The autonomous parliament of Catalunya is about to hold a referendum to secede from Spain.

Given that Catalunya has their own police force. What are the possible outcomes if the Catalan people vote yes for independence?

Besides sending in the military, what other options does the Spanish government have to stop them from declaring independence?

3 Answers 3


Saying "No".

If the government ignores the vote (as expected) nothing changes. Taxes are still assessed, flags still fly, tourists still wander. If the Catalans use it as a rallying point to begin a large campaign of defiance things get more interesting.

It is very unlikely other countries will recognize the independence of a region the Spanish government does not, because most major nations have regions that want to be independent and encouraging one encourages them all.

Without international support Catalonia must do all business as part of Spain. Which gives the Spanish Government a lot of options to disrupt Catalonia if things escalate without needing soldiers. Specifically ports, airports, customs and immigration are under national control.

But even that probably isn't really necessary. This is practically little more than a maneuver to pressure the Spanish people into considering the problem, with the hope that negotiations might lead eventually to a mutually approved solution.

Telling the Spanish people that the Catalan people are united in their desire for independence is simply a step in the process.

Spain didn't care last time.

  • But that doesn't really answer the question. If there is no police force to enforce laws such as taxes being collected. Sure, other countries might take sometime to recognize Catalunya as an independent country. But given the will of the Catalan people, it seems that's an economic price they are willing to pay. Jul 14, 2017 at 20:59
  • 3
    @dan-klasson but what you describe is not the referendum; that would be called a campaign of civil disobedience. A successful referendum could be used to launch such a campaign "see how many of us want independence? We can get it" but it is a very different thing. One important issue is that nobody is going to be punished for voting, but a policeman refusing to do his work might be fired or even jailed.. is people vested enough in the independence movement to risk that?
    – SJuan76
    Jul 14, 2017 at 21:53
  • @SJuan76 But the police force work for the autonomous state of Catalunya, not Spain. So they would have to follow the orders from the newly appointed Catalan government. Jul 15, 2017 at 10:28
  • Police must obey the laws, and certainly can refuse to follow illegal orders (there are have been reports of police trade unions giving information to the policemen about how to react in the case of being issued dubious orders). And, if the situation requires it, the central government can just cancel the Catalonian government (article 155 of the Constitution) and take control of the autonomical police force. There are also national police forces in Catalonia, in charge of specific tasks.
    – SJuan76
    Jul 15, 2017 at 11:29
  • @dan-klasson This referendum does not seem to include any call to action. If it passes convincingly and is ignored by the central government the something else might get organized, like civil disobedience or open revolt, but that would be separate from the referendum.
    – user9389
    Jul 15, 2017 at 15:12

What are the possible outcomes if the Catalan people vote yes for independence?

First, I don't believe that this is IF. There is no doubt that YES will »win«, probably with a landslide – simply because many of those who oppose the independence will stay at home. And chances are good that referendum will be prevented in at least some of those towns which lean against independence, so even if you are an opponent and want to vote, you won't be able to do so. For that reason, the real question isn't what will the result be, but rather, how many people will wote for independence. In Quebec 1996 it was 46 % of all eligible voters. In Montenegro 2005 it was 48 %. In Scotland, it was under 38 %. I don't want to say that there is a definite threshold, however without support of well over 40 % of the electorate, the independists' case will not be stronger once the emotions cool down after that Sunday night. And if they don't come at least close to 40 %, they will in fact be weaker as they are now.

But anyway, chances are very real that the Catalan parliament will declare independence some time in early October.

What happens then? In my opinion, Catalonia becoming a real independent state in a few years is unlikely. Even the most hard-core independentists understand that to turn Catalonia into fully functioning independent state, they will sooner or later need an approval from Madrid. To get it, three things should happen:

  1. Rajoy should go. Depending on how the events unfold after the »declaration of independence«, this may happen quite soon. Or may not happen for years.
  2. New goverment in Madrid should be much more comfortable with the idea of at least a binding referendum (not to say, with the idea of Catalan – and in that case very likely Basque as well – independence). For now, the only serious political party in Spain which fulfills this criteria is Podemos, but they seem to be pretty far from the point where they could lead the government. And even if Iglesias manages to form a coalition, in order to get the referendum law through, he'd probably have to change the constitution, requiring a supermajority, otherwise CC could block the referendum even if the law got the parliament majority. If PP finds themselves in opposition, they will probably be strong enough to veto it for a long time, buying the votes of emotive unionists that way (unless the sititation in Catalonia deteriorates dramatically – see p.s.).
  3. Finally, when the public opinion and government finally shift, Madrid is unlikely to accept straight and full recognition of independent Catalonia. Much mure likely, it will come out with a kind of devo max alternative proposal. While the outcome of a binding status-quo-vs-independence referendum is completely unpredictable at the moment, a devo-max-vs-independence referendum should, at least as the things stand now, produce a clear defeat for independentists, possibly with 70 %.

So while there is little doubt we will witness some very powerfull expressions of seccesionist emotions over the next weeks and months and many Spaniards – and loyal Catalans – would sleep bad in this time, I wouldn't put much of my money on a fully independent Catalan state in the near future.

p.s.: Violence, armed conflict or even a full blown civil war? God forbid. As far as I understand, Catalans are mostly pragmatic people, although there is a small hard core independentist wing which seems to be ready to go at least some way further from the present Gandhian style of protests. I can only hope that this nightmare never comes true. But for now, there is unfortunatelly no guarantee. Only »the deal« will rule this possibility out. However, even in the best case, the deal is at least two years away.


Given that Catalunya has their own police force. What are the possible outcomes if the Catalan people vote yes for independence?

Judging by your comments on an earlier answer, this question is predicated on a misunderstanding. Catalonia does have its own police force, the Mossos d'Esquadra, and they have replaced most of the functions of the two national police forces (the Policía Nacional and the Guardia Civil). But that doesn't mean that the Policía Nacional and the Guardia Civil have been withdrawn completely from Catalonia. In fact, in the run-up to the attempted referendum the Ministry of the Interior has sent a large delegation of both national forces to Catalonia, and in some of the cases related to the referendum they have already taken back the role of judicial police (i.e. those sent by the investigating judge to execute warrants) from the Mossos.

On the assumption that the referendum is carried out to a sufficient extent that the Govern decides to claim it as a mandate for UDI, the big question is whether the PSOE will back down from its current stance of not wanting to support the application of article 155 of the Spanish Constitution (suspension of autonomy).

Possible outcomes (not mutually exclusive):

  • Suspension of the Govern and direct rule from Madrid
  • Swift trials which result in bans from holding public office and fines for all or most of the Govern's cabinet, possibly even with prison for Puigdemont.
  • Stalemate, with the investigating judges deciding to take their time.
  • The resurgence of a pro-independence Catalan terrorist group. (I don't think this likely, but a Valencian friend is genuinely worried about it).

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