Ahead of today’s independence vote in Catalonia, Spanish police have arrested officials associated with the vote in an attempt to stop the vote going ahead.
In defiance of the arrests, pro-independence campaigners have handed out more than one million ballots ahead of Sunday’s vote. Spanish authorities, in response, have shut down dozens of websites associated with the vote, as well as seizing millions of ballot papers.
Spanish authorities have also demanded the names of Catalan mayors and officials who intend to support the vote, with a view to arresting and prosecuting them.
Sunday’s vote is the culmination of a campaign for independence over a decade in the making. In 2006, the Catalan region of Spain, in the country’s north-east, was given autonomous status. This was repealed by the courts in 2010, sparking huge protests in the region. Protests surged again in 2012 during the height of Spain’s recession.
An informal poll held in 2014 found that over 80% of respondents voter in favour of Catalonia seceding for Spain to establish an independent state. Opinion within the Catalan region, however, is divided, with a similar amount of support for independence and for remaining within Spain.
Much of the drive for independence comes from rural Catalonia and small towns in the region. In Barcelona, by far the biggest city in the region, support for Catalan independence is less enthusiastic.
The Catalan independence vote follows a similar vote in Iraqi Kurdistan just days ago. In that vote, Iraqi Kurds in northern Iraq voted overwhelmingly for an independent Kurdish state. Unlike the Kurdish referendum, the Catalan referendum will result in a new nation being formed quickly following the vote.
Provisional plans in place for a ‘Yes’ vote include a declaration of independence within 48 hours.
The Spanish authorities insist the vote will not be recognised, even if it is successful.
The Spanish foreign minister, Alfonso Dastis, argues that the vote has no value and would not be recognised internationally. The international community has had, for the most part, a muted response, in contrast to last week’s independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan.
The European Union has declined to take a side on the issue, insisting that it is an internal Spanish matter. Pro-independence Scots have signalled their support for Catalan independence.