- Referendum is set for November 9, 2014, pro-independence parties say
- "The vote will not be held," Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon responds
- Madrid says nation's constitution doesn't allow regions to unilaterally break away
- There have been mass demonstrations in favor of self-determination
Pro-independence parties in Catalonia defied the Spanish government Thursday by announcing in Barcelona that they plan to hold a referendum in November on whether the wealthy northeast region should be independent.
Madrid staunchly opposes the referendum and Catalan independence, and a Spanish government official rejected the announcement.
"The vote will not be held," Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon told reporters Thursday in the hallways of Spain's parliament.
Even supporters admit that there is much to be done before the vote can take place on November 9, 2014.
"We expect to open negotiations with Madrid. The Spanish state can't be blind about it," said Joan Maria Pique, a top aide and spokesman for Catalan regional president Artur Mas, who had a prominent role Thursday when his Convergence and Union party announced the plan with three other parties.
They had previously said only that the vote would be sometime in late 2014. And they also announced the two-part referendum question:
Do you want Catalonia to become a state? And if the voter answers yes, then comes this: Do you want that state to be independent?
That's a different formula from the single question that Scottish voters are due to get on September 18: Should Scotland be an independent country?"
Pique said the two-part question in Catalonia was the result of negotiations among the four pro-independence parties, but he noted that Great Britain has agreed to allow the Scottish vote on self-determination, while Spain has not followed suit yet for Catalonia.
The Spanish government says that Catalonia, with 7.5 million people, already has broad home-rule powers, including its own parliament, police force and control over education and health.
And Madrid insists that the Spanish Constitution does not allow any of Spain's 17 regions to unilaterally break away, even one like Catalonia that has its own flag and language.
The four pro-independence Catalan parties hold a majority in the Catalan regional parliament. There have been mass demonstrations in favor of self-determination on the past two Catalan national days on September 11. This year, hundreds of thousands of people formed a human chain -- from northern Catalonia, at the French border, to its southern border with the Valencia region -- to drive home the point.
Last year on September 11, an estimated 1.5 million people demonstrated in Barcelona, the regional capital and Spain's second-largest city, for self-determination.
Various opinion polls show a very large majority of Catalans want the right of self-determination. But if independence makes it to the ballot, polls show the result could be tighter, with some predicting a victory in the 50% range.