with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy.

"Any discussion or debate on this is out of the question."

The ambiguous wording of the proposed first question: "Do you want Catalonia to be a state?" was aimed at satisfying parties who wanted more independence from Madrid without separating altogether and at attracting as many voters as possible, political analysts have said.

The Catalan government has been talking about a possible referendum since late last year and a Metroscopia poll in newspaper El Pais last month showed that 46 percent of Catalans favour separatism versus 42 percent who wish to remain within Spain.

However, the same poll also showed that Catalans, if offered more autonomy, would prefer it over outright independence.

Mr Rajoy's People's Party and the main opposition Socialists have both dismissed Catalan breakaway rhetoric, which has become more voluble against a backdrop of similar movements in Europe. 

In Scotland, a vote to decide on independence from the United Kingdom will be held on September 18 2014.

Both of Spain's mainstream parties have lost support in Catalonia as tensions with Madrid have risen.

Catalonia has strong historic and cultural roots and its ownlanguage, aside from Spanish. It already has a high degree ofautonomy, but wants more say over taxes and public spending.