BARCELONA (Reuters) - The leader of Spain’s Catalonia region said on Friday he would defy Madrid to hold a non-binding independence vote in less than two months, saying his people deserved the same right to determine their future as Scots who voted to stay in Britain.
With its own language and culture, and a long-standing pro-independence movement that has gathered momentum in recent years of economic hardship, Catalonia has sought a referendum on independence similar to the one held in Scotland on Thursday.
Unlike London, which allowed the Scottish vote, Madrid says even a non-binding referendum would violate the Spanish constitution and has pledged to block it in the courts.
Spanish political leaders, including centre-right Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Socialist opposition leader Pedro Sanchez, hailed the Scottish “no” vote and said the outcome demonstrated the value of unity for Spain.
The government opened the door on Friday to revising how Spanish regions are financed but said any such move would not be linked to the Catalan independence movement.
Catalan leader Arturo Mas denied that the Scottish rejection of independence had hurt the Catalan secessionist cause.
“What happened in Scotland is not a setback for us, because what we really want in Catalonia is to have the chance to vote,” Mas said.
The Catalan regional government was due to pass a bill later on Friday giving Mas the power to call a non-binding referendum. Mas said he would sign it and would hold the vote on Nov 9.
A late surge in polls for Scottish independence had galvanized supporters of secession for Catalonia, and many expressed disappointment that Scots had ultimately held back.
“As a Catalan, I would have liked to have seen a ‘yes’ for independence, because it would have been a boost for us,” said Jordi Prosa, a 54-year-old business administrator in Barcelona.
Nevertheless, others seized on the enthusiastic Scottish vote as proof that whatever the outcome, regions should be permitted to choose their own future.
“What is clear here is that people want to vote,” said Josep Roda, a 55-year-old lawyer. “Scotland is a good example of allowing people to express their opinion.”
Madrid’s refusal to grant a referendum has angered many Catalans, even some who favor continued union with Spain.
Hundreds of thousands of people marched last week in the streets of Barcelona for the right to hold a referendum. Polls show around 80 percent of people in the region of 7.5 million want a say on secession.
The Scottish “no” vote caused yields on Spanish bonds to tighten as investors saw it taking momentum away from Catalan secessionists and reducing risk. Yields bounced off Friday’s lows after Mas’s defiant comments.
Prime Minister Rajoy said the Scots’ “no” was the best outcome “for themselves, for all of Britain and for the rest of Europe”.
Opposition leader Sanchez said the outcome held lessons for Spain: “Scots have chosen self-government, the strengthening of their institutions and of their links with the United Kingdom, and that’s the read-through that should be made in Spain.”
Announcing the referendum date puts Mas on a tricky path by opening the prospect of a court fight with Madrid. The Catalan leader did not lay out clear steps for his next move if Spain’s central government blocks the vote.
He is under pressure from his coalition partners to go ahead with a referendum even if it is declared illegal, though many believe he would shy away from such a move.
“It is unlikely that he would opt for defying Madrid by holding the vote,” said Antonio Barroso, analyst at Teneo Intelligence. If the referendum were declared illegal, Mas would not want to risk losing international credibility by going ahead with it anyway, he added.
Additional reporting by Sarah White and Raquel Castillo in Madrid, Writing by Sonya Dowsett and Sarah White; Editing by Julien Toyer and Peter Graff