The regional government of Catalonia, a wealthy and populous north-eastern region of Spain, was planning to hold a non-binding referendum on independence on November 9th [this was a wide-ranging parliamentary agreement, not just the "government's whim]. But the plans were put on hold when Spain's Constitutional Court suspended the vote [at the Spanish government's request, in record time]. The Court is pondering the legality of the referendum, which it is expected [you take for granted that the Madrid view of things is the prevailing one. But (a) the top legal advisory council of the Catalan authorities did not suggest a single change to the draft law, and (b) the decree was written quoting whole chunks of the Constitutional Courts' own doctrine] to declare unconstitutional some time in the next five months. But Catalonia is undeterred [on the contrary, this interference has led to widespread calls for civil disobedience, and in some quarters, for Mas to be dragged befpore the courts!]. On October 14th the Catalan prime minister, Artur Mas, announced that some form of "consultation", involving "ballots and ballot boxes", would go ahead anyway on November 9th, regardless of the Court's decision. What does this mean for Catalan independence?

Although Catalonia had moments of separatist enthusiasm during Spain's troubled early 20th century, support for the idea only surged again a few years ago [My God, how could a serious journalist write this? Esquerra Republicana has been in the Catalan Parliament since 1980!]. Polls now show around half of Catalans prefer independence to the status quo, under which they already enjoy a high degree of self-government [compared to whom? The Canton of Geneva? Flanders? Scotland? This a Madrid-centric view!], with administrative powers over education, health, policing and many other matters [the same polls also show that little over a quarter say they would vote against independence]. The two motors of the new wave of separatism are Spain's economic woes [nonsense: the "new wave" can be clearly tracked back to before the economic woes!] and a 2010 Constitutional Court decision to strike out part of a renewed charter of self-government that had been approved at referendum [what about the "català emprenyat"  - the angry Catalan-in-the-street - that Montilla was warning about several years earlier?!]. Many Catalans, who speak their own language as well as Spanish, believe their taxes pay for poor, lazy southerners to live off government hand-outs [Duran i Lleida was chided for expressing such a view, both in Catalonia and in the rest of Spain]. For the past three years huge numbers of peaceful separatist protesters have taken to the streets on Catalonia's “national” day each September 11th [spontaneously? No mention AT ALL of the Catalan National Assembly, the motor behind the grassroots mobilisation of Catalonia?]. Mr Mas [and everybody else. Everybody! But he was in power] has been caught unprepared by this wave of separatist enthusiasm. He responded [nonsense, this demand was a Parliamentary one, not his personal whim; and it wasn't a "response, for his meeting with Rajoy in September 2012 had been fixed weeks earlier] first by demanding new tax-raising powers from Madrid. When they were refused he called a referendum [no he didn't, he called an election, which he won hands down, though with a smaller majority], knowing it was likely to be banned [the vote on independence was a Parliamentary decision once more, not his personal whim; and it involved several scenarios, from a binding referendum (which required the Spanish government's agrreement; or a non-binding one, which could be organised in accordance with Catalan legislation]. It has not been enough to convince voters [convince them about what? Polls are hammering the governing coalition because of the economic fiasco they have to cope with]: polls show that Mr Mas's Catalan Democratic Convergence party and its coalition partners have been overtaken by the radically [what does that mean to the Economist?] separatist Catalan Republican Left (ERC). Spain's conservative prime minister, Mariano Rajoy of the Popular Party (PP), has refused to call a referendum, which has only stoked support for one [and the continuing recentralisation perceived by many Catalans as increasing the threat to the survival of the Catalans as a people]: 70% of people in Catalonia now want to settle the issue with a vote. The PP says it will not set in motion the disintegration of Spain and the loss of 17% of its population [nor can it afford such a separation; but it has done NOTHING in three years to "seduce" Catalan voters, and came fifth - 5th! - in Catalonia in the latest European Parliament election]. It also refuses to countenance the opposition Socialist Party's “third way” approach, which would involve constitutional reform to give Catalonia still [loaded; more Madrid bias] more power and make Spain more federal. Polls show such reforms could bring support for independence below 50%.

Catalan separatism is not going away. Mr Mas's pseudo-referendum is still due to go ahead on November 9th, though it will have no legal consequence. The debate on independence has been uneven. The “no” side has either refused to engage or, where it has spoken up, been drowned out [nonsense, there have been No supporters amply represented in the Catalan media, and disproportionately so in most Madrid-based media]. Mr Mas may now be forced to call early elections. The likely winner would be the radical ERC, which would lead a regional government encouraging civil disobedience, if the party sticks to its current position [well, since yesterday but Mas' people and ERC are openly talking about a post-election proclamation of Independence]. That would become a problem for whichever government emerges from nationwide elections due late next year. Whatever the outcome of the vote next month, Spain's political fractures are likely to widen [you haven't made it clear that the PP's centralist policies over the past 15 years are to blame for 90% of the increase in support for independence in Catalonia: and that a mere 9·5% of total central government investment budgeted for next year will go to Catalonia - which accounts for 19% of GDP - looks more like a scorched earth policy by a retreating army!].

See also Open Letter to The Economist on Catalonia – J’accuse", by Edward Hugh (Monday 20.10.14)