The Independent – In Catalonia, as in Scotland, a referendum on independence is the best course for unionists

By dismissing all discussion, Spanish President Mariano Rajoy is depriving himself and other unionists of the opportunity to make their arguments heard

In the north east tip of Spain people watched with envy as David Cameron signed his historic deal with Alex Salmond guaranteeing a referendum on independence. For in Catalonia – a region simmering with newly fledged independentistes – the path to a similar vote on autonomy is marred by an uncompromising relationship with central Spain.

In Britain Cameron has faced strong criticism from the right for even offering Salmond the chance to fashion a break from the United Kingdom. Those closer to the centre have questioned the 2014 date, which buys Salmond plenty of time to win over the largely unconvinced Scots. But two years of democratic dialogue could also muffle the cries from nationalists who rely on conflict to feed the flames of the independence movement.

Catalonia, although historically different, offers a helpful parallel. A stubborn lack of negotiation over autonomy has allowed nationalist sentiment among Catalans to swell as demands for their own referendum grow. September saw record numbers take to the streets in Barcelona calling for independence and carrying a long list of grievances with central Spain. Deep cuts, subsidies to Madrid and unequal distribution of tax revenues all came to the fore in a march which put the question of independence on the national agenda.

Similar calls for a compromise over the relationship between Catalonia and Spain have typically been dismissed by Madrid in the past. But recently, demands have been growing slowly louder as the financial crisis hit home in the region. This culminated in the unprecedented protest which was backed by warnings from the president of the Catalan Parliament, Artur Mas, that if demands were ignored, Spain would face a break-up.

Read @ The Independent