The president of Spain's Catalonia region has signed a decree calling an independence referendum on November 9, a vote the central government has vowed to block, saying it would violate the constitution.

The decree, signed by Artur Mas on Saturday, comes as the long-standing pro-independence movement in the north-eastern region continues to gather momentum in the face of recent years of economic hardship.

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has called a special cabinet meeting on Monday to formalise his government's legal challenge to the vote in the constitutional court.

The announcement comes a week after Scotland voted against breaking away from Britain in a referendum that some in Catalonia say inspired them to seek a similar poll. 

Pro-independence sentiment in the economically strong region, where the Catalan language is spoken side-by-side with Spanish, has surged in recent years, fuelled by a sense that the region deserves better fiscal and political treatment from Madrid.

Mas signed the decree in a solemn ceremony in the regional government headquarters in Barcelona, flanked by most of the region's political leaders who support the vote.

"Like all the nations of the world, Catalonia has the right to decide its political future," said Mas.

Hundreds of pro-independence supporters gathered in the square in front of the Catalan government building, with many wearing or waving pro-independence flags and chanting "independence".

The crowd cheered when an electronic clock counting down the days until the referendum was set in motion on the side of a building overlooking the square.

Source: Agencies