Catalonia goes to the polls on Sunday in local elections that some hope could set the ball rolling towards independence from Spain.
That is certainly the hope of pro-breakaway ex-Barcelona football coach Pep Guardiola as well as the region’s President Artur Mas who insists that going it alone is a means to an end.
“Independence is not the aim, is not the goal. Independence or having your own state is the tool we need to work out all the other problems,” he said.
But try telling that to Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy who has described independence plans as “nonsense” or his conservative People’s Party’s regional candidate, Xavier Garcia Albiol.
“This flag represents us all,” Garcia Albiol told supporters at a rally, holding up a flag combining the Catalan and Spanish designs, with a heart in the middle.
“The Catalan flag and the Spanish flag with a heart at the centre. This is what makes us proud,” he said.
Anti-independence campaigners point to the consequences of a breakaway.
For example, Catalonia would automatically be booted out of the euro zone and its banks would lose access to European Central Bank facilities if it goes it alone, Spain’s central bank chief said on Monday.
In a symbolic ballot last November, 80 percent of people in the wealthy northeastern region voted in favour of independence, although turnout was relatively low.
“I hope the ‘yes’ wins,” said Barcelona resident Sergi Mancilla.
“I think it would give us enough power to take the first step towards building a fairer state and the resources to build a more socially-oriented country.”
But not everyone in the city agrees.
“Catalans and Spaniards are all the same,” said Maria Navarro.
“If things have to be improved, let’s do it, but let’s do it together.”
Polls suggest that Catalan separatists are on track to win a small majority of seats – a first step, they say, to a declaration of independence within 18 months.