Brexit fuels calls for Catalan referendum on independence from Spain

Protesters carry a giant independentist flag during a demonstration outside the Catalan government headquarters in Barcelona on May 29, 2016.
Protesters carry a giant independentist flag during a demonstration outside the Catalan government headquarters in Barcelona on May 29, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

MADRID (AFP) - Catalan separatists on Friday (June 24) intensified their calls for a referendum on breaking away from Spain after Britain voted to leave the European Union and Scotland said another independence vote was likely.

"While Scotland prepares to discuss a second referendum with the EU, we should say without fear that the time for OUR referendum has also arrived," Mr Jordi Sanchez, president of the Catalan National Assembly, a pro-independence organisation, tweeted.

Separatists in the northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia have for years lobbied for an independence referendum like the one held in Scotland in 2014, which resulted in a vote to remain in the United Kingdom.

Earlier on Friday, Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said a second independence vote was "on the table" after Britain voted by a narrow margin in a referendum to leave the European Union.

While the vote was close across Britain, Scotland "clearly and decisively voted to remain part of the European Union, 62 to 38 (per cent)", she told the BBC.

The head of the pro-independence government of Catalonia, Mr Carles Puigdemont - one of the few Spanish politicians to be critical of the "Remain" campaign in Britain - praised the British referendum.

"Democracy won, because the British people were able to vote," he said after the results of the Brexit vote were announced.

Spain is going to the polls on Sunday in a repeat general election following an inconclusive December vote in which no party gained a majority.

The issue of whether to allow Catalonia to hold a referendum on independence was one of the stumbling blocks preventing parties from forming a subsequent coalition government.

New anti-austerity party Podemos backs a referendum, which is fiercely opposed by the Socialist party, its natural ally, as well as the two other main parties, the conservative Popular Party (PP) and upstart Ciudadanos.

Catalonia in November 2014 held a symbolic independence vote after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's PP government blocked it from holding an official referendum.

Over 80 percent voted in favour of independence - but just 2.3 million people out of a total of 6.3 million eligible voters took part in the ballot.

Mr Gabriel Rufian, a left-wing Catalan separatist lawmaker in Spain's national Parliament, praised British Prime Minister David Cameron for allowing Scotland to hold an independence referendum and calling the subsequent EU vote.

"We would love to have a right-wing politician like Cameron who called voters to the polls twice," he said.