After the Catalan referendum: what happens next?

Likely scenarios following Sunday’s referendum, after which the Catalan government declared 90% of voters were in favour of independence from Spain

What exactly happened in Catalonia on Sunday?

As promised, the region’s pro-independence majority government staged a unilateral referendum on separating from Spain. In doing so, it defied the Spanish constitutional court and the Madrid government. The Spanish government had made it very clear that it would not tolerate such a direct challenge to the unity of Spain or the constitution itself. More than 800 people were injured as police stormed polling stations, seized ballot boxes and dragged away voters.

What was the result of the vote?

According to the Catalan government, preliminary results showed that 90% of people cast their ballots in favour of independence. A total of 2.26 million Catalans – 42% of the region’s 5.3 million eligible voters – are said to have taken part in the referendum.

Is the result legally binding?

The Catalan government, which passed legislation last month to begin creating an independent state, says it is. The Spanish government says it isn’t, pointing out that, in any case, the constitutional court had specifically suspended the referendum in September.

What does the Spanish constitution say?

“The constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards; it recognises and guarantees the right to self-government of the nationalities and regions of which it is composed and the solidarity among them all.”

What happens next?

The Catalan government has said it will make a unilateral declaration of independence from Spain within 48 hours of a victory for the yes campaign. With no minimum turnout threshold for the referendum and 90% of voters apparently in favour of independence, it is expected to make the declaration this week.

What will the Spanish government do?

Just as Madrid will not recognise the results of a referendum both it and the courts have declared illegal, so it will not recognise an independence declaration. The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, still has the option of tackling the independence challenge by invoking article 155 of the Spanish constitution. The article, which has never been used, allows the Spanish government to step in and take control of an autonomous region if it “does not fulfil the obligations imposed upon it by the constitution or other laws, or acts in a way that is seriously prejudicial to the general interest of Spain”.

Will it actually do this?

Article 155 remains the last resort. Not only has it never been used, such a move is also likely to prove highly risky in Catalonia given the enduring tensions and the violence that marred Sunday’s vote.

Any chance of proper negotiations between the two governments?

Very unlikely. Neither wants to be seen to make any concessions. The Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, has said he is willing to go to prison over the independence issue and will only back down if the Spanish government provides a public assurance that a mutually agreed referendum will take place and provides a time frame. The Spanish government has flatly refused to engage in any negotiations on a referendum.

What about external pressure?

The European Union has said it will not intervene in the matter, which it views as an internal one for Spain. Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president, has said that Brussels must abide by the decisions of the Spanish government and of Spain’s constitutional court.

The commission has said on several occasions that a vote in favour of Catalan independence would be recognised but only if the referendum that produced it complied with the Spanish constitution and had been ruled legal.


Sam Jones in Barcelona

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Catalan referendum: 'Police threw us aside … and more vanloads arrived'
Catalans describe scenes of violence at polling stations on referendum day that started with optimistic mood in Barcelona

Sam Jones and Stephen Burgen

01, Oct, 2017 @6:00 PM

Article image
Catalan referendum: preliminary results show 90% in favour of independence
Spanish prime minister defends violent response to poll, as raids on ballot stations by riot police leave hundreds of Catalans injured

Sam Jones, Stephen Burgen and agencies

01, Oct, 2017 @11:04 PM

Article image
Catalan campaigners hand out a million referendum ballots
Thousands gather across Catalonia to show support for 1 October independence vote that Madrid has vowed to stop

Sam Jones in Madrid

24, Sep, 2017 @3:30 PM

Article image
Catalan government says millions will turn out for referendum
Independence leaders call on voters to behave responsibly while Madrid maintains poll will not take place

Sam Jones in Barcelona

29, Sep, 2017 @4:11 PM

Article image
Violence erupts after pro-Catalan general strike in Barcelona
Protesters set fire to bins and chant ‘The streets will always be ours’ in fifth night of rioting

Stephen Burgen in Barcelona and Sam Jones in Madrid

18, Oct, 2019 @5:13 PM

Article image
Catalan president calls for talks with Spain's government after unrest
Quim Torra urges dialogue for democratic solution to tensions following fifth consecutive night of violence

Stephen Burgen in Barcelona and Sam Jones in Madrid

19, Oct, 2019 @10:48 PM

Article image
Church bells in Catalan town chime again after residents’ pot-banging protests
The bells on the Santa Maria dels Turers church in Banyoles stopped ringing at night after complaints from tourists

Ashifa Kassam in Madrid

04, Aug, 2021 @4:48 PM

Article image
What is the story of Catalan independence – and what happens next?
On day that Spain’s supreme court announced verdicts in trial of 12 separatist leaders, we look at how the movement has evolved

Sam Jones in Madrid

14, Oct, 2019 @8:04 AM

Article image
Opinion divided by the Catalan referendum | Letters
Letters: Readers respond after Sunday’s referendum descended into violence


02, Oct, 2017 @6:12 PM

Article image
Catalan protesters call for return of jailed or exiled leaders
Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators take to the streets of Barcelona

Sam Jones in Madrid

15, Apr, 2018 @2:25 PM