November 9 vote to take place “one way or another,” say Catalan leaders

Regional government suggests private groups could take over organization of self-rule poll

The CDC’s Mercè Conesa, pictured with Catalan government spokesman Francesc Homs, says the November 9 poll will take place.
The CDC’s Mercè Conesa, pictured with Catalan government spokesman Francesc Homs, says the November 9 poll will take place.Albert García

The campaign promoting the November 9 vote on Catalan independence will continue despite a new legal challenge by the Spanish government, according to Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya (CDC), one half of the CiU bloc that rules the northeastern region.

“Even considering the worst-case scenarios, we are convinced that on November 9 we will be able to participate and express our opinion on Catalonia’s political future,” said CDC spokeswoman Mercè Conesa.

The statement was intended to counter the hesitation displayed by Catalan deputy premier, Joana Ortega of Uniò – the other partner in government – who on Sunday said she could not guarantee “with 100-percent certainty” that polling stations would be open and ballot boxes in place next Sunday.

Ortega insisted that the Catalan government would carry on with preparations to let Catalans express their opinion “one way or another.”

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Madrid has filed an appeal in the Constitutional Court against an unofficial referendum in the region on independence planned for November 9. The Spanish government took the step after receiving a report from the State Council advisory body, which unanimously decided that the Catalan government’s planned poll was unconstitutional.

It marks the second time that the central administration of Mariano Rajoy, of the center-right Popular Party (PP), has challenged the Catalan government’s plans in court. In late September it appealed the original referendum on independence on grounds of unconstitutionality, and the claim was accepted by the Constitutional Court. All referendum campaigning was subsequently suspended, pending the court’s decision.

Catalan premier Artur Mas responded by announcing that Catalans would still be able to vote on November 9 in an alternative “participatory process,” albeit without an official census and without any legislation backing the vote.

Mas is also pursuing legal paths of his own to defend himself against “an abuse of power” by the central government. On Monday the Catalan government presented a document to the Constitutional Court calling on it not to admit the central government's appeal, arguing that Madrid should not have filed such an appeal if it considered the alternative vote to be a simple continuation of the original referendum and that Catalonia was not complying with the suspension.

In a bid to circumvent the campaign ban, the Catalan government has been organizing polling stations and requesting volunteers to help with the November 9 vote through informal channels, avoiding any paper trail.

But even if the Constitutional Court also decided to suspend this alternative poll, some voices in Catalonia are saying it should be ignored. The head of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), Oriol Junqueras, told the Catalan government to “assume its responsibilities” and keep pushing ahead with the “participatory process” even if the Spanish courts suspend it.

Ciutadans leader Albert Rivera feels that the independence drive has already divided Catalan society.
Ciutadans leader Albert Rivera feels that the independence drive has already divided Catalan society.José Luis Cereijido (EFE)

The leader of ERC – CiU’s partner in government until the crisis created by the suspension of the original referendum – has been a vocal advocate of ignoring Madrid and going their own way in Catalonia. This weekend, Junqueras went a step further and suggested that the region could withhold financial support, bringing Spain to the brink of default.

“Negotiating one-on-one with the state can only be achieved through independence,” he said. “One of the key arguments for negotiation is Spain’s public debt. Catalan society will assume a portion of it as long as Spain is willing to negotiate the assets. If the Spanish state does not negotiate, the Catalan economy will be unable to assume this debt, and Spain will go into default.”

Conesa, of CDC, has admitted that the format of the alternative poll may have to change, and could even be carried out by private groups rather than the Catalan government.

“This situation does not necessarily need to happen. When we talk about the possibility of carrying on with complete normalcy, we do so because we are convinced that the Constitutional Court has nothing to grab on to in order to justify a suspension of the new November 9 vote. We don’t see the need to change anything, but we have to wait until tomorrow,” she said, in reference to the court’s expected decision on the latest appeal by Madrid.

But pro-independence groups such as the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) reject this option and say it is the Catalan government’s job to organize the vote.

“We have to go to vote out of democratic dignity and to defend our freedom of expression,” said ANC leader Carme Forcadell, whose group has been instrumental in drumming up popular support for independence. “We know full well that this has no legal value and that it is not binding. But it has significant political value.”

The ERC leader has suggested the region could withhold financial support, bringing Spain to the brink of default

The division of opinion among secessionists extends to the day after the poll, if one takes place. While CDC supports a unilateral declaration of independence after a negotiation process, the Christian democrats of Unió reject this option and support renewed talks between Madrid and Barcelona.

“Unió is considering national progress according to the law, contributing elements that will let us exercise self-rule in a bilateral relation with Spain,” said Ortega. “A unilateral declaration [of independence] does not seem to us like the right response to what our country is going through.”

Meanwhile, the non-nationalist Catalan party Ciutadans believes that no matter what happens on November 9, “the harm is already done.”

“They are making you choose between being Catalan and being Spanish, and that divides society,” said Albert Rivera, leader of a party born out of an association of Catalan intellectuals who oppose independence from Spain.

Rivera said he is not ready to tolerate the nationalist attitude of considering those who support the government’s secessionist plans to be “better Catalans.”

The unionist leader challenged Artur Mas to hold early elections in the region and run again.

“Let him swap craftiness for bravery and run as top of the list,” said Rivera. “That way we will see what kind of support our messianic leader enjoys.”

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