Catalonia has declared independence from Spain after a week of negotiations between Madrid and Barcelona, and ahead of a vote in the Senate which will give Madrid the power to impose direct rule within the next few hours. Having no other choice, the Catalan government sought to establish its independence as an act of defiance against the Spanish government. In what is considered to be the biggest crisis in Spanish democracy since the 1970s, Catalonia has now declared itself as “an independent, and sovereign, democratic and social state of law.”

The vote

On Friday afternoon, seventy Catalan deputies voted for independence while 10 opposed and two gave a blank vote. The coalition Together for Yes and the CUP party brought the proposal forward, which was attacked by the opposition. MPs from the Conservative People’s party, the centrist party Ciutadans and Catalan Socialist party (PSC) members left the chamber without voting. The opposition argued that the majority of Catalans were against independence and accused Catalan president Carles Puigdemont for pushing forward what they saw as a marginal view. Carlos Carrizosa of Ciutadans said it was “a sad day and a blow to democracy.” He wondered how it was possible to impose independence “without a majority in favour … and with this simulacrum of a referendum? Puigdemont will be remembered not for ruining Catalonia but for having divided the Catalans and Spain.”

Carles Riera of the CUP stressed that this was important in bringing people together and transforming their lives: “We declare the republic of Catalonia. This is a happy day.”

The news was celebrated by thousands of pro-independence supporters who gathered outside the parliament in Barcelona singing “Let’s make the Republic.” The Catalan leader of the left party ERC said: “Yes. We have won freedom to build a new country.”

The Spanish PM, Mariano Rajoy, had asked earlier the Spanish Senate for the permission to fire the Catalan president and his ministers and take over the control of the region. As he explained, Catalonia acted in such a way that presented us with “a clear violation of the laws, of democracy, of the rights of all – and that has consequences.” Talking to the Senate Rajoy said: “Catalans must be protected from an intolerant minority that is awarding itself ownership of Catalonia, and is trying to subject all Catalans to the yoke of its own doctrine.”

By late afternoon, the Catalan president would declare independence, but suspend its effects for two months, so that dialogue with Spain would be established. The motion begins the process of independence which will involve new laws and negotiations with Spanish officials. Rajoy tweeted after the vote and said that the rule of law would be eventually restored in Catalonia: “I ask for calm from all Spaniards. The rule of law will be re-established in Catalonia.”

The Spanish PM criticised Puigdemont and said: “He was given the opportunity to clarify whether there had been a unilateral declaration of independence. This is not a trifling matter. An answer was required and it wasn’t a difficult one: yes or no.” He also said: “Dialogue has two enemies. The first is abusing the law, ignoring it and disobeying it. The second is when someone only wishes to listen to themselves and won’t understand or try to understand others.” However, the irony of this remarks haunts political rhetoric, making the differences between the Spanish and the Catalans sharper. 

After the vote, market sentiment was hit, with banks in Catalonia being down while investors sold Spain’s bonds.

But while the declaration has been welcomed by secessionists, this is seen as a mere symbolic act, and is, according to the Spanish government illegal. At the same time, such a symbolic act, could strengthen as there is talk that it could create a “Catalan Spring.”