Catalonia's regional government is to hold a symbolic independence vote on Sunday, despite a Spanish Constitutional Court ban. Is the region now on an unavoidable collision course with Madrid? David Pollard reports.
The Catalans may be setting off on a long journey - one many of them hope will ultimately lead to independence. In the shorter term, though, it could be a trek into the unknown. The Catalan government has vowed to go ahead with a vote on Sunday on whether to break away from Spain. Spain says the vote is unconstitutional - though it was unclear whether Madrid would order arrests or any other action against voters. Carme Forcadell, leader of the Catalan National Assembly, thinks that's unlikely. (SOUNDBITE) (Catalan) LEADER OF THE CATALAN NATIONAL ASSEMBLY, CARME FORCADELL, SAYING: "We will vote. We expect no obstacles for voting as everything is ready for us to do so. We don't think they will stop us from voting, neither on the streets, or in schools, we don't think they can stop us all from entering schools and voting. What can they do?'' Catalonia's a wealthy region of seven and half million people. Forty thousand of those have volunteered to make the vote happen. An earlier plan for a full referendum was suspended pending a decision on its legality by Spain's constitutional court. So this Sunday's vote is not a binding referendum - it's what the locals call a 'Consulta' or a citizens' consultation. Many think it will still force change. (SOUNDBITE) (Catalan) BARCELONA RESIDENT, JOAN PARRA, SAYING: "The next day our hope is that at some point, in Spain, they reconsider their position and realise that things won't stay the same for long. They will have to give in at some point." But if that were to happen, the question is how, says political analyst Miguel Murado. (SOUNDBITE) (English) POLITICAL ANALYST, MIGUEL MURADO, SAYING: "What is important actually is what will happen the next day, whether there will be some sort of dialogue initiated by the central government with the nationalists. If that doesn't happen then it doesn't really matter because the tension will continue build up, there will be probably an election in Catalonia, a regional election, and then we will be heading to a much more dangerous situation in which, it will be the parliament not the people in Catalonia which will have ultimately the decision." Local elections aren't due for another year - but the Catalan president has said they could be brought forward and turned into a proxy vote on the region breaking away from Spain.