The National is in Catalonia as it marks five years since its independence referendum on October 1, 2017. What has changed in the independence movement since then, and what’s next for Catalonia? Ben Wray presents a series of exclusive special reports, starting today and running until Monday.

FIVE years ago tomorrow, an independence referendum which rocked Spain and sent shockwaves around the world took place in Catalonia.

The referendum was held despite fierce opposition from the Spanish state, with police sent into polling stations to beat voters and seize ballot boxes.

Out of those who voted, more than 90% voted Yes, and the parliament subsequently declared the Catalan Republic. However, the state immediately imposed direct rule from Madrid to restore Spanish control.

READ MORE: The National in Barcelona for special series marking five years since Catalan indyref

The five years since have seen harsh repression from the Spanish state but also sharp debates within the independence movement about the way forward after the referendum now commonly referred to as “1-O”.

I have come to Barcelona to find out about the legacy of 1-O as Catalans mark its fifth anniversary. From today until Monday, I’ll be speaking to independence activists, politicians and writers as well as attending events to commemorate the anniversary and reporting in The National on what I discover.

Just as I arrived in the Catalan capital, news came through that the Catalan pro-independence coalition government was on the verge of collapse.

Pere Aragones, the Catalan president and leader of the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), announced late on Wednesday night that he had sacked his vice-president Jordi Puignero, of Together for Catalunya (JxCAT), the pro-independence party of ex-president and exile Carles Puigdemont.

Aragones accused Puignero of disloyalty after JxCAT had joined with CUP, the pro-independence radical left-wing coalition in the parliament, in calling for a confidence vote in the president.

Why do JxCAT and CUP lack confidence in Aragones and ERC? For a long time now, neither of these groups believe the Catalan president has been pursuing independence with sufficient vigour.

Aragones’s strategy since he became president in 2020 has been to seek negotiations with the Spanish Government via a “dialogue table” to try to find an agreement on the right to self-determination.

The dialogue table has continued up until now but it hasn’t achieved much so far, and there’s little confidence that it will since Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez has already said he will “never” accept Catalan self-determination.

In a speech to the Catalan Parliament on Tuesday, Aragones said he was now proposing a new way forward, which he called a “clarity agreement”. This would be an agreement with the Spanish state on the conditions by which a Catalan independence referendum could be triggered.

Aragones said Canada and Quebec had come to such an agreement and that he believed it was “the most inclusive, most democratic and most explainable proposal to the international community with which we can provide ourselves”.

“Only the legitimacy of an agreed referendum can replace what [the October 1 referendum] meant,” the president added.

That did not go down well with many Catalan independence supporters, with one veteran of the movement, Toni Strubell, telling The National that the clarity agreement proposal was “a step five years back” and that Aragones was “treading water to survive”.

READ MORE: Catalan independence rally draws tens of thousands of supporters

One potential problem with the clarity agreement idea is that there’s little reason to believe that Sanchez would agree to that, since he doesn’t accept the principle of Catalan self-determination at all. Also, the clarity agreement has a questionable history in Canada and Quebec as it was opposed by all parties in the Quebec Parliament at the time, as it was interpreted as a clever way to block self-determination, rather than facilitate it. Indeed, 22 years after the clarity agreement between Canada and Quebec, there has been no new independence referendum.

In any case, the tension between Catalonia’s three independence parties has been growing for some time, even as the Catalan electorate has continued to back them in the voting booths. Now, it has led to a breakdown in the coalition government that may be irretrievable, raising the stakes around the 1-O anniversary protests, where the leadership of the movement is hotly contested.

Tonight, the protests will start in towns and villages all across Catalonia, at the schools and other community centres which were used as polling stations for the 2017 referendum, as a tribute to the tens of thousands of Catalans who occupied those centres to defend the ballot boxes and the right to vote.

Tomorrow, the day of the referendum anniversary, the big national mobilisation will take place at Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf. Despite the divisions, the Catalan independence movement still believes it can triumph.