Catalonia: Why can’t they have a referendum?


What is going on with Catalonia and why do they want independence? Is it the same as Scotland and are they really any different to the Spanish?

Living in Madrid I am exposed to plenty of news, rumours, insults and praise for the region and its people, and I wanted to share and explore that a bit more. As I’m sure you are aware they want independence and they don’t want to give up.

So where are we now?

In recent weeks Catalonia has been in the news again. At the beginning of this week, Monday 9th July 2018, the Catalan President Quim Torra met with Spain’s new Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez. This was the first time in 2 years that a Catalan President and a Spanish Prime Minister have met. The over all out come appeared positive with Mr Torra insisting on independence, but them both agreeing to continue talking to ease tensions between the regional and national governments.


Pedro Sanchez, the new Prime Minister, who recently took over from the former conservative PM Marion Rajoy, following a vote of no confidence in parliament, has his work cut out. Rajoy never did a good job at negotiating with Catalonia and was widely criticised for his use of the legal system and the police against Catalonia and some of its elected officials.

Later in his busy week, on Wednesday 11th July, Mr Torra met with fellow independentist Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. The Guardian reported that during his visit to Scotland, Mr Torra insisted that he wants a referendum similar to the Scottish had back in 2014. Apparently, there is a similar split in Catalonia, similar to the split in Scotland back in 2014, but Mr Torra denied this.


In what has been a busy week regarding Catalonia, Mr Puigdemont, former President of Catalonia at the time of the Catalonia crisis, will be extradited from Germany to Spain of charges of misuse of public funds, he faces up to 30 years in prison.

Spanish National Day 2017

On the 12th October 2017, I had the day off like everyone else in Spain, it is the Spanish National day. This special day is every year is a celebration of everything Spain, yet this year it was like Spanish nationalism with a cocaine habit. During the height of the Catalan crisis Spanish nationalism rose to high levels, like a country hosting the Olympics, however it had a nasty undercurrent of despise towards Catalonia.

On my day off, I decided to go to the traditional military parade, this is held in Madrid’s Paseo de la Castellana and around the huge Spanish flag near Plaza de Colon. All sections of the military participate with jeeps, soldiers marching, fly overs by the air force and every politician, official and  z list celebrity you can think of. Of course, the King and rest of the royal family as well.


The crowds were awash with families on a day out; gangs of teenagers draped in flags, tacky bull t-shirts and with annoying plastic red horns making a dreadful noise; groups of bulged grown men with shaved heads, cans of Mahou in hand and sewn patches of anything Spanish on their nationalistic type jackets. There was every type of Spaniard you could think of from posh, Ralph Lauren wearing rich fancy boys to hardcore Falangist, but I expected them, it was the groups of teenage girls and young families that I did not expect to see.


On this day I saw the whole of the Goya neighbourhood, a normally white, clean and affluent area of Madrid, painted with Spanish flags, red and yellow streams as far as I could see. People decked out the sides of the roads and chants of a united Spain and Catalonia is Spanish deafened my ears. Spain was alight with the flame of nationalism and Catalonia was getting burnt.

The referendum and the hidden ballot boxes.


11 days prior to this had been the Catalan referendum. I remember it clearly, I had been visiting family in the Basque country and on our way back my phone came alive with the news. The Guardian had been running an ongoing commentary piece on the referendum and it broke the news that the Spanish National Police had been trying to stop people from voting, but they had used heavy violence against the voting Catalans.


My wife and I were both astonished. How could they do this? The referendum had been declared illegal previously by the courts. Yet, despite this, the government of Catalonia continued with the referendum. In my opinion it was a very one-sided affair, reports that independentists turned out in droves, but those in favour of a united Spain stayed at home seemed to be true. There was also talk of people voting several times.

Recently I watched a BBC documentary on the referendum and it was very coolly organised. The Spanish secret service believed they had got all the ballot boxes and slips the day before. However, of the border into French Catalonia, in a small town called Elna, where they feel loyal to people in Spanish Catalonia and still speak Catalan. They drove over ballot boxes and slips the night of the referendum. They say, that in their view, this was the cause of the violence, as the Spanish secret service felt embarrassed on the national stage, this then led to the violence on the day of the referendum.


Other reports say that in the days up to the referendum the Catalan police, Mossos, refused to work with the national police. There was also riots and organised crowds stopping the national police and Civil Guard from carrying out their duties such as removing voting materials. They even took over the local TV station and seized independence websites, by order of the Spanish government. Spain had to send police officers from all over Spain to Barcelona, there’s even videos of people in Andalusian villages cheering the police on to “go get ‘um”.

The world reacted from shocked to passive responses from nations all over the globe, Catalonia was centre stage, but it never had many allies in nations, yet many friends in international supporters. Even the King got involved to support Spanish unity.


Following the referendum, Catalonia declared independence, yet it was not reconsidered by Spain or any other nation.

In the following months, the Spanish government arrested many elected Catalan Members of Parliament, many others fled the country they were using the law to prosecute them not diplomatic means.

Then the Spanish government removed the Catalan governments powers and ruled over it itself.  It’s only recently that they have elected their own elected body. Catalonia is one of the devolved governments with the most power in Europe. It has power over almost everything, look here.

How did they get here and are they really that different to Spain?


I watched this video and well, it made things clear. It misses quite a bit out, but not significant parts; I’ve cross referenced some of the information and it makes sense. Anyway, it will get you up to date on the history of Catalonia, the family member Spain can’t seem to live with.

Lots of it is about money, like most things, many people say that Catalonia pays more in taxes and that the rest of the country is living off them. However following the referendum many companies moved there HQ to Madrid in fear of being locked out the EU.


Catalonia saw its own country turn against it, very similar to the civil war. Read Orwell’s making book Homage to Catalonia for a great read and to see Catalonia in a different light. Since reading it I’ve seen it as the more liberal and forward thinking art of Spain.

