On every single occasion since, with an increasingly interventionist Spanish judicial system acting under political instruction, the Catalan government has submitted to Spanish law. Catalunya Sí que es Pot (Catalonia yes we can) advocates a negotiated referendum for the region, but not independence.
What can’t be denied is the success of the promoters of the independence movement, who have managed to impose their secessionist agenda when, traditionally, only a third of all Catalans supported it. Like George Lakoff’s elephant, independence has blurred the customary tensions between the right and the left, saturating all the political space.
One of the major factors in Sunday’s balloting, according to experts, will be voter turnout.
“This is certainly the most important election Catalonia has held since we regained democracy”, said Laura Pous Trull, a journalist working for the Catalan news agency ACN. Autonomy within Spain had even been the position staked out by figures like Pujol, the President of Catalonia from 1980 until 2003. Scotland did not have the powers to call for a referendum but the British and Scottish governments reached an agreement to hold that referendum in 2014, with a rigorous deliberative process where all options could be defended on an equal footing.
Opinion polls indicate the main secessionist platform “Junts Pel Si” (Together for Yes) and leftist party CUP are likely to fall short of 50 percent of the vote, but they would still secure a majority of seats in the 135-strong regional assembly.
Many also say that a wide-ranging constitutional reform that would include specific articles to protect the Catalan language and culture and would be approved by a national referendum is also needed.
“Sunday is a special day for the future of Catalonia”.
Mas told a crowd of tens of thousands of supporters that the election would “lead to freedom”.
The legal barriers to a breakaway remain high, but many Catalans are determined to push forward regardless. Meanwhile, Spanish Unionists are launching a hail of doom-laden forecasts for a hypothetical Catalonia.
Catalonia’s population is about 7.5 million.
For many Catalans, however, the election is about more than the business of provincial administration.
What’s exceptional is how a legitimate complaint has transformed into a casus belli against Spain. “I want this thing to be solved in the best possible way”. “Let’s leave!” they shout. So Spain, as it is known for over 500 years could break up.
And the truth is that the crisis is an indispensable factor to understand this drama.
Catalonia, situated between the southeastern Pyrenees and the Mediterranean, has always been one of the most prosperous autonomous regions in the Spanish state, a key engine of economic growth.
“I am focused on making good ham, I am not focused on politics”, said the jovial 61-year-old, whose family-owned company is based in Olot, a pro-independence bastion.
The pro-independence coalition did not have the monopoly on emotion last night. And a fundamental one at that: the falling out of love. The CUP would, however, support a pro-independence governing alliance without Mas in charge.
The Catalan issue poses a tough challenge to Mr Rajoy as he seeks to cement Spain’s recovery from recession.
The debate has rarefied. Both factions have plenty to lose in the case of Catalonia attempting a forced exit, both believe they can call the other’s bluff, and, for the time being at least, neither is prepared to blink. “They know that we are the engine of Spain”.
In Madrid too, Rajoy issued an appeal to Catalans, finally appearing unnerved over the vote after months of dismissing its legitimacy.
Such a result, opponents say, would have catastrophic consequences for FC Barcelona, which has won five of the past seven Spanish titles and 23 overall, as well as lifting the UEFA Champions League trophy four times in the past decade.
And the majority of Catalans, such as Danny Nobleaum, 25, are very excited at the notion of that prospect. And then they might well have second thoughts. If Rajoy wins again, the negotiation field will be narrowed. Nationalists want greater control over how their taxes are spent.