Catalan government “to wait until last minute” for agreed independence vote, Spanish president labels it “political nonsense”

Puigdemont speaks at the Madrid conference.
Puigdemont speaks at the Madrid conference. Author: Rubén Moreno/Generalitat de Catalunya
The Catalan and the Spanish governments appear to be no closer after Catalan president Carles Puigdemont reiterated once again that a deal on an independence referendum should be reached, but his Spanish counterpart Mariano Rajoy described the proposal as a “political, juridical and social nonsense”.

Puigdemont yesterday spoke in a well-announced event, “A referendum for Catalonia. Invitation to a democratic agreement”, that was held in Madrid’s Auditorium Caja de Música, offered by the city’s left-wing mayor Manuela Carmena, days after the conservative-dominated Spanish Senate had refused to host the conference.

The Catalan president said his “government’s offer for dialogue is permanent”, including a willingness, he argued, to agree on the date and question of a referendum on independence that the Catalan government plans to hold in September.

Still, Puigdemont further warned that “if no agreed-upon proposal is articulated, the [Catalan] government’s commitment to the Catalan people is democratically inviolable,” hinting at a unilateral holding of an independence referendum, without permission from the Spanish authorities.

The Catalan government —which is made up of pro-secession, big-tent alliance Together for Yes, or Junts pel Sí in Catalan— argues it has a “democratic mandate for independence” since September 2015, when Together for Yes won the Catalan parliamentary election under a pro-independence manifesto.

In that election, parties committing to establish a Catalan state — Together for Yes and anticapitalist CUP— won 48% of the votes and the absolute majority of seats. Parties opposing secession captured some 39% of the ballots. Left-wing alliance Catalonia Yes We Can (CSQP) won 9% of the votes under a manifesto that withheld Catalonia’s right to freely decide its own political future, without explaining if the alliance was for or against secession.

A resolution launching a “process for the creation of an independent Catalan state, in the form of a republic”, was passed by the Parliament’s pro-independence majority in November 2015. In September 2016, Puigdemont announced that a referendum to validate break up from Spain would be held in 2017.

(For a deeper background on Catalonia’s course towards the referendum, please read this.)

“Political nonsense, blackmail,” Spanish president says

Spanish president Mariano Rajoy (PP, conservative) yesterday challenged Puigdemont to a face-to-face debate in the Spanish Parliament about the referendum.

If a vote on the referendum proposal was to be held in the Spanish Congress, it would be likely defeated, as both PP and social democrat PSOE —who hold a combined majority in the chamber— vehemently oppose it.

Furthermore, Rajoy labeled Puigdemont’s proposal a “political, juridical and social nonsense.” An information appeared on Spanish newspaper El País said Catalonia is planning to immediately declare independence if no referendum is allowed to be held, according to what the newspaper said is “a secret draft version of legislation being prepared by the Generalitat, the Catalan regional government, and to which El País has had access”. That is “intolerable blackmail and threats”, Rajoy argued.

Catalan opposition leader Inés Arrimadas (centre-right Citizens’ Party) said the content of the leaked version “is no surprise” as the Catalan government, she argued, “does not want a referendum, but a big pretext to take Catalonia out of Spain.”

Nevertheless, the Catalan government reacted by telling AFP that the leaked version cited by El País was a “very preliminary draft written several months ago which is nothing like the text that exists today.” The Spanish newspaper also holds that the draft version of the secession law “will allow for press control during the referendum campaign.”

“Running out of options for negotiated solution”, says independence civil society leader

Further contributing to the debate, president of main pro-independence civil society group Catalan National Assembly (ANC) Jordi Sànchez writes in a op-ed that Catalan political representatives “have run out of options for a negotiated solution” after “three electoral cycles driven by the issue of self-government”. “Spain’s Congress and government,” Sànchez goes on, “have repeatedly turned down requests for a binding referendum on independence” even if the measure “enjoys the support of as many as 8 out of 10 of the region’s residents, according to most polls.”

Furthermore, Sànchez called on the EU not to “turn its back on so many people clamoring for the right to vote. What message does it send to the world if its own members are unable to apply its basic values?”, he asks.

Pro-referendum alliance collects 500,000 signatures

In yet another development, a pro-referendum alliance of civil society organizations, trade unions and parties collected half a million signatures over the last few months in support of an agreed independence vote. The demand is also supported by five Nobel laureates —South African archbishop Desmond Tutu, Argentinian pacifist Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, late Italian dramatist Dario Fo, Guatemalan Maya leader Rigoberta Menchú, and vice-president of the Tunisian League for Human Rights Ahmed Galai.