Political leaders in Spain's wealthy Catalonia region set Nov. 9, 2014 as a date for a referendum on declaring independence from Spain, but the national government immediately said it would move to block such a vote as unconstitutional.
The latest announcement from Catalonia, which has long chafed under what it calls economic and cultural dominance from Madrid, sets Spain's leading industrial region on a collision course with the central government, with enormous stakes for both sides and an outcome that is difficult to predict.
Catalan regional leader Artur Mas said on Thursday that major political parties had agreed on the wording of a two-part question to be put on a ballot next November. The first part is: "Do you want Catalonia to be a State?" The second part is: "Do you want Catalonia to be an independent State?" Mr. Mas, who had pledged the referendum after elections last year, said the question was "inclusive, and at the same time clear and concrete." He added that there would be more details in coming days on how the vote would be conducted.
Recent polls indicate that around 80% of Catalonia's 7.5 million citizens favor a referendum. Some polls show a much narrower majority favoring independence, though how the question is phrased has an important bearing on the results.
Strains have long existed between Madrid and Catalonia, the country's leading export region, which has a distinctive language and culture.
But the economic crisis that has battered Spain since 2008 has further frayed the relationship, with Catalans complaining they pay much more in taxes than they receive in investments. Some 43 cents of every euro Catalonia pays in taxes doesn't come home, according to data compiled by the Catalan government. Another factor fueling Catalan discontent was a move by Spanish courts in 2010 to strike down key parts of a statute that would have given more autonomy to Catalonia.
This past Sept. 11, a regional holiday in Catalonia, more than a million pro-independence activists showed their strength by turning out to form a 250-mile human chain running the length of the region.
Activists calling for the independence of Catalonia, currently a region of Spain, take part in a 'human chain' during a protest on Wednesday. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Here's an interesting image from International Business Times.
Spain to Block Poll
ABC News reports Spain to Block Independence Poll
The president of Spain's regional government of Catalonia said Thursday he wants to hold an independence referendum on Nov. 9, 2014, but the Spanish government immediately said no.Questions
Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz Gallardon responded to Mas' announcement, saying a referendum would be illegal and would not be allowed.
Spain's Constitution says only the central government in Madrid can call a referendum, and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy recently rejected a request by Mas to allow one. The government has not said what it might do to prevent a ballot.
Mas said the referendum date was set almost a year away so as to give ample time for negotiations with Madrid on "the way to stage the consultation legally."
Scotland is staging an independence referendum next year, on Sept. 18. That vote has been approved by the British government.
Mas began pushing for a referendum after he failed to clinch a better financial pact for Catalonia with the central government in 2012. The referendum proposal got the support of some 1 million people who turned out at two demonstrations held since then.
The possibility of a region having the right to decide its future has stirred much political debate and raised questions as to whether it is time to reform the 1978 Constitution to ease territorial discontent. The Basque region, which has traditionally sought greater powers, failed in a bid to hold a self-determination referendum several years ago.
Catalonia is one of the country's most powerful regions and represents roughly a fifth of Spain's 1.1 trillion euro ($1.5 trillion) GDP. Its population of 7.5 million is greater than those of EU members such as Denmark, Ireland or Finland.
Spain has 17 regions, each with substantial autonomy but with no control over key areas such as defense, foreign affairs, ports and airports, and in the making of national economic and financial decisions.
Will the central government send in troops to block the vote? If so, how much economic and social damage would that cause?
It's difficult to say precisely what will happen, but things are heating up politically to go along with huge economic strife in Spain.
Mike "Mish" Shedlock