Catalan premier Artur Mas took the confrontation with Madrid a step further on Friday by deciding to press ahead with the November 9 referendum on self-rule.
After meeting for three-and-a-half hours with all the parties that support the plebiscite — his own Convergència I Unió (CiU) bloc, the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), Iniciativa (ICV) and Candidatura de Unión Popular (CUP) — Mas decided to “maintain the call to vote with the intention of letting citizens exercise their right on November 9,” official sources said.
The meeting, which was expected to resume Friday afternoon and extend into the weekend “if necessary,” aims to maintain unity among the pro-referendum parties and avoid having to call early elections in the region.
Catalan government spokesman Francesc Homs said the group had also decided to “demand that the Constitutional Court lift the suspension” on the regional law that was created to call the referendum, which the central government has appealed on the grounds that it is illegal.
The conservative government of Mariano Rajoy claims that the regional referendum violates the Spanish Constitution
The suspension of all referendum-related acts, which went into effect on Monday, will be maintained until the Constitutional Court decides on the appeal lodged by the conservative Popular Party (PP) administration.
While the Catalan executive had initially heeded the suspension by cancelling all its referendum campaigning, on Thursday Mas defied the order by signing a decree to create an oversight committee for the plebiscite.
The central government of Mariano Rajoy has already said it will also contest this decree. The decision was announced Friday morning by the PP leader in Catalonia, Alicia Sánchez-Camacho.
Rajoy claims that the regional referendum violates the Spanish Constitution because it denies the right of other Spaniards to vote on something that affects the entire nation.
Analysts see Mas’s signing of the decree as an attempt to satisfy the ERC, ICV and CUP, which are fiercely pro-independent and whose leaders had criticized the Catalan executive’s decision to stop all campaigning for November 9 after the Constitutional Court’s suspension order.
Madrid says this is not the right moment for a drive along the lines of the Scottish “Better Together” campaign
The Catalan premier, of the CiU nationalist bloc, is walking a fine line between appearing firm in his decision to hold the referendum while continuing to respect national laws. His political group has been increasingly divided over the issue, and his own deputy stated in August that the vote may have to be postponed.
But intense campaigning by civil associations such as Asamblea Nacional Catalana (ANC) has created such a groundswell of pro-independence sentiment among large sections of Catalan society that Mas may find it difficult to stop what he started.
For now, at least, the PP is ruling out the possibility of mounting its own campaign to counter the separatist offensive in Catalonia. Sources at La Moncloa, the Spanish prime minister’s residence, said this was not the right moment to begin a drive along the lines of the Scottish “Better Together” campaign.
The battle, said these sources, was focusing on legal rather than political aspects.
“We are concentrating on dealing with an illegal decision, and those which could come after it,” said the sources. “We are not thinking about hiring an international communications company like the Catalan government did.”