The Catalan independence referendum of 2017 was an independence referendum called by the Generalitat de Catalunya and approved by the Parliament of Catalonia, but declared illegal on 6 September 2017 and suspended by the Constitutional Court of Spain because it breached the Spanish Constitution of 1978. It was held on 1 October 2017 in the Spanish autonomous community of Catalonia, using a disputed voting process.
The referendum was approved by the Catalan parliament in a session on 6 September 2017 along with a law which states that independence would be binding with a simple majority, without requiring a minimum turnout. Opposition parties refused to participate in the session and called on their voters to boycott the vote, except Catalunya Sí que es Pot who abstained but supports participation. The law is illegal according to the Catalan Statutes of Autonomy which require a two third majority in the Catalan parliament for any change to Catalonia’s status. The referendum itself is also illegal according to the Spanish constitution. It was suspended by the Constitutional Court on 7 September 2017, with the Catalan government stating the court order was not valid for Catalonia and proceeding to gather the support of 712 of 948 municipalities of Catalonia, including a partial support by Barcelona.
The referendum question, which voters answered with “Yes” or “No”, was “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?”. The “Yes” side won, with 2,044,038 (92.01%) voting for independence and 177,547 (7.99%) voting against, on a turnout of 43.03%. The Catalan government estimated that up to 770,000 votes were not cast due to polling stations being closed off during the police crackdown, although the “universal census” system introduced earlier in the day allowed electors to vote in any given polling station. Catalan government officials have argued that the turnout would be higher were it not for Spanish police suppression of the vote, and that were it not for closures and police pressure, turnout could have been as high as 55%. On the other hand, many voters who did not support Catalan independence did not turn out.
The Government of Spain opposes any Catalan self-determination referendum, because the Spanish Constitution does not allow for a vote on the independence of any Spanish region while also deeming it illegal without its consent. This interpretation is also favoured by the Catalan Statutory Guarantees Council. However, the Catalan government invoked the right to self-determination for calling the referendum. Following a constitutionality check demanded by the Spanish government, the Constitutional Court of Spain annulled the resolution emanated by the Parliament of Catalonia to hold such a vote. The Government of Catalonia, though, maintained that the vote would still be held on 1 October. To avoid the Spanish government’s influence, the Catalan government passed a referendum law through its own parliament, by simple majority, in September declaring that it would then follow a “Catalan-only” legality (as opposed to the general Spanish one). The referendum law was also suspended by the Constitutional Court of Spain.
On the day of the referendum, the inaction of the autonomous police force of Catalonia, the Mossos d’Esquadra, allowed polling stations to open. The National Police Corps and the Guardia Civil intervened and raided polling stations after they opened. 893 civilians and 431 agents of the Nacional Police and the Guardia Civil were reported to have been injured. The Mossos d’Esquadra are being investigated for disobedience, for not having complied with the orders of the High Court of Justice of Catalonia to prevent the referendum. Josep Lluís Trapero Álvarez, the Mossos d’Esquadra Major, is being investigated for sedition by the Spanish National Court. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al, urged the Spanish government to probe all acts of violence that took place to prevent the referendum, through impartial and independent investigations.
The Spanish government and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy have come under international scrutiny over the use of force on civilians to prevent the referendum. After the events of the poll, the European Commission released an official statement: “Under the Spanish Constitution, yesterday’s vote in Catalonia was not legal. […] …We call on all relevant players to now move very swiftly from confrontation to dialogue. Violence can never be an instrument in politics. We trust the leadership of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to manage this difficult process in full respect of the Spanish Constitution and of the fundamental rights of citizens enshrined therein.”