The reason the Spanish government was not willing to allow Catalonia to handle any referendum is because a Spanish province is not allowed to single handedly secede, such decisions should be taken by Spanish people as a whole. This is in my honest opinion a fully valid and understandable argument.

What I don't understand is why the Spanish government does not actually organize such a national referendum about Catalonia's independence, so the question would be settled for good. Catalonia secessionist guys would have a chance to try and convince all Spain that independence is the best for both nations, and if they fail (which is by far the most likely case) then at least the Catalonia question will be answered.

The Spanish government would only be taking a really small risk by organizing such a referendum, as the chance a majority of Spaniards will vote for Catalonia's secession is quite low.

5 Answers 5


It seems bleedingly obvious that having Catalonia and the rest of Spain vote differently on this issue would leave everybody with bad feelings. Nothing would be settled. And organising a referendum is precisely risking such an outcome, not as a mere possibility or in an opinion poll but in an officially sanctioned vote.

Once you have an actual vote for secession in a region, all the other arguments would look very weak indeed.

Also if you accept that the people of Spain as a whole can legitimately overrule Catalonia on this issue, what would be the point of a referendum? If that's the case, the people of Spain as a whole and their democratically elected representatives and/or government are just as legitimate in deciding what needs to be put to a popular vote or not.

Here, as in all similar cases, the real issue is whether it's acceptable for Spain as a whole to prevent a region/minority from seceding.


First of all, Catalonians won't see that as legitimate. It's like having other people vote for what I should make myself for dinner -- even if everyone else is saying I should have salmon, if I want a hamburger and I'm the only vote in favour of it, I'm still making a damn hamburger. There is no legitimacy in other people telling me what I should do.

Second, there's a cost, political and fiscal, attached to running a referendum. The Spanish people don't have a movement for an independence referendum, nor is there a significant proportion of the people in favour of it.

Having a Spanish referendum on Catalonia's independence would make very little difference.


Neither the Spanish government nor the government of the Catalan autonomous community has the legal capacity for a referendum of this type.

The supreme law that governs the Spanish state and to which all subjects and public powers are bound to comply is the Spanish Constitution of 1978.

1.2. La soberanía nacional reside en el pueblo español, del que emanan los poderes del Estado.

Art.1.2. National sovereignty resides in the Spanish people, from which emanate the powers of the State.

"Spanish People" has the sovereignty. Not the "government", not "some people", not "an autonomous region Government or Parliament". Any referendum that deals with the integrity of the state has forcibly to be for all Spanish People.

9.1. Los ciudadanos y los poderes públicos están sujetos a la Constitución y al resto del ordenamiento jurídico.

9.1. Citizens and public authorities are subject to the Constitution and the rest of the legal system.

Whatever the process, it must be done according to the constitution and the rest of the laws.

149.1. El Estado tiene competencia exclusiva sobre las siguientes materias: 32.ª Autorización para la convocatoria de consultas populares por vía de referéndum.

149.1. The State has exclusive jurisdiction over the following matters: 32. Authorization for the convening of popular consultations by referendum.

The state (Spanish Government) has the power to authorise a referendum.

So... The Spanish Government is the one to authorise a referendum, but it can't simply because is bound to the Constitution which does not provide for the secession of part of its territory.

  1. The Constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards, and recognizes and guarantees the right to the autonomy of the nationalities and regions that integrate it and the solidarity between them.

For such a thing to happen, a Constitution reform should take place according arts. 167 and 168


  1. Los proyectos de reforma constitucional deberán ser aprobados por una mayoría de tres quintos de cada una de las Cámaras. Si no hubiera acuerdo entre ambas, se intentará obtenerlo mediante la creación de una Comisión de composición paritaria de Diputados y Senadores, que presentará un texto que será votado por el Congreso y el Senado.

  2. De no lograrse la aprobación mediante el procedimiento del apartado anterior, y siempre que el texto hubiere obtenido el voto favorable de la mayoría absoluta del Senado, el Congreso, por mayoría de dos tercios, podrá aprobar la reforma.

  3. Aprobada la reforma por las Cortes Generales, será sometida a referéndum para su ratificación cuando así lo soliciten, dentro de los quince días siguientes a su aprobación, una décima parte de los miembros de cualquiera de las Cámaras.


  1. Cuando se propusiere la revisión total de la Constitución o una parcial que afecte al Título preliminar, al Capítulo segundo, Sección primera del Título I, o al Título II, se procederá a la aprobación del principio por mayoría de dos tercios de cada Cámara, y a la disolución inmediata de las Cortes.

  2. Las Cámaras elegidas deberán ratificar la decisión y proceder al estudio del nuevo texto constitucional, que deberá ser aprobado por mayoría de dos tercios de ambas Cámaras.

  3. Aprobada la reforma por las Cortes Generales, será sometida a referéndum para su ratificación.


  1. Proposals for constitutional reform must be approved by a majority of three fifths of each of the Houses. If there is no agreement between the two, an attempt will be made to obtain it through the creation of a Joint Commission of Deputies and Senators, which will present a text that will be voted by Congress and the Senate.

  2. If the approval is not obtained by the procedure of the preceding paragraph, and provided that the text has obtained the favorable vote of the absolute majority of the Senate, the Congress, by a two-thirds majority, may approve the reform.

