Thousands of voters in Spanish region of Catalonia will head to the polls Sunday, to take part in a non-binding vote on whether the region should become a fully-fledged state, independent from Spain.
Unlike the independence referendum held in Scotland on Sept. 18, the vote does not have the blessing or cooperation of the country's central government. No government resources may be used in the vote, and official election monitors are forbidden to take part, according to a BBC report.
In stark contrast to the Scottish referendum, financial markets and businesses are utterly unfazed by the vote. Had Scotland voted 'Yes', some large financial institutions had threatened to leave the country – there are no such threats in Spain as, whatever the result of Sunday's vote, Catalonia's status within Spain will remain the same.
The “consultation of citizens,” as the vote is referred to, is a largely symbolic exercise, but that does not mean that it is not politically significant.
Separatist sentiments in Catalonia are nothing new, having been part of the region's political landscape since it was absorbed into Spain 300 years ago. The region has its own language, and a culture distinct from the rest of the country.
It is also one of Spain's wealthiest regions, contributing one-fifth of the nation's economic output, more than it receives from the central government. Spain's economic woes following the 2008 financial crisis convinced many in the affluent region that they would be better off alone.
In addition, the separatist cause gained ground in the region in 2010, after Spain's constitutional court caused outrage by overturning parts of a Catalan self-government charter that referred to the region as a “nation”. In recent years Catalonia’s national day, Sept. 11th, has seen huge marches for independence, according to The Economist.
Nationalist leaders will be hoping that a big turnout in Sunday's poll will allow the region to negotiate concessions on tax, further autonomy from Spain's central government, or possibly a full-blown independence referendum in the future.
The vote is not without its detractors. Analysts suggested that while independence supporters were likely to vote, opponents would likely ignore it. The fact that those who will be counting the ballots are volunteers from pro-independence groups will also cast a shadow over whatever the final numbers are.
However legitimate or not the vote may be, the last few years have seen Catalonia's traditional political establishment pushed into supporting independence. Convergencia, the party of the region's centrist president Arthur Mas, has only supported independence since 2008. His party is now losing to ground to the radical Republican Left of Catalonia, who support declaring independence without a referendum, and are seen as long-established crusaders for independence, according to Al Jazeera.
One thing however, is clear: Catalan nationalist ambitions are here to stay. The Madrid government may try to manage, or stifle them, but it cannot ignore them.