Why Catalan Independence Won't Happen Anytime Soon

What to Expect After the Referendum

People hold Catalan separatist flags known as "Esteladas" during a gathering to mark the Catalonia day "Diada" in central Barcelona, September 2016. Albert Gea / REUTERS

Barring a last-minute development, on October 1, the separatist government of Catalonia will convene a non-binding referendum on whether the region should declare itself an independent nation from Spain. This follows a victory by Catalan nationalist forces in the 2015 regional elections that for the first time in Catalonia’s history brought to power a coalition of political parties demanding outright independence. Upon declaring victory, Catalan Premier Carles Puigdemont announced that it was his intention to seek the establishment of the “Republic of Catalonia.”

If successful, Catalonia’s drive toward independence would dramatically alter the geography of the Kingdom of Spain, a country that has basically existed in its current configuration since 1492, with the marriage of Queen Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragón (a kingdom which included the Principality of Catalonia), universally known as the “Catholic Monarchs.” It would also massively diminish Spain as a nation state: Catalonia comprises 16 percent of Spain’s population and accounts for 20 percent of its GDP.

Finally, an independent Catalonia would transform the political landscape of Western Europe, with the creation of a new, mid-sized state sandwiched between Spain and France, to say nothing of emboldening other so-called stateless nations in Europe seeking independence, most notably Scotland, whose own bid for independence failed to get off the ground in 2015. Needless to say, Catalan independence would be momentous.


No one should expect Catalan independence anytime soon, however, even if the referendum brings a decisive victory for the independence movement. For one thing, it is not clear that the movement has the support it needs to win the referendum, much less to undertake the protracted negotiations with Madrid that an orderly secession would entail. According to the most recent polling from El País, Spain’s leading newspaper, a clear majority of Catalans favors the region having the right to determine its political future, but fewer support severing ties with Spain than want to stay within it.

Support for independence is weakest in Barcelona,

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