Is Catalonia now on its way to independence? Even with the pro-secession parties gaining the upper hand in regional elections, it’s hard to contemplate a separate state of Catalonia. But that is now a possibility.
Throughout the day, outside the polling stations, the discussion has been intense. And there’s much more argument to come after this election result.
There will be many hurdles along the path towards independence. Not everyone here is in favour, of course, and the national government in Madrid will block every move by the regional leadership in Barcelona. Ministers in Madrid say that the independence bid is simply a distraction to shift the focus away from Catalonia’s own financial crisis.
The next stage is now likely to be a referendum on independence in Catalonia. But the exact nature of the question will only be decided after much discussion and negotiation. There are left and right wing nationalist politicians in the Barcelona parliament. They disagree about many things, but they need each other’s support on the independence question. Madrid says any referendum would be illegal. Might Catalan leaders get around this by running a consultative ballot – rather than a legally binding one? At least it would give them ammunition in negotiations with Madrid.
At the heart of this constitutional argument is the wider European economic crisis. Catalonia – a relatively rich region of Spain, despite suffering recent economic difficulties – believes it contributes more than it gets back. Many people here say they would be better off going it alone.
But it goes deeper than that. Barcelona has always been in conflict with Madrid, especially when there’s a right wing government in power in the national capital. For decades Catalan culture was suppressed under the Franco dictatorship, and many here point to a historical chain of events to back an argument that says Catalonia should never be a part of Spain in the first place.
The problems of breaking away are enormous. Would a new state of Catalonia achieve automatic membership of the European Union – or would that be vetoed by other European leaders fearful of setting a precedent for their own regions demanding secession?
And would big business re-locate away from Catalonia? In which league would the world famous Barcelona football team play, if it was no longer part of Spain?
After a night of celebrations, the Catalan leadership now face the headache of steering their region towards a new and possibly very different future.