A million and a half people one year ago packed the streets of Barcelona demanding independence for their region of Catalonia, in the northeast of Spain. The organisers said this proved that the model of autonomous but not independent government – in place since the return of democracy in Spain – had run its course for the seven and a half million people of the region.
This push for independence in what is reputed to be Spain’s richest region came at the same time as economic trouble was getting worse.
Unemployment is now approaching 25 percent even in Catalonia. The region’s debt in the first quarter of this year stood at more than 50 billion euros. It was forced to ask for a nine billion euro federal assistance boost.
In public discourse, the region’s government condemned that Catalonia got 16 billion euros per year less from Spanish federal coffers than it pays into them in taxes. The president of the regional government, Artur Mas, spoke out loud and clear.
He said: “Of all the territories in Spain, more than 30 years after the establishment of democracy, Catalonia contributes the most to Spain’s GDP and to economic growth, and yet it is the territory with the least public spending in Spain.”
Then, in last November’s elections, the pro-independence left-wing party ERC became the second-strongest political force in Barcelona. For its leader, Oriol Junqueras, this meant charting a new course.
Junqueras said: “The people of Catalonia have spoken, clearly voting in favour of the process toward independence.”
Mas and his centre-right governing coalition were weakened. He had to team up with pro-independence forces. In return for its support, ERC demanded a referendum be held on independence in 2014.
A survey taken at the beginning of this month suggests that if that referendum were held today, separating from Spain would win more than 52 percent support – up from less than 50 percent last November. The portion of voters opposing independence, on the other hand, appeared to have shrunk by almost three points – to 24 percent.
Artur Mas has fostered suspense by saying he will negotiate with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy about a referendum, even though it is proscribed in the country’s constitution. The two are said to have met secretly in August, although Rajoy is staunchly opposed to the referendum demand.