Many people in Spain have even gone to the trouble of not buying Catalan products like Cola Cao, which is a staple of any Spanish child’s diet. Yet they don’t realise they are hurting their own economy by doing this… not that it would do much any way.

Meeting many Spaniards, I have heard many different sayings and opinions on Catalonia and vice versa. The Spanish opinions and stereotypes of Catalans are always more interesting and rather strange. The topic of independence is never civil, it sends educated and respectable people crazy, whether Catalan or Spanish. It’s like mentioning you put milk in a cup of tea first to a British person, they just can’t handle it.


Some things that have been said by typical Madrid based Spaniards are:

“They think they are better and different from us”– Well from observation they are, they have a different language, different days off, national dishes and traditions. But then so do Galicia, the Basque country, Valencia, Asturias and Andalusia. They are all very different.

“They are tight with money”– Ok, this is true, they also have corrupt politicians like in the rest of Spain.

“They only talk to you in Catalan!”– I’ve been to Barcelona and this is not true, I also have Spanish friends that live their and say it hasn’t happened to them. But, it has happened to my wife in London, some hardcore independentist would rather speak English than Spanish.

“Their government taught them a different history to the rest of Spain, and they think they are special!”– I’m not sure how true this is and probably difficult to prove. They do manage their own education in Catalonia and since Franco’s death there has been an increase in learning Catalan, but changing history… I’m not sure.

“They were never their own kingdom like Scotland, they were part of Aragon!”– India was never a kingdom, it was many, and it got independence. The same with many parts of Africa and South America. It’s what the people want that matter, not what their history dictates.

I can see many similarities to Scotland but surely this should be judged on a case by case basis. Would you compare the independence movements of South and Canada?

“Catalonia will always be part of Spain” then in the next breath “I hate Catalans!”– So this is what pisses me off the most. Most hardcore Spaniards say Catalonia is part of Spain, but then in the next sentence they are talking down a who region of people. No wonder they want to leave they probably don’t feel welcome.

Some people I’ve met with these above views don’t even want to visit Catalonia… so I’m not sure why they want it to be part of Spain. It really doesn’t make logical sense.


So where do we stand now?

Before all this you could spot a nationalist or right winger by the fact they were wearing a Spanish coloured wrist band, now they are all the rage. Everyone has them on and even foreigners were getting in on the argument. I went to the BBC Worldwide Question Time set in Madrid, following the referendum, and the most annoying old woman behind me would not stop heckling at the Catalan MP when he was trying to talk. I felt an urge to poor my drink over her curly grey infested head.

Catalans tend to wear and yellow ribbon and will probably start the conversation with the expression “I am Catalan” or “In Barcelona we…” yes they can get annoying like militant vegans but without the judgement and agro.

We appear to be back to square one, Catalans asking for a referendum and the Madrid based government saying no. Tensions have died down but they could flare up again with the imprisoned MPs and a fragile government.

I’m sure I have missed plenty and Catalan independence has always been an ongoing conversational topic, at times more taboo than others, but it doesn’t seem to be going away and everyone seems to have an opinion.

So, I ask the simple question: Why can’t they have a referendum?




P.s – Many say you cannot change the constitution, you can it was changed in September 2011, to make sure paying back debt to the EU was a priority. If they can change it for that, they can change it for Catalonia.


2 responses to “Catalonia: Why can’t they have a referendum?”

  1. As a Basque I can answer you. Catalonia is not Scotland. Catalonia could be consider in parallel history a region of scotland in order to make any similarity.
    1. The Sovereignity of the Spain is whole spanish hands not in a unique region. The constitution only recognize Spain as a political subject.
    2. Any referendum in a region must have the approve of the Spanish Parliament because its represent the spanish people. Only one Spanish political party has favoured to permit a legal referendum the Spanish Communists and represent a 20% of spanish people and 70% rejected.

    Im favoured to make a referendum but I respect the rules of the Spanish Constitution. The great problem in catalonia, is that several parties has joined to make further to independence with the majority of catalans against Rural areas vs Urban areas. Catalonian separatists has made an agressive programme to pressure to independence. Some support it, others not. At any case is not like scotland. That agressive pression is in catalonia while they are in power has made the other catalans the pro-spanish one to go to streets only you have to see that the first catalan party “Citizens” or liberals is the first party with more than 1100000 votes, the political party that has political fight with catalan nationalism during decades. Even a big catalan pro-spanish demonstration received the solidarity of the rest of spaniards. Many remind ETA in basque country with the pressure to pro-spanish basques. Only has to see that the official, pacific and neutral catalan flag is the one risen by pro-spanish catalans while separatist catalans mixture of catalan and cuban flag.

    Even they are videos of catalan separatist groups trying to enter in an official spanish govern building and a few police force trying to avoid it by opening fire to the sky. Catalan nationalists politicians has provocked a division in their own society. They trying to show to the world that is a peaceful movement but instead it has a violent groups between separatists.


  2. the great problem of catalonia or why we arrive to this situation is the economical crisis.
    Now, we have the separatists very well organized ( united for the same cause not matter if its socialism or capitalism) but the pro-spanish sector widely divided.
    In recent opinion poll created by nationalist govern, the 39% of the catalans support independence while 56% to stay in spain (in different degrees) and 5% declared abstention. However, ones who want to stay in spain divided in three groups. However, now with no change in their actual status grows to 47%. I mean there is a 8% of catalans that will change their mind if the status grows.
    The Spanish conservatives obssesed with fight economical didnt hear to those catalans. You have to know that Catalonia is the most debted region of Spain and they want to fight crisis the same as us, basques.
    Why you think the Spanish conservatives has been the most punished party?? they provocked that.


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