  3. Once approved by the Cortes Generales, it will be submitted to a referendum for its ratification when requested, within fifteen days following its approval, one-tenth of the members of any of the Chambers.


  1. When proposing a total revision of the Constitution or a partial amendment affecting the Preliminary Title, the second Chapter, the first Section of Title I, or the Title II, the principle shall be approved by a two-thirds majority of each House , And the immediate dissolution of the Cortes.

  2. The elected Chambers shall ratify the decision and proceed with the study of the new constitutional text, which shall be approved by a two-thirds majority of both Houses.

  3. Approved the reform by the Cortes Generales, will be submitted to a referendum for ratification.

TL;DR Why do the Spanish government not organize a national referendum for Catalonia independence?

The Spanish Government can not organize or authorize a referendum that goes against the laws to which it is bound, nor can it renounce a sovereignty that does not belong to it.

  • 1
    This is pretty close to a perfect answer (I'm likely to award it a bounty at some point) except one thing: as I understand it, this means technically there's actually nothing preventing the Spanish government organising a referendum, they just can't authorise independence (without an all-Spain referendum to amend the constitution) if the referendum goes that way. Is that correct?
    – arboviral
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 8:38
  • Any decission regarding the national sovereignty or the integrity of the state would need a constitutional reform. That's only possible with a mayority in the parliament, dissolve the parliament, run elections and approve the reform. It's a long process.
    – roetnig
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 8:42
  • 1
    The Spanish Constitution was approved in Referendum and more than 87% of voters in Catalonia voted YES. Also, some of the writers of Spanish Constitution were from catalonia. Anyway, Catalonian government is legitimated by that Constitution and cannot choose what laws apply to them or not.
    – roetnig
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 10:45
  • 4
    (-1) I think all this is beside the point and essentially begs the question. If there were an overwhelming consensus that a referendum is desirable, what would prevent changing the constitution? Conversely, has the government started the process of amending the constitution but failed for some reason? Obviously not. At the end of the day, many people do not want a referendum and the real question is why. The fact that the constitution makes it slightly more difficult in the immediate future is just a technical detail and a convenient excuse.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 21:42
  • 1
    @roetnig But that's not a real constraint on the government because it doesn't want to do it in the first place (and with good reasons, too). It would certainly be up to the government to push for that reform or put it on the agenda. Again, you're focusing on immediate technical details, which aren't a cause for anything.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 13:24

The Spanish propaganda continuously says that “there are not a majority of Catalans that want independence”. If this would be the case...why Spain does not organize a referendum, win the referendum and the problem is over?

The official version states that Spanish Constitution does not allow a referendum. This is not true. A consultory referendum would be in accordance with constitution. AFTER this, if the result was “yes” it will force politically (but not legally) to change the constitution (this was the Canada/Quebec solution).

Now, the real version. Spanish nationalism has tried for centuries to uniform all the nations from Spain under the cast of language of culture of Castilian. But Catalonia, with an own history, language, traditions and way of being have resisted to this assimilation. As an example today there are many Spaniards who feel insulted ..... by the fact that Catalans speak Catalan in their presence!... In addition to other examples of catalanophobic hating (one example of hundreds: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/commenters-mocked-death-of-catalan-passengers-on-crashed-jet-1.2153017). Of course, these examples are not random. Spanish media maintain a situation in which Catalans make the rule of jews in 1930’ /Germany.

And the reason is that Catalans do not want to be assimilated. In their point of view only exist One Nation, Only One language, Only One authority (Madrid). And Catalonia is the only danger that threats this mental frame (do not confuse: paradoxically Basc country has never been defying this mental frame).

At this point, allowing Catalonia to vote in a referendum, it would be the same that recognize that Catalonia is a “nation” as is Scotland or Wales, as G Britain recognize. And this question, that G Britain recognizes in their nations, the pride and arrogance of Spain State does not allow. This was the reason by which Spain lost Cuba and it will be the reason by which Spain will lose Catalonia.

Now, 1 October Catalonia will vote. Most of us we are prepared to Spanish repression and for civil disobedience, but and I am sure that we will vote and the result will be “YES”.

And do you know what is funny? I Spain had allowed the referendum years ago it would have a chance of win the “NO”.


First of all, before making an opinion inform better. Why the catalan secession feeling has increased a lot in small time? That is PP( conservatives) fault. Why? This party has made the big catalan party pro-secessionist. First, abolising the autonomy reform and second, the rejection to have better catalan finance. CIU wasnt never pro-secessionist party but PP has made him to embrace the pro-independence party ERC. However, this way wasnt so easy because the catalan big party splitted in two parties. So, They risked everything to force a deal with prime minister. Second, he uses the catalan TV to promote an anti-spanish propaganda in order to gain his objectives. However, the truth is that the majority of the catalan people are against independence but They want better finances, They envy us, the basques. They dream our económic concert. Sort out this problem is very easy but the prime minister is really blind with spanish constitution feelings. Now, catalonia is divided with very difficult situation only a new prime minister that understand the problem will resolve it. The referéndum is not impulsive feelings is a consecuence of a blind prime minister.

  • 1
    This doesn't answer the OP "Why do the Spanish government not organize a national referendum for Catalonia independence?"
    – roetnig
    Commented Jun 16, 2017 at 9:58
  • You might want to consider posting this as an answer to the question politics.stackexchange.com/questions/25034/…
    – arboviral
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 8:39

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