TWO nations with the same goal – independence – the difference is that Scotland was allowed to