Madrid - While Catalan separatists are set for a massive turn out in a much-disputed symbolic independence referendum on Sunday, many Catalans who want the wealthy region remain a part of Spain will not take part.

‘Honestly, I am going to stay home. This is a serious issue and it can’t be done in any which way. This isn’t a vote, it’s a charade,’ said Juanjo Gonzalez, 47, a former journalist who now runs a jewellery shop in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, Catalonia’s second biggest city. The head of the Catalan government, Artur Mas, originally planned to hold a official non-binding independence referendum on Sunday.

But he downgraded it to a symbolic vote organised largely by volunteers with same-day voter registration after Spain’s Constitutional Court in September suspended the official referendum at the request of the central government.

‘You can’t ignore the rules. If you don’t like a law, you have to fight to change it, that is why you earn a salary as a politician. This is making fools of ourselves,’ said Nati Mejias, 38, as she shopped at Gonzalez’s shop in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat’s main market.

Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria has called the symbolic vote ‘a legal fraud’ and the Constitutional Court on Tuesday ordered the Catalan government to suspend that ballot as well. But the Catalan government argues the symbolic vote, which they call a ‘citizen participation process’, is legal and it plan to press ahead with it. Mas has called on Catalans to vote massively and ‘give a great lesson in democracy’ on Sunday.

Political parties and associations that oppose independence reject the Catalan government’s argument that it ‘has the right to decide’ and plan to boycott the vote. ‘It’s a huge joke,’ said Matias Alonso of the tiny Ciudadanos or ‘Citizens’ party, which is fervently opposed to Catalan independence. ‘It’s illegal, illegitimate and anti-democratic and we are not going to take part in an anti-democratic process.’

The Catalan Civil Society, an association founded in April which says it speaks for a ‘silent majority’ that is against separation, also opposes taking part in the vote. ‘It is an artifact created by Catalan nationalism with the aim of covering up many of the real problems faced by Catalans,’ said the vice-president of the association, Jose Rosinol. In L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, where the number of unemployed has jumped from 9,200 from 2008 when a Spanish property bubble burst to 23,400 in 2014 - about one-tenth of the city’s population - many agree.

‘This shouldn’t be a priority when businesses are not working well and there are many people going hungry,’ said human resources officer Sandra Diaz, 38, as she stood outside the headquarters of the local public television broadcaster which has suffered huge spending cuts. Catalans are divided on the vote, with 49 percent against the watered-down referendum and 44 percent in favour, according to a poll published in centre-left newspaper El Pais last week.

‘I would vote no because I am Spanish. But I won’t go vote because it puts me in a bad mood that someone could question if Catalonia should remain a part of Spain,’ said Angel Julian, a 67-year-old retired plumber as he watched the market’s shops close. Just a few metres away two 16-year-old friends said they were excited to vote. ‘I would vote yes because I expect a promising future, with work and a good salary,’ one of them, Raul Arias, said as he outlined the advantages for the region if it became its own nation.

During a recent meeting with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy the Catalan Civil Society called for a ‘regeneration’ of Spain’s democracy and institutions as a way to counter the disillusionment caused by the economic downturn and a series of corruption scandals. ‘Catalans need an exciting project for Spain, but not an epic project like the one that separatism offers, which is very epic and not very rational,’ said Rosinol.