Catalonia: more than 2 million vote for independence despite Spanish crackdown

Despite attempts by Spanish authorities and security service to block Sunday's independence referendum, more than 2.2 million of 5.3 million registered voters – a turnout of almost 43 per cent – cast ballots that could be tallied, according to Catalonia's officials.

More than 2 million people – 89.3 per cent – cast ‘Yes’ votes. The officials said another 770,000 votes could not be counted because ballot boxes were seized. The Catalan Ministry of Health said 893 people were treated for injuries. Spanish authorities said 12 police officers were wounded.

To try and prevent the Spanish National Police and paramilitary Civil Guard from shutting down the vote, activists had stayed in the polling stations in schools and community centres since Friday night. Spanish officers proceeded to raid the locations, closing 319 of 2,000 and removing the ballot boxes from others.

Video and pictures showed children, the elderly, and firefighters among those injured by police.

FC Barcelona were forced to play their La Liga game against Las Palmas behind closed doors, with Lionel Messi and his teammates defeating the visitors 3-0 in a Camp Nou devoid of the usual 98,000 fans.

The Catalan club had wanted to cancel the game, but were warned that they faced a points deduction. So thousands of fans waited outside the gates as the match was played.

Unsurprisingly, the Catalan and Spanish governments offered sharply different views of the day.

In a televised address after the polls had closed, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont declared: ‘After this day of hope and suffering, the citizens of Catalonia have won the right to an independent state in the form of a republic’.

He said his independentist government would in the coming days ‘send the results of today's vote to the Catalan parliament, where the sovereignty of our people lies, so that it can act in accordance with the law of the referendum’.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy labelled the vote of a ‘mockery’ of democracy and declared that ‘there has not been a referendum on self-determination in Catalonia’.

A long-term standoff?

The stand-off between the Spanish state and the Catalan government, as well as between unionists and separatists in Catalonia, will continue.

While an agreed referendum – similar to votes from Scotland to Quebec – might be the most sensible outcome, both Puigdemont and Rajoy will now be under pressure from their most radical elements not to compromise.

The Catalan President will face calls to make a unilateral declaration of independence, while Rajoy will face both federalists in the main opposition Socialist Party – who view constitutional reform as a solution to the situation – and more hard-line unionists in his own People's Party and in the extreme-unionist, centre-right Ciudadanos party, who perceive any move towards a negotiated settlement as a betrayal of the Spanish nation.

Catalan trade unions and associations convened a strike across the nation on Tuesday due to ‘the grave violation of rights and freedoms’.

In a sign of the seriousness of the situation, King Felipe VI then intervened with denunciation of the ‘irresponsible’ Catalan government in a televised speech: ‘[They] have placed themselves outside the law and democracy, they have tried to break the unity of Spain and national sovereignty’.

But Puigdemont stood his ground: he told the BBC that Catalonia will declare its independence ‘at the end of this week or the beginning of next’. Asked what would happen if Madrid tried to take control of Catalonia's government, he replied that it will be ‘an error which changes everything’.


Ellis Palmer
Political Science graduate, University of Birmingham

Professor Scott Lucas
Professor of American Studies, Department of Political Science and International Studies, University of Birmingham