Catalan regional premier Artur Mas and his CiU nationalist bloc are in damage control mode following deputy premier Joana Ortega's comments on Tuesday that the referendum on independence for the region scheduled for November 9 could be delayed if the central government appeals to the Constitutional Court to decide on its legality.
After consulting with Mas, Ortega announced that a summit would be held in early September attended by all pro-independence parties, and that by September 24 the date of the poll would be formally confirmed as November 9.
Speaking on regional television on Thursday, Ortega kept her comments within the guidelines laid out by Mas, saying that the only objective was for Catalans to be given the right to decide on their future via a referendum. She avoided any talk of delays should the central government decide to refer the matter back to the Constitutional Court.
On Tuesday, Ortega had told regional radio station RAC1 that any referendum on sovereignty would have to be “impeccable” from a legal perspective. “I am working toward November 9, but if it can’t be, there will be another November 9. I can’t say if it will be in February, but an appeal changes nothing, it will not quash Catalans’ desire to vote… The process might be postponed, but the desire is still there,” she said.
Ortega came under fierce criticism for her remarks from CiU’s pro-independence partners, among them the left-leaning ERC coalition, whose spokesman tweeted: “I think this government has decided to commit suicide.”
Her task now is to keep the different parties involved in the referendum process on board.
The legal complexities of the story date back to January 2013 when the Catalan regional parliament approved a declaration proclaiming the Catalan people a “sovereign political and legal entity” and calling for a referendum on independence. In December of that year, the regional government of Catalonia announced a referendum for November 9, 2014 that would ask voters: “Do you want Catalonia to become a state?” Those who answered yes would then be asked: “Do you want this state to be independent?” The central government said it would block the referendum and put the matter before the Constitutional Court.
In March, the Constitutional Court ruled that the sovereignty declaration passed in January 2013 was unconstitutional. In a unanimous vote, Spain’s top court ruled that the Catalan government cannot continue with its plans to form separate institutions based on its declaration of independence.
The conservative majority on the Constitutional Court bench pushed to annul the declaration because of its unconstitutionality, while the liberal minority said the statement was never legally binding, and that the court should have dropped the entire case in the first place.
But the court did rule that the Catalan government has the right to sound out the Catalan people’s views on self-rule via a referendum, if conducted within the law – a legal nicety that the Catalan government said had “no effect on the process.”
September will be an important month for Catalonia’s independence plans. September 11 is the region’s national day, and CiU and other parties that support sovereignty will be hoping for a huge turnout by the public to mark it, as happened last year. Then on the 18th, Scotland holds its referendum on independence from the United Kingdom, which the Catalan government has taken as a model of what ought to happen in Catalonia.