Catalans turn out en masse to ask for independence vote
Around 1.8 million Catalans took to the streets of Barcelona on Thursday (12 September) calling for the right to vote on independence.
The demonstration marks the beginning of a critical period in Barcelona-Madrid relations.
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Dressed in red and yellow - the national colours - people shouted “in-inde-indepedencia!” and “volem votar!” (we want to vote) while waving the Catalan independence flag.
Almost a quarter of the 7.5 million Catalans celebrated Catalan National Day - La Diada - in the streets of Barcelona, according to the local police forces.
The day commemorates Catalonia’s loss of independence in the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714, exactly 300 years ago.
Earlier this year, the Catalan Parliament voted two-thirds in favour for a consultative referendum to be held on 9 November, asking the Catalans “whether Catalonia is a state” and “if yes, whether that state should be independent”.
The central government in Madrid, however, has said that it has ”all the mechanisms in place” to prevent such a vote.
Catalonia's parliament is next Friday (19 September) expected to approve a new law that allows for a consultative referendum. But it is widely expected that the Spanish Constitutional Court will ban the vote from taking place.
Just a few years ago, the national day was celebrated with the waving of the Catalan flag and a few official and non-official ceremonies. But the last three years has seen a big increase in both the use of Catalan independence flags and the turnout for the yearly demonstration calling for the right to self-determination.
The Catalan call for more autonomy and, now more than ever, for independence from Spain, comes after a period of centralist policies from Madrid.
The tipping point was when the Spanish constitutional court over-turned parts of a rewrite of the Catalan constitution that had already been approved by the Spanish parliament - all regions in Spain have their own constitution called a Statute of Autonomy.
The economic crisis has also prompted Catalans to want to control their own fiscal policy, something the Spanish government has rejected.
Meanwhile, a new education policy in Spain, which will effectively limit the dominance of the Catalan language in Catalan schools, has caused anger.
All this, together with Madrid turning a deaf ear to demands, has made many Catalans believe that they will be better off as an independent state in the European Union.
And believing that such a move might actually be possible is fuelled by the independence campaign in Scotland.
The Scottish referendum, on 18 September, will be closely followed all over Spain and especially in Catalonia. A Catalan government envoy, as well as, many Catalan lawmakers will be in Scotland during the vote.
A Scottish ‘Yes’ to independence would give Catalan separatists the hope that independence is no longer unrealistic.
It would also serve as a test to see how other European countries, and in particular Brussels, would react to a region breaking away from an EU member state.