Catalan leader denies Scotland's referendum result is a setback as Spain's PM says vote planned for November will be illegal
Catalonia's president Artur Mas gestures after the parliament approved a regional consultation law in Barcelona. Photograph: Gustau Nacarino/REUTERS
The Catalan parliament passed a law paving the way for a non-binding vote on secession on Friday, hours after finding out it would not have a Scottish precedent to follow in the region's quest for independence.
While noting he would have preferred a yes vote in the Scottish referendum, the Catalan President, Artur Mas, said the task of independence would now be left to Catalonia: "Maybe the first case will be the Catalan one."
He said the result in Scotland was not a setback to the Catalan secession drive: "What we really want is the chance to vote. And what happened in Scotland is that they voted, they had a referendum." He added: "The Catalan political process will go on and go ahead."
The law passed on Friday is a last-ditch effort to hold the planned independence referendum on 9 November. Mas now has the power to sign a decree formally calling the consultation, but has not said when he will do so.
Once he does, he is likely to be challenged in court by the central government in Madrid, which argues the country's 1978 constitution stipulates that any kind of vote on independence must be put to all Spaniards. The consultation being put forward by Mas, despite being non-binding, would be illegal, the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has said repeatedly.
Polls show that 80% of people in the region of 7.5 million want the chance to vote on secession. Unlike London, Madrid has refused to entertain any kind of consultation on independence. Analysts point out that Madrid has more to lose – the wealthy north-eastern region of Catalonia is home to about 16% of the Spanish population and accounts for nearly one-fifth ofSpain's GDP.
On Friday morning Spain's prime minister expressed his content with the outcome of the Scottish referendum. In a video statement that avoided any mention of Catalonia, Rajoy also took aim at the Scottish independence movement. "With their decision, Scots have avoided the large economic, social, institutional and political consequences that separation would have brought.
"Yesterday they chose between segregation and integration. Between isolation and being open. Between stability and uncertainty," said Rajoy. "And they chose the best option for everyone – for themselves, for the rest of Britain's citizens and for Europe."
But Catalan pro-independence campaigners, who gathered in front of the regional parliament to rally in support of the new law, said the anti-independence vote in Scotland would have little effect on their push to secede from Spain.
"What happened in Scotland was exactly what we expected would happen," said Ricard Gené of the Catalan National Assembly, one of the grassroots groups that has been driving the Catalan independence movement and campaign for a referendum.
The main point, he stressed, was the fact that a referendum had taken place. "The main point for us is that the Scots have been able to vote and express their will collectively for their future. Whether they voted yes or no, that would have been all right," he said.
"What we really feel is envy about the possibility of voting. This is what we are fighting for."
His message was echoed by Albert Royo, of Diplocat, the body that tries to promote Catalonia internationally. A yes vote in Scotland, he said, would have made things easier for Catalonia: "In a way it would have acted as a kind of icebreaker for difficult issues such as EU membership and Nato membership. That might have helped an independent Catalonia to be welcome in the international community."
The result in Scotland does not change the situation in Catalonia, he said, pointing to the hundreds of thousands who took to the streets last week to demand a vote on independence. "Just because the Scots voted no, it does not mean that everyone here will decide to give up and conclude that the issue is over."
The Scottish referendum, he said, was "a lesson on how to tackle these kinds of issues in the 21st century." A second lesson lay in the outcome, he added, as it showed that "letting people vote does not mean that they will automatically vote for independence".
Ashifa Kassam in Barcelona
Source: The Guardian