Catalans move forward with a referendum of their own
On Friday Spain's Catalonia region voted to give their leader the power to call a secession referendum. Inspired by Scotland's vote on indpendence, European separatists are seeking the same chance.
Barcelona, Spain — Despite Scotland's decision to reject independence, lawmakers in Spain's Catalonia region voted overwhelmingly Friday to give their leader the power to call a secession referendum that the central government in Madrid has denounced as illegal.
The prospect of an independent Scotland had captivated European separatists. Besides the Catalans, their ranks include pro-independence Basques in northern Spain; Corsicans who want to break away from France; Italians from several northern regions; and Flemish speakers in Belgium demanding more autonomy, independence or union with the Netherlands.
Catalonia's regional president, Artur Mas, supported a Yes vote in Scotland, but stressed Catalans simply wanted the same chance as the Scots. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said he will block a planned Nov. 9 vote in the wealthy northeastern region of 7.5 million people.
"What happened in Scotland and the United Kingdom is not a setback for us because what we really want in Catalonia is to have the chance to vote, the same possibility," Mas said.
Later Friday, the Catalan parliament voted 106-28 to give him the power to call a referendum. Mas didn't say when he would sign the decree to set the vote date.
Backers called the vote a strong sign of support.
"Catalonia has a social majority that wants independence, a majority in parliament that wants independence and now we have the instrument in this law of public consultation," said Carme Forcadell, president of the Catalan National Assembly group.
Unlike the Scotland vote, the referendum in Catalonia wouldn't result in secession. It would ask Catalans whether they favor secession. If the answer is Yes, Mas says that would give him a political mandate to negotiate a path toward independence.
But Spain's constitution doesn't allow referendums that don't include all Spaniards, and experts say its Constitutional Court would rule the vote illegal.
Santi Rodriguez, a member of the Catalan parliament who represents Rajoy's center-right Popular Party, said it wouldn't be fair for only Catalonians to vote.
"There are not just 7 million of us who would be affected by this, there are 47 million" in Spain, he said.
Catalonia shares cultural traits with the rest of Spain, but many Catalans take pride in the deep differences based on their language. The region, a financial powerhouse, is key to helping Spain emerge from its economic crisis — but locals feel they give too much of their taxes to help the rest of Spain.
Polls indicate Catalans are roughly evenly split on independence — but that figure drops significantly when people are asked if they favor an independent Catalonia outside the European Union.
Scotland's decision to reject independence could delay successful secessionist efforts for years, said Marc Hooghe, a political science professor at the University of Leuven in Belgium.
"The Scots could have led the way for other regions. They failed. So we will need a new 'pioneer' now, and that new pioneer has much less opportunity to get EU membership in a smooth manner," he said.
Ferran Abello, a 38-year-old dog trainer, said Scotland could have provided a roadmap for how to break up a nation that would later seek to re-enter the 28-nation European Union.
"There are steps that Scotland would have taken first," he said in the Catalan capital, Barcelona. "But they had the chance to vote and voted no, so we will have to knock that door down."
Italy's Northern League party sent half a dozen observers to Scotland, hoping a Yes victory would boost its own push for greater autonomy for the northern Veneto and Lombard regions.
"At least the Scots went to the polls," said Matteo Mognaschi, a League observer in Edinburgh. "They won't even let us vote."
Alan Clendenning reported from Madrid. Nicole Winfield contributed from Rome.