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Default All you need to know about Catalonia’s independence referendum

All you need to know about Catalonia’s independence referendum

Speculation is rife over whether the call for an independence referendum on October 1 issued by Carles Puigdemont, the leader of Spain’s Catalonia region, will actually take place on that date; and even if it does, whether it will be deemed legitimate by the country’s Constitutional Court.

Here is all you need to know about the secessionist movement, from its history, the economic argument behind it, and how it could prove to be a bellwether for similar popular movements demanding the right to self-determination.

Where is Catalonia?

Catalonia is an autonomous community of Spain in the north-east end of the Iberian Peninsula, designated as a nationality by its Statute of Autonomy. It has four provinces: Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona. The capital and largest city is Barcelona, which is the second most populated city in Spain.

What is the history of the secession movement?

Catalonia was historically an autonomous region of the Iberian peninsula, which encompasses Spain and Portugal. However, it was never a disparate part of the region despite having its own language, laws, and customs. The marriage of Petronilia, the Queen of Aragon, and Ramon Berebguer IV, Count of Barcelona in 1150, led to the formation of a dynasty. All regions of the peninsula spanning Aragon and Catalonia were brought under unified rule which lasted until the reign of King Philip V.

The war of Spanish Succession created modern Spain with the defeat of Valencia in 1707, and of Catalonia in 1714. Subsequent sovereigns tried to impose the Spanish language and laws in order to culturally unify the kingdom, but their attempts were abandoned in 1931 when the Generalitat (the national Catalan government) was restored.

Catalan separatism was crushed under the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco who took control of the region, killing 3,500 people and forcing many more into exile. Franco was ousted in 1977 and democracy was restored.

Calls for complete independence continued to grow. In July 2010, the Constitutional Court in Madrid overruled part of the 2006 autonomy statute, stating that there is no legal basis for recognising Catalonia as a separate country in the framework of the Spanish nation state.

The economic crisis which has embattled the Spanish economy with rising unemployment and spiralling inflation, only served to amplify separatist sentiments as the wealthy Barcelona region is seen as propping up the poorer provinces.

Who are the political players?

The Partido Popular, which is a member of the ruling coalition Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, is only the fourth largest party in Catalonia. Despite its populist policies, its flagging popularity can be attributed to its strong opposition to any moves for independence for the region.

President of Catalonia Artur Mas is the leader of the centre-right Convergence and Union (CiU) party. The fact that he had to build bridges with the left-wing Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC)to form a "stability pact", highlights the willingness of all parties to forego their differences to realise an independent Catalonian state.

How would a secession affect the Spanish economy?

The Catalan region has long been the industrial heartland of Spain, with textile and shipbuilding, and more recently, finance, services, and technology. Barcelona has a thriving start-up culture, and plays host to the annual Mobile World Congress, where the bleeding edge of technology is on display.

Catalonia is one of the wealthiest regions of Spain. It accounts for 20.07% of the Spanish GDP. Secession would therefore cost Spain almost a fifth of its economic output, and trigger a row on how to carve up the €836 billion of national debt.

If Catalonia were to secede from Spain, it would have a GDP of $314 billion, according to calculations by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). That would make its economy larger than Singapore and South Africa, and on a par with Israel. Its GDP per capita would be $35,000, which would make the average citizen of the Catalonian state wealthier than his counterparts from South Korea or Italy.
“What we need in this country today is more courage and more belief in the things that we have.”- Thomas J. Watson
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