The day Catalonia voted for its independence from Spain

Police face angry protesters during the referendum.

By GERARD ESCAICH FOLCH,
in Barcelona

Thousands of Catalans woke early, or didn’t sleep yesterday: They were out to vote, to express their opinion in a referendum for the independence of Catalonia.

They were met in force by the state’s police, acting on orders from the Spanish Government. 

Voters were pushed, were hit with nightsticks and pepper spray by police, without regard for the age of the people being attacked, and 893 Catalans were injured.

Despite the aggression, 2,262,424 people voted. Of those, 2,020,144 were in favour of independence for Catalonia – 90.09 per cent.

The no vote was 176,565 ballots – 7.87 per cent.

There were 5,343,358 people overall eligible to vote, but in 400 electoral colleges – 770,000 votes – the ballots were confiscated by police. 

For Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy,  “this illegal referendum didn’t take place”.

During his press conference after the electoral colleges closed their doors, he made no mention of the hundreds of people who had been injured. 

What’s probably going to happen?

On September 6, Catalonia’s regional government approved the referendum law, which ruled that if Catalans decided in the poll that they wanted independence from Spain, the Parliament would start the procedure within 48 hours.

The final results have not been officially confirmed, but Catalonia expects the procedure to happen as soon as the end of this week.

Police out in force in Catalonia.

The only official action, for now, is today’s general strike throughout Catalonia.

Participation is expected to be massive, with support expressed by many different institutions such as universities, museums, public transport and even football clubs such as Futbol Club Barcelona.

How did we get here?

The desire for independence is not recent: the push for self-determination started to rise in 2010.

Seven years ago, Spain’s constitutional court ruled on the constitutionality of Catalonia’s Statute of Autonomy – which had been approved by referendum in 2006 – rewriting some sections and ruling on the interpretation of others. 

Days later, thousands of people gathered in Barcelona to start demanding independence for Catalonia. Again, two years later in 2012, during Catalonia’s national day on September 11, more than 1.5 million people protested in Barcelona, demanding self-determination.

This protest started a new political era for Catalonia. At the election in 2014, a national referendum of self-determination was included, but it was non-binding, so the Spanish Government, under the lead of Mariano Rajoy’s right-conservative Popular Party, ignored it.

A year later, in September 2015, a new general election was called, with forces in favour of  independence winning 72 out of 135 places in Catalonia’s Parliament. Their idea was to call for an official referendum in less than 18 months.

It took a little longer than that, but two years later, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont announced that the referendum on self-determination for Catalonia would be held on October 1, 2017.

Students hold a silent protest after violence marred the referendum.

Catalonia’s government has always asked for dialogue between Madrid, home of Spanish politics, and the region lead by Mr Puigdemont.

This dialogue has always been unidirectional and with the answer from Madrid has been no.

Official statements emerging from Madrid have included: “Catalan people can’t decide if they want to become independent or not”, “Catalan citizens can’t have dialogue with Madrid.” 

Spain’s government has been against the poll, saying it was going against the Constitution and the unity of the country. The Catalan Government argues that it is legal, since it was enacted by a law approved by the Parliament of Catalonia.

In the days leading  up to the Referendum, Catalonia was peaceful. Thousands of Catalans gathered last Wednesday, without any trouble on the streets of Barcelona and other cities around the region.

But everything changed when Spain’s state police detained 13 civil servants who were involved with the poll.

Days later, Spain’s Government sent more than 10,000 State’s police just to stop the  referendum happening. But people voted anyway. 

Gerard Escaich Folch is a recent Monash journalism student who lives in Barcelona.