Powerful pro-independence coalition says it will start secession process after September local elections, in defiance of government in Madrid
By Guy Hedgecoe, Madrid - 5:37PM BST 21 Jul 2015
Catalan separatist leaders have vowed to make a unilateral declaration of independence from Spain after local elections in September, putting themselves firmly on a collision course with the central government in Madrid.
The leaders of the two main Catalan nationalist political parties and pro-independence grass roots groups on Monday unveiled a united platform for the September 27 election in the semi-autonomous region. Although the election is for seats in the Catalan parliament, nationalists are treating it as a plebiscite on independence.
“The whole world needs to understand that this is for real,” Raul Romeva, a former MEP who heads the “Together for Yes” electoral list, said after the launch.
“If on September 27 this proposal has the sufficient and necessary majority, what we want is for the [Catalan] parliament to solemnly declare that according to that mandate, the process of independence should begin.”
According to this plan, a further, binding, referendum would take place in 2016, before the establishment of an independent Catalan state is completed.
Among those leading the independence charge is Artur Mas, the defiant regional premier of Catalonia and leader of the nationalist Convergence party. He has been the figurehead of the separatist movement since announcing his support for secession in 2012, after conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy refused to negotiate changes to Catalonia’s financial relationship with Madrid.
Many Catalans complain that their relatively wealthy region of seven million inhabitants subsidises the rest of Spain with their taxes. They also claim that Spain fails to understand Catalan culture and represses their language.
On Tuesday, Catalan civic organisations launched preparations for the north-eastern region’s national day, on September 11, when hundreds of thousands of people are expected to fill the streets of Barcelona to call for independence in what has become an annual tradition.
The Spanish government staunchly opposes independence or increased autonomy for Catalonia, arguing such a move would violate the constitution.
Last week, Mr Rajoy reiterated his position, saying: “There is not going to be Catalan independence.”
On Monday Justice Minister Rafael Catalá insisted that the Spanish state has “enough tools” to thwart a declaration of independence, threatening to suspend the region's semi-autonomous status if it moved ahead with a separation process.
Last November, the central government used the courts to block an attempt by Mr Mas to stage a Scotland-style referendum on independence in the region. The Catalan leader responded by staging an illegal vote which saw around two million people turn out, over 80 percent of them backing a break away from Spain.
However, most of those who would have voted “no” stayed away.
A poll published in June by the region’s CEO study centre showed that 43 percent of Catalans support independence.
On Tuesday, tensions between Madrid and Catalonia were underlined again as Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz criticised Pep Guardiola, the Catalan football legend and former FC Barcelona coach, for putting his name to the pro-independence electoral list, albeit as a symbolic move.
The minister accused Guardiola, who now coaches Bayern Munich, of representing the Spanish national team during his playing career “not for patriotic reasons, but for financial reasons.”
Guardiola occupies the last spot on the list, so, barring an unprecedented landslide, would not win a seat in the Catalan parliament. But the support of such a high profile figure is a powerful boost to the separatists' campaign - THE TELEGRAPH