The former Catalan president Artur Mas was banned from holding office for his role in organising an illegal independence referendum in 2015, a Spanish court decided on Monday. In the same day that Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, announced her plans for a second Scottish Independence referendum, Mas was convicted for civil disobedience for organising a poll in Spain’s north-eastern region.
The Catalan high court convicted Mas, former vice president Joanna Ortega and former minister of education Irene Rigau, of defying the Constitutional Court by pressing ahead with the non-binding vote back in November 2014. The court had suspended the planned referendum and all voting preparations just two days after announcement had been made by Mas. Mariano Rajoy, Spanish prime minister at the time, had called the referendum “undemocratic” and had urged Barcelona to abandon its plans and to return to negotiations. The Catalonian government went forward with the plan and 80% of the participants opted for independence.
Mas accepted full responsibility for staging the vote. He admitted that he was responsible for everything and that his initiative had deep democratic roots. Despite the fact that the judges were asking him in Spanish, Mas was answering in Catalan. After the trial, Mas told the reporters that he is going to appeal to the supreme court and that he is prepared to take the case to the European courts because he doesn’t trust the Spanish judicial system. In a press conference he expressed his opinion that “in the Spanish state, the law is not the same for everybody. We have been condemned for ideas for defending ideas that are not liked.”
His successor in the presidency of Catalonia, Carles Puidgemont, made a comparison between Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement for a second Scottish independence referendum and of the sentence that Mas received from the court. Being ironic he tweeted: “What a mistake! How different from stable and healthy democracies.” Puidgemont is the leader of the pro-independence Catalan government that plans to hold a binding referendum on splitting from Spain in seven months.
Mariano Rajoy, the conservative Spanish prime minister, has opposed any bid for sovereignty and has warned of the consequences if a referendum is to be held. In the last weeks, there has been speculation about the Spanish government invoking article 155 of the constitution that will allow her to take decisive action against Catalonia like closing schools that could be used as polling stations.
Pro-independence campaigners support the opinion that Catalonia has its own culture and language and that it’s putting more in the Spanish state than it gets out. It seems that Catalonia will join the Basque country in the list of territories that seek to escape Spanish control.