- Catalan President Artur Mas sets November 9 as the date for an independence referendum
- The federal government in Madrid is firmly opposed to any such vote taking place
- Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators called earlier this month for a vote to be held
- But opinion polls suggest that less than a majority would opt for a split from Spain
The president of Spain's Catalonia region, Artur Mas, signed a decree on Saturday setting November 9 as the date for a referendum on independence.
However, the federal government in Madrid is staunchly opposed to any such referendum and says it is unconstitutional, setting the stage for legal and political confrontation and potential civil disobedience.
The holding of Scotland's independence referendum earlier this month buoyed other separatist movements around the world, despite Scottish voters opting to remain part of the United Kingdom.
Mas, at the signing ceremony in Barcelona, said that Catalonia wants to speak, wants to be heard and wants to vote.
On September 11, Catalan national day, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Barcelona for the third year running demanding a vote on independence be held.
But Madrid argues that Catalonia, which represents one fifth of Spain's economy, already has broad home-rule powers, including its own parliament, police force and control over education and health. And it insists that the Spanish Constitution does not allow any of Spain's 17 regions to unilaterally break away.
The government in Madrid is expected to try to block the vote in Spain's constitutional court. If the court accepts the case, as is widely expected, it would automatically suspend the vote -- leaving Catalonia to decide whether to try to go ahead with it.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, speaking at a news conference earlier this month, dismissed any idea of the referendum taking place.
"Quite simply, it is not legal so won't be held," he said. "In addition to not being legal, it goes against our whole history and our feelings, against what the vast majority of the Spanish people think, against our past and against the future of the Spanish people that live in Catalonia and in the rest of Spain."
Earlier this month, one of Catalonia's key political figures, Oriel Junqueras, leader of the Esquerra Republicana -- or Republican Left -- party, said if the government in Madrid were to block citizens' exercising their "fundamental right" to vote, there could be a need for civil disobedience.
Those in the crowd in Barcelona earlier this month said that if Madrid blocked the referendum, people should still deposit their ballots. A long list of grievances against Madrid center on taxation and language issues.
A referendum is expected to ask a two-part question: "Should Catalonia be a state?" And those who vote yes to that can then go to vote on the second question: "Should that state be independent?"
Polls indicate that a majority of Catalans want to have a chance to vote but that less than a majority would vote for independence, given the chance.
Those calling for independence in Barcelona earlier this month did not represent all the region's 7.5 million people. A smaller gathering of several thousand took to the streets the same day in Catalonia's second largest city, Tarragona, calling for the region to remain a part of Spain.
One of those protesters told CNN: "The reason we want to remain a part of Spain, is because we are a part of Spain."