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Catalonia Hails Scottish Inspiration as It Schedules Independence Referendum

Catalonian leader Artur Mas will defy the Spanish government over his region's non-binding independence vote, despite a looming constitutional battle.
September 19, 2014, 7:25pm
Image via Getty

Scotland's long, impassioned struggle for independence might have ended in defeat, but the vote has been hailed in the autonomous Spanish region of Catalonia as an inspiration for its own breakaway bid.

Artur Mas, the president of Catalonia's regional government, lauded the Scottish referendum on Friday as the Catalan parliament met to approve a law that would pave the way for a non-binding "consultation" vote on independence in November — a move that the central Spanish government is vigorously resisting. It is adamant that such a referendum would be illegal, and is attempting to have the bid thrown out by the country's constitutional court.

Despite the looming confrontation with Madrid, the law was quickly rubber-stamped, passing with 106 votes to 28.

At a press conference ahead of the vote, Mas said Catalans should not be disheartened by the fact that Scottish nationalists ultimately failed to win, noting that the "key point" was that they had won the opportunity to vote.

"This is a powerful and strong message that the UK is sending to the entire world — that if there is such a conflict elsewhere in the world, you have the right way to try to resolve these differences," he said. "So it is not a setback, it is a very positive message for us and should be for the central institutions in Madrid."

Mas said he is committed to ensuring that the region's 7.5 million Catalans exercise the same right to determine their region's future, and criticized the central government's efforts to block a referendum.

"If they think in Madrid that by using legal frameworks they can stop the will of the Catalan people, they are wrong," the Catalan leader said.

Catalonia fell victim to harsh cultural repression under the fascist regime of General Francisco Franco, who restricted the use of the regional language and attempted to crush Catalan nationalism in what had been a stronghold of resistance to his forces during the Spanish Civil War.

After Franco's 36-year dictatorship ended with his death in 1975, Catalonia revived its stifled identity, and it now has its own government and parliament with significant powers.

But many Catalans now feel that the autonomy they enjoy is not enough — a sense that has been fueled by Spain's economic crisis and the perception that Catalonia, as one of the country's wealthiest regions, is paying to support less affluent and productive areas. Opinion polls show that around 80 percent of the populace would like to have their say in an independence vote.

Some of the region's residents insist they are not Spanish but Catalan, and there has been a concerted push to reinvigorate the Catalan tongue, which is now the official language. Catalonia's National Day on September 11 is often marked by street protests against the government in Madrid.

Such was their enthusiasm over developments in Scotland that a small number of pro-independence Catalans visited the country to observe the process in action. Daniel Rue, a 65-year-old who was one of several of them celebrating the vote in Edinburgh on Thursday, told VICE News that they wanted to support the referendum and highlight the difference between the attitudes of the British and Spanish governments to the independence question.

"The main difference between both processes, Scottish and Catalan, is Spain is the enemy," he said. "So [British Prime Minister David] Cameron came here and said 'Scotland, don't go, we love you.' Spanish government said, 'Don't go or I send you the army.' And then we cannot vote. We said the ninth of November for a referendum, but the Spanish government said, "No, it's not allowed.' So we came here to demonstrate because at the same time that Scotland is voting, we cannot."

Spain's government had made no secret of its disapproval of Scotland's referendum. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy ominously warned that Scottish independence would have grave economic and political consequences, and noted that it would have to apply for European Union membership and be prepared to wait for years.

On Wednesday, Rajoy told the Spanish parliament that independence bids like Scotland's were "a torpedo below the waterline for European integration."

He was quick to applaud the No victory in Scotland on Friday, saying that the Scottish had chosen "between integration and segregation, between isolation and openness, between stability and uncertainty, between security and a real risk, and they have chosen the most favorable option for everyone — for them, for the rest of the British citizens, and for Europe."

It is as yet unclear how the legal battle over Catalan's planned referendum will play out. But the vote has been scheduled for November 9, and the Catalan government has made it clear it's up for the fight.

Follow Hannah Strange on Twitter: @hannahkstrange