catalonia independence
© Associated Press

Catalonian independence supporters celebrate big gains in Spain’s regional elections yesterday. The election result could propel Catalonia toward independence from the rest of Spain as soon as 2017
Catalonia's pro-independence parties on course for victory with record turnout in vote which is likely to pose huge constitutional difficulties for Spain

Spain is tonight on course for its most serious constitutional crisis for a generation as early exit polls suggested Catalonia's pro-independence parties had won a majority of seats in elections that will kick-start the region's bid to break away from Madrid.

Victory is expected to act as a green light for Catalonia's secessionists to unveil a route map to independence by 2017.

The predicted win, with more than 74 of 135 regional parliamentary seats thought to have been won by the coalition of pro-independence parties, would mean that voters have ignored warnings by the Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy against supporting secession.

Mr Rajoy argued that such an outcome would cause dangerous tension between Spain's richest region and the rest of the country, and that an independent Catalonia would automatically be cast out of the European Union and would be at the back of the queue to rejoin.

Instead voters have favoured the breakaway plans proposed by the Catalan President, Artur Mas, whose CDC party has fought the campaign as part of a wider Junts Pel Si (Together for Yes) coalition.
catalonia independence
© Associated Press
The President of Democratic Convergence of Catalonia, Artur Mas, casts his vote in yesterday’s regional elections in Spain
Mr Mas promised that if pro-separatist parties were to win, he would form a transitional government building towards independence, with a formal declaration that the process has begun later this week. As an emotionally charged election day drew to a close, the total number of votes cast was said to be heading for a record. At 6pm - two hours before polling stations closed - 63 per cent of Catalans had voted.

A Catalan government delegate confirmed that postal votes were also up by 56 per cent compared to the last regional elections. The warm, dry weather throughout the region yesterday may have helped voter turnout, but politicians pushing for a split from Spain said the general conception of the exceptional importance of this year's regional elections had been the key factor.

"It's logical that there's a lot more participation. I have never had to wait in such a long queue to vote," said Mr Mas.

With seven main parties to vote for, ranging from the hard-left, pro-independence CUP to Mr Rajoy's right-of-centre pro-Spanish unity Partido Popular, the big turnout has highlighted the deeply fragmented nature of Catalan politics, to the point where otherwise united families found themselves on opposite sides of the political fence.

Either way, she confirmed the big increase in voter turn-out. "The local voting station is just around from where I live and I can see there are huge queues outside."

Whilst agreeing with her mother over the elections importance, Ms Caracuel's daughter Loli Martos, a publisher, voted for the pro-independence CUP. "These elections won't change anything in themselves, but after so much fighting and so many demonstrations they represent the point where we can start to build towards a Catalan state," she said. "If there are so many people, it's because they've realised that it's so important. People have realised that change is possible and everybody is getting involved."

© Getty

People react to the results of TV polls showing the Catalanist coalition 'Junts pel Si' (Together for the Yes) could win the regional elections
Catalonia's bid for independence, despite gaining unprecedented momentum over the last four years, has met with fierce opposition from Mr Rajoy, who has called it "nonsense" and repeatedly pointed out that Spain's constitution does not allow for breakaway states. "There is a majority of Catalans who love their people and love their land and do not wish to see it amputated from Spain and Europe," he said recently. Spain's central bank had also warned against the independence drive, saying it could risk exclusion from the EU, whilst other Spanish lenders have said it could threaten financial stability just as Spain emerges from a bitter recession.

Looming over this all are Spain's national elections, widely predicted to be held on 20 December. Independence supporters are hoping that at the very least, a future government more open to negotiations may end the stand-off between Madrid and Catalonia.

One of the most sombre predictions of Catalonia's political future came from a 103-year-old voter named Dolores. "Whatever happens and whoever wins," she told El Pais, "we'll end up squabbling."