Catalonia lawmakers approve holding vote for independence from Spain

Catalans wave Esteladas, their independence flags, before the regional parliament's passage of a measure approving a referendum on breaking away from Spain.
Catalans wave Esteladas, their independence flags, before the regional parliament’s passage of a measure approving a referendum on breaking away from Spain.
(Josep Lago / AFP/Getty Images)

A day after Scotland rejected independence, lawmakers in Spain’s northeast region of Catalonia moved Friday to hold their own referendum on breaking away from Spain and forming a new European country.

Voting 106 to 28, Catalonia’s regional parliament approved a law granting its leader power to hold a nonbinding vote on independence. Catalan President Artur Mas said he would sign the legislation and set a Nov. 9 date for balloting.

Outside the parliament, several hundred demonstrators surrounded the building, waving Catalan flags and chanting “We will vote!” and “Independence!”


Spain’s constitutional court is widely expected to strike down the Catalan law as early as next week, triggering a legal standoff between Catalonia and its overseers in Madrid. The Spanish Constitution says that the country is indivisible, that referendums can be called only by the central government and that such measures must be voted upon by all Spaniards, not just one region.

“If in Madrid they think that by using the legal frameworks they can stop the political will of the majority of the Catalan people they are wrong! It’s a big mistake,” Mas told reporters gathered at his presidential palace in Barcelona’s gothic quarter.

Scotland’s independence measure, though defeated, stirred hope in Catalonia, with a population of 7.6 million. Many Catalans threw Scotland-themed parties this week, complete with bagpipes and haggis.

“For one day, I would like to be Scottish,” said Gabriel Herredero, 25, wearing a kilt in downtown Barcelona. “As Catalans, we would be proud also to be able to vote for something we really want.”

With their own language and culture, Catalans have long sought autonomy from Spain. Their customs were repressed under the nearly-40-year military dictatorship of Francisco Franco, who died in 1975. More recently, many Catalans believed their wealthy region was unfairly subsidizing poorer parts of Spain during the country’s economic crisis.

Last week, as many as 1.8 million people packed Barcelona for pro-independence rallies on Catalonia’s national day. Polls show that a large majority of Catalans want to vote on their future status, though they are roughly — like Scotland — on whether to seek independence.


“We think that independent of the result, the Scottish people have won, because they can vote. They can decide their future,” said Carme Forcadell, head of a pro-independence group that helped organize last week’s rally. “Why them and not us?”

Frayer is a special correspondent.