Separatism is in the air in Spain this weekend, as Catalunya stages an unofficial referendum on independence. Spain’s 17 regions already enjoy considerable self-government. But Madrid has long been wary of separatist movements in three of them: the Basque region, Galicia and Catalunya all of which have their own language.
The idea of staging a referendum was launched by the Catalan village of Arenya de Munt, north of Barcelona, where 96 per cent of voters endorsed an independent Catalunya in September. The Basque country is known for ETA’s violence, but Catalunya has no history of such militancy; it has always preferred to increase local power within the Spanish state. Opinion polls show support for outright independence IS slowly increasing, running at about 20 per cent. However, separatist parties have never taken more than 16 per cent in regional elections. Spain’s two main parties, the Socialists and the conservative People’s Party, have called for a boycott of the referendum. They say the results will prove nothing no matter how impressive the numbers calling for a split. They say people happy with the status quo will not bother to vote, leaving the headlines to diehard independence activists.