Catalonia is set to go to the polls on October 1 to vote in a referendum on indepedence from Spain. But do Catalans really want independence and are they ready? DW has the lowdown.

Supporters wave their flags and banners during the initial act of the 'Si' (yes) campaign in run-up to planned secession referendum

Catalonia’s separatist regional government plans to hold a controversial referendum on independence from Spain on October 1.

If the referendum passes, the administration said it would declare independence within 48 hours.

In recent days, Catalan nationalist protests have erupted in the region’s capital Barcelona and other towns over a government crackdown on the vote.

Map showing Catalonia

What led to the independence drive?

Catalonia has been a part of Spain since the 15th century. Catalan nationalists have pressed for greater autonomy for decades, but calls for independence have risen since 2010.

Catalan nationalists argue that they are a nation with a distinct language, culture and history separate from Spain. Independence, they say, will protect the Catalan nation from the encroachment of Spanish language and culture.

Former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco suppressed Catalan autonomy and identity during his 1938-75 rule. But the democratic constitution that emerged from dictatorship granted Catalonia autonomy in 1979.

Nationalist sentiment was sparked after Spanish Supreme Court in 2010 overturned parts of a new 2006 Statute of Autonomy, which had been agreed to by the Catalan parliament and Spanish government with the support of a referendum.

Among the 14 articles in the Statute of Autonomy stuck down by the Supreme Court were those that gave preference to the Catalan language and empowered the region’s control over finances. Its ruling that there was no legal basis to describe the Catalan people as a “nation” enraged nationalists.

Massive Catalan nationalist protests ensued, leading to a non-binding referendum in 2014 despite Madrid calling it illegal. The referendum passed with 80 percent voting in favor, but turnout was less that 40 percent.

The referendum galvanized nationalists, who took control of parliament in 2015 following elections vowing to hold an official independence referendum.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont called for an independence referendum in June. The Catalan parliament in September then voted to authorize the vote on October 1.

Timeline of Catalonia

How did the Spanish government react?

The government in Madrid and Supreme Court have declared the referendum illegal.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has vowed to prevent the vote, including through force. Action taken so far includes:

– Police raiding Catalan government offices, arresting officials and confiscating 10 million ballot papersand other voting materials.

– More than two-thirds of the region’s nearly 900 mayors who plan to facilitate the vote being called in for questioning and facing arrest if they move forward with the referendum.

The crackdown has raised questions over whether Catalonia – one of Spain’s wealthiest regions – will be able to organize a credible vote. At the same time, some analysts worry that Madrid’s hardhanded tactics to stop the referendum could boost support for independence.

Watch video01:41

Catalan officials detained: Protests erupt in Barcelona

Do Catalans support independence?

Catalonia’s roughly 5.5 million voters will be asked a “Yes” or “No” question: “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?”

– A poll conducted by the Catalan government in June found that 41.1 percent of respondents were in favor of independence, while 49.4 percent were against.

– However, of the 67.5 percent of voters who said they would participate in the referendum, 62.4 percent said they would vote “Yes” and 37.6 percent responded “No.”

– The same poll showed that 62 percent of respondents think Catalonia has an “insufficient level of autonomy” compared to 26.4 percent who said there is a “sufficient level of autonomy.”

– Furthermore, 48 percent said they want to hold a referendum, regardless of central government permission, while 23.4 percent were in favor of a vote only if Madrid agreed.

Therefore, the results of the October 1 referendum, just like the one held in 2014, may hinge on voter turnout.

A member of the Catalonia parliament gives a thumbs up in a September 6 vote to pursue an independece referendum. A member of the Catalonia parliament gives a thumbs up in a September 6 vote to pursue an independece referendum

What powers does the Catalonia government have now?

Catalonia, an economic powerhouse that makes up one-fifth of Spain’s GDP, complains that it sends 10 billion ($12 billion) more to Madrid than it receives back. The 2010 Supreme Court decision restricting the region’s control over finances fueled resentment at a time the country was struggling in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

Opponents of the financial argument point out that it is only fair that Catalonia helps support less developed regions, considering that the Constitution grants “self-government of the nationalities and regions and solidarity among them all.

– Catalonia is politically organized under the Generalitat de Catalunya, with a parliament, president and executive council.

– The region is granted considerable autonomy over culture, education, health, parts of the justice system and local government.

– It has its own police force, Mossos d’Esquadra, although Spanish police also have a presence in the region.

– The government is also able to collect taxes on wealth, inheritance, gambling and transport. The central government collects income tax, corporate taxes and value-added taxes.

Watch video00:34

Catalan parliament separatists sing

Impact of the vote

Whether the independence referendum passes or fails, it is likely to set off a legal battle and power struggle between Madrid and Catalonia.

A “Yes” vote threatens to hit Spanish bonds and endanger economic recovery from a multi-year recession, with GDP growth of around 3 percent in 2015 and 2016.

Analysts say Catalonia would struggle to be financial viable and fail on its debt obligations.

The Spanish Confederation of Business Organizations (CEOE) has called for the laws of Spain and the EU to be followed. In a statement, it voiced “deep concern” over the impact the illegal referendum would have on “business and investor confidence in Catalonia and in the rest of Spain.”