Catalans cast symbolic votes on independence; Madrid calls it a 'farce'

Pro-independence activists gather after the vote at a polling station in Barcelona on November 9, 2014.

Story highlights

  • Over 2 million Catalans voted on Sunday, defying decisions by Spain's highest court
  • The result heavily favors independence, but Madrid says symbolic vote was a "farce"
  • Catalan secessionists have staged massive street demonstrations in recent years
  • The Spanish government says the constitution doesn't allow one region to unilaterally secede
Euphoria reigned in many parts of Barcelona and the surrounding region of Catalonia on Monday, a day after 1.6 million people there cast symbolic votes to secede from Spain.
But the sentiment for Catalan independence was not shared in Madrid, where there was skepticism, as Spain's Justice Minister called the straw vote a "farce" without any democratic validity.
Even after more than 2 million Catalans voted on Sunday, defying two decisions by Spain's highest court that it was illegal to cast a ballot on independence, the two entrenched sides -- the Catalan government in Spain's second largest city of Barcelona and the Spanish government in the capital, Madrid -- seemed no closer to solving the thorny issue.
Catalan secessionists have staged massive street demonstrations in recent years, and they picked up more steam in September around Scotland's referendum on independence. Although Scots voted to remain in the United Kingdom, many Catalans insisted Madrid should let them vote, too, as London had done for Scotland.
But the Spanish government insists that the constitution does not permit just one of Spain's 17 regions, such as Catalonia, to unilaterally secede.
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Catalonia's push for independence vote
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None of that mattered on Sunday to many in Catalonia, in northeast Spain, where the regional government, backed by 40,000 volunteers instead of regular election officials, staged the symbolic vote.
The result was heavily in favor of independence, but analysts said many who opposed secession simply didn't bother to vote, since it was non-binding. Turnout was about 32%, far lower than the nearly 70% who voted in regional, binding, parliamentary elections two years ago.
Catalonia represents about 20% of Spain's economy and already has broad home-rule powers, including its own parliament, police force and control over education and health. The region also has a long list of grievances with Madrid, including over taxation.
The Catalan president, Artur Mas, on Sunday called on Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to negotiate a "definitive" referendum. But Rajoy said earlier in the weekend that he could only talk within the bounds of the Spanish constitution and law.
With the two leaders seemingly at loggerheads, some analysts predicted the real talks would be about more home rule for Catalonia,. Others said the crisis could mean early regional elections in Catalonia, where polls indicate that a party even more devoted to secession than the one currently in power would win.