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Defiant Catalans Push Forward With Independence Vote

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. And the polls are open in Spain's northeast region of Catalonia where people are voting on independence from Spain. The vote has been controversial. Spain won't even recognize it. But Catalonia is going ahead anyway. Reporter Lauren Frayer is at a polling station in Barcelona. So Lauren, what are you seeing? What's the atmosphere like? Everything appear to be going smoothly at this point?

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Rachel, there are lines around the block at this polling station where I am. I've been speaking with whole families - three generations, one family pushing their grandmother in a wheelchair up to the polling station. This polling station has special significance because it's in a school were Catalan refugees were bombed and killed during the Spanish Civil War. And a lot of independence feeling here goes back to that war.

Now this is pretty unscientific, but the majority of people I've spoken with have said they're voting yes to independence. And that's what was expected because these results are nonbinding. It's a symbolic vote. And so it's mostly activist participating, people who want change.

MARTIN: We said that the Spanish government isn't even recognizing this, but have they had more to say about this vote?

FRAYER: That's right. The Spanish central government in Madrid considers this vote illegal. The Constitution of Spain says the unity of the country is indivisible. And so the government takes that to mean that no one region can break away. For a while it looked like the Catalan government might back down and not hold to this vote. And then they came up with another plan - to recruit volunteers to administer the voting. So these polling places here are staffed by tens of thousands of volunteers, not civil servants, who would otherwise be in violation of Spanish law if they were to staff the polling stations.

MARTIN: So what happens tomorrow when all the voting is over? If this vote is just symbolic, why does it matter to people so much?

FRAYER: So that largely depends on turnout. If we have only 10 percent of Catalans voting, for example, it's not a real accurate gauge of what Catalans want. But if turnout is high, and take the example of Scotland, for example. Scotland voted on independence in September turnout was more than 85 percent. And Scots ultimately voted to stay in the UK, but that result was considered legitimate because turnout was high. So organizers here are hoping for something similar. There's been a huge get-out-the-vote campaign. And they're hoping that with a high turnout that might force negotiations with Madrid.

MARTIN: So they're hoping that this could actually create change that maybe it wouldn't just be a symbol.

FRAYER: Well, I have to tell you there are two questions on the ballot. The two questions are do you want Catalonia to be a state, and do you want that state to be independent? So that first question gives the Catalans negotiating room for statehood within Spain, devolving of more rights, some sort of federal system, renegotiating a fiscal path to collect more taxes locally. It's not going to be easy. Both sides agreed this is going to be a long process.

MARTIN: Reporter Lauren Frayer in Barcelona at a polling station. Thanks so much, Lauren.

FRAYER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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