(Reuters) - Catalonia’s regional government on Sunday plans to hold a referendum on independence despite opposition from the Spanish government which considers it illegal.
The feud has plunged Spain into one of its biggest political crises in decades. Should the vote take place, a “yes” vote is likely, given that most of the 40 percent of Catalans who polls show support independence are expected to cast ballots while most of those against it are not.
Here is a list of questions surrounding this disputed vote and its aftermath:
People who favour independence say Catalonia, which has its own language and culture, is a “nation” - not a “nationality” as recognised by the Spanish constitution - and that as such they should be allowed to have their own state. They also say that Catalonia, one of Spain’s wealthiest autonomous communities, is transferring too much in tax revenues to poorest regions and would be better off economically if it was independent.
Madrid considers the referendum against the 1978 constitution, which states Spain is indivisible, and the constitutional court has ordered the vote be halted while its legality is determined. The court suspended a referendum law that the Catalan parliament passed on Sept. 6 to map out a potential transition to independence. The Spanish government says it is upholding the court’s order by trying to prevent the vote. Unlike a previous “informal referendum” in 2014, the Catalan government says the result this time will be binding.
The Spanish government says it has systematically dismantled the logistics Catalonia’s government put in place to hold the referendum and any result would no longer be meaningful. Police have seized ballot boxes, ballot papers and will take control of voting booths before Sunday. Police have already arrested several regional officials and state prosecutors are threatening to charge “collaborators” in the referendum.
The Catalan government maintains the referendum will go ahead although it has not explained where people will vote if they cannot access the voting booths.
WHAT HAPPENS IF THE CATALAN GOVERNMENT DECLARES INDEPENDENCE?
The Catalan government says it will unilaterally declare independence within 48 hours of a “yes” vote. It would then begin to write a new constitution and build up the structures of the new state, like a treasury, a central bank or an army. Since Madrid considers the vote illegal, it would swiftly act to prevent the Catalan government doing this. The “nuclear option” would be to exercise Article 155 of the constitution, which grants Madrid the power to suspend the regional government’s authority to rule.
CAN THE CATALAN INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT SURVIVE A FAILED REFERENDUM?
The independence movement is widespread enough that it is unlikely to dissipate if the regional government fails to convert a “yes” vote into a split from Spain. A million Catalans rallied in Barcelona to show their support for independence in September to mark Catalonia’s national day, and at least 2 million Catalans are expected to vote on Sunday if the referendum goes ahead. A harsh crackdown by Madrid on Sunday would likely trigger protests that could fuel further separatist sentiment.
Nonetheless, the percentage of Catalans wanting independence has not risen in recent years. The Catalan government is expected to hold snap elections if it loses the vote, which could imperil separatists parties’ majority in the regional parliament.
Political analysts and most politicians believe the standoff could be resolved by a renewed dialogue between Catalan and Spanish authorities that would lead to a better tax deal and increased infrastructure spending for the region.
Many, including the central government, also say that a wide-ranging constitutional reform is also needed that would include specific articles to protect the Catalan language and culture and would be approved by a national referendum.
Reporting by Angus Berwick; Editing by Julien Toyer