TENSIONS are rising between Spain’s central government and the north-eastern state of Catalonia, whose parliament has called an independence referendum for next September.

Carles Puigdemont, Catalonia’s regional president, said 10 days ago that he was open to negotiating the terms of a legally-binding poll, but added that he would hold it with or without Spain’s blessing.

This week he won the backing of the Catalan National Assembly, which voted in favour of pursuing a referendum.

For Spain’s acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, it is a headache he could do without. His conservative People’s Party (PP) has repeatedly refused to consider allowing the referendum in Spain’s most prosperous region, which is home to around a sixth of the Spanish population.

The country’s political system has been at a standstill for almost a year after two national elections failed to give Rajoy the majority he needed to form a government.

Catalonia’s government had set out an 18-month roadmap to independence following regional elections that gave pro-indy parties a majority, but inter-party disagreements had stalled any moves towards Catalonian independence by next September.

However, these differences were put to one side when Puigdemont comfortably won a confidence vote in parliament – a move that is aimed at establishing a basic legal framework and regulatory structure. Rajoy instructed Spain’s Constitutional Court to annul the independence resolution and the court this week raised the possibility of bringing charges against Carme Forcadell, speaker of the Catalan parliament, for allowing the vote that approved the referendum.

However, a defiant Forcadell said she had simply fulfilled her duties and complied with parliamentary processes.

She went on to denounce the “criminalisation of politics”, adding: “Those who are unable to solve problems can only go to court.”

Albert Royo Marine, secretary general of the Diplomatic Council of Catalonian (Diplocat), told The

National what was behind Rajoy’s move. He said: “The idea is that, if Madrid does not come into terms and accept a negotiated referendum, a new legality should be born in

Catalonia thanks to the transitional laws that the Catalan Parliament plans to pass by June 2017.

“The referendum would be held on the basis of this new legality.”

He added that Forcadell had repeatedly said that she was only responsible to the chamber, and that if the chamber wants to discuss an issue she is unable to stop it.

“This is about democracy,” he added. “How can a democratic country prevent a Parliament from discussing an issue which is relevant to all citizens? By doing so, the Spanish institutions are putting at risk Spain’s democratic standards and, paradoxically, adding fuel to the fire and strengthening the pro-indy camp.”

Forcadell is not the only Catalan politician to have a run-in with the courts. The Supreme Court has also launched proceedings against

Francesc Homs, a Catalan deputy, for his alleged role in the staging of a non-binding referendum in November

2014, after the Constitutional Court suspended the balloting.

And Artur Mas, former president of Catalonia’s regional government, faces trial for his alleged role in the poll, along with a potential 10-year ban on him holding public office if he is found guilty.