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Catalans Head To Polls To Vote On Symbolic Independence Referendum

One activist told BuzzFeed News that separatists would "declare independence" if a political solution was not reached.

Posted on November 9, 2014, at 11:29 a.m. ET

Citizens in the region of Catalonia in Spain today took to the ballot boxes to vote on a symbolic independence referendum.

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Voters were asked whether they would like a Catalan state and whether such a state should be independent.

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Controversy has surrounded the non-binding referendum, with Spain's prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, having called for a return to "sanity", adding that the vote would have no effect.

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The president of Catalonia, Artur Mas, who led the way as a pro-independence campaigner, showed his ballot to reporters this morning.

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And separatists are hoping that an overwhelming victory in the referendum would force the Spanish government to give in to their demands and hold a formal vote.

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A pro-independence supporter told BuzzFeed News that Catalans were "treated like second-class citizens".

Emric Blanes, 50, has lived in Barcelona for 20 years and is the secretary of a local assembly in the Sants district of the city. He said people in the region were demanding independence because they are treated unfairly by the Spanish government.Indeed, the most common concern amongst separatists is that the region provides far more to the country, economically, than it receives in return. Besides that, they feel that their culture is being sidelined."I do not trust Spain any more," Blanes said. "We have tried to reach an agreement with Madrid for a number of years but it is not possible. They are banning our language in schools, they are not investing enough in Catalonia, and they use the constitutional court as a political device. It is not neutral."So our parliament has no effective powers. And we pay a lot of taxes but get no power. Independence is the only remedy. Catalan culture is not treated in a fair way by Spain – we are treated as second-class citizens."He said separatists would simply "declare independence" if they were not given a chance to find a political solution."This is a very powerful, peaceful movement for independence and so we hope a political solution can now be agreed. We hope an independence referendum can be agreed with Madrid or we will declare independence. We are a majority in Catalonia. We never agreed to be inside Spain."
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Emric Blanes, 50, has lived in Barcelona for 20 years and is the secretary of a local assembly in the Sants district of the city. He said people in the region were demanding independence because they are treated unfairly by the Spanish government.

Indeed, the most common concern amongst separatists is that the region provides far more to the country, economically, than it receives in return. Besides that, they feel that their culture is being sidelined.

"I do not trust Spain any more," Blanes said. "We have tried to reach an agreement with Madrid for a number of years but it is not possible. They are banning our language in schools, they are not investing enough in Catalonia, and they use the constitutional court as a political device. It is not neutral.

"So our parliament has no effective powers. And we pay a lot of taxes but get no power. Independence is the only remedy. Catalan culture is not treated in a fair way by Spain – we are treated as second-class citizens."

He said separatists would simply "declare independence" if they were not given a chance to find a political solution.

"This is a very powerful, peaceful movement for independence and so we hope a political solution can now be agreed. We hope an independence referendum can be agreed with Madrid or we will declare independence. We are a majority in Catalonia. We never agreed to be inside Spain."

Pro-independence supporters released candles into the sky in Catalonia last night.

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Meanwhile, unionists took to the streets to protest against independence.

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While pro-independence supporters were gathering in the streets of Catalonia, anti-independence activists were pictured burning the Estelada, a Catalan nationalist flag.

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The Spanish movement has learned a lot of lessons from Scotland's own independence referendum campaign, according to activists in Barcelona.

Thousands of independence campaigners came together only days before the referendum on Sunday to create Catalan and Scotland flags.Blanes and other activists in Spain hoped a victory in Scotland could put pressure on Spain to give Catalonia its own vote."The Yes Scotland campaign was very inspiring," he said. "The Scotland movement was a lesson of democracy for all the world. And the Yes campaign was similar to our grassroots work. There were lot of local meetings, a lot of stalls in the streets. They did not win, but they put forward their views in a very clear way."
AFP / Getty Images RAFA RIVAS

Thousands of independence campaigners came together only days before the referendum on Sunday to create Catalan and Scotland flags.

Blanes and other activists in Spain hoped a victory in Scotland could put pressure on Spain to give Catalonia its own vote.

"The Yes Scotland campaign was very inspiring," he said. "The Scotland movement was a lesson of democracy for all the world. And the Yes campaign was similar to our grassroots work. There were lot of local meetings, a lot of stalls in the streets. They did not win, but they put forward their views in a very clear way."

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