On Sunday, 2,305,290 people voted at 1,317 polling stations across Catalonia, in addition to 13,573 Catalans who voted worldwide. This was a similar turnout to May’s European elections. A cross-party international delegation of observers, which included members of different European and national parliaments, stated that the vote was “conducted successfully in challenging circumstances” and they emphasised the calm that dominated every aspect of the vote.
Up to 80.7% of the voters chose “yes-yes” in answer to the two-part question of “Do you want Catalonia to be a state?” and, if so, “Do you want that state to be independent?”. Another 10% voted “yes” to Catalonia being a state but “no” to that state being independent, while 4.5% voted a clear “no” to Catalonia being a state at all.
The Spanish government refused all of our requests for dialogue, and instead of seeking a political solution to a political problem opted for legal tactics to block every way we tried to hold a democratic vote on Catalonia’s future. We sought to have an authorised referendum like Scotland and Quebec, and the Spanish parliament refused that. The constitutional court then suspended our call for a non-binding consultation. When we then moved to a non-binding participatory process, they likewise tried to suspend that.
But a huge majority of Catalans, whether in favour of independence or not, just wanted to express their wishes at the ballot box having given my government and the Catalan parliament a mandate for that in the last parliamentary elections in November 2012. Therefore, despite constant threats from the Spanish government, we were not intimidated and went ahead with our vote. If the Spanish public prosecutor is looking for someone to blame, that person should be no one else but me.
We made no pretence that this was a referendum, or in any way legally binding, just that it was the best we could do given the Spanish government’s attitude. Forty thousand people volunteered to staff the polling stations, as we could not use public employees. Millions left their homes and thousands waited in lines for hours. Many people, especially older citizens who lived under the dictatorship for decades, cried as they cast their ballot. Many young people voted for the first time and were happy that their voice was taken into account on this crucial issue.
There was neither a single window broken on Sunday nor any incident whatsoever during the vote. Catalans are a peaceful people; we have also been very patient. We seek no harm to Spain. We are bound together by geography, history and culture. But now we Catalans would like to govern ourselves within the framework of the EU. We seek a way to do that as friends of Spain, not as enemies. And following Sunday’s participatory process, I believe we have earned the right to a proper legally binding referendum, as in Scotland and Quebec, with all its consequences. Legal excuses are not good enough. The law follows politics in every democracy. And if there is political will, a legal way can be found.
I therefore call on Spain’s government, and also on Spain’s people, to listen to the people of Catalonia. The hour has come and our whole hearts are in this. I also call on the international community to urge President Rajoy and Spain’s parliament to allow Catalonia to choose its own system of government, for ourselves and for our children. Spain was a shining example of a country that suffered 40 years of dictatorship and peacefully transformed almost overnight into a western democracy. Let’s keep that light of democracy shining.
Artur Mas, Catalonia’s regional president.