Catalonia Votes to Stay with Spain

Houses in Park Güell designed by Antoni Gaudi, Barcelona Credit: Bernard Gagnon

Parties opposing Catalonia’s independence from Spain have garnered the support of a majority of voters in the region. 

Recent elections saw approximately 54% of the electorate elect candidates from non-separatist parties across the political spectrum, making a significant shift in Catalonia’s political landscape.

This vote may have drawn a line under a tumultuous decade marked by a push for independence. The 2017 call for independence included an unofficial referendum, a unilateral declaration of independence, mass protests and arguably the country’s most severe constitutional crisis since the transition to democracy in 1975.  Separatism had been waning before this vote, but this is the first time the shift in public opinion will be distinctly reflected in the Catalan parliament.

Recent polling data gathered in February showed that around 51 % of Catalonia’s population opposed independence, with 41% in favour and the remaining 8% either undecided or unresponsive. These statistics align closely with the election outcomes.

An Autonomous Region

Catalonia, an autonomous region created after the end of Franco’s reign, has considerable powers in healthcare, security, and education.   Despite this autonomy, support for Catalan independence began to grow steadily in recent years.

Family origin remains a significant predictor of preference, according to a study by El Pais.  Older, wealthier individuals, residents of rural communities and those with multi-generational ties to Catalonia tend to be more supportive of independence.  Despite strong attachment to Catalan language and culture, promoted by regional media and the public education system, Catalan identity has become more inclusive.  Many citizens feel both Catalan and Spanish.

A Historic Shift

This historic shift may signal a new chapter for Catalonia, one that suggests a broader acceptance of its place within Spain and a move away from the separatist fervour that has defined the region’s past.  Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has made efforts to reduce tensions in Catalonia in recent years, despite major opposition from right-leaning parties in Spain.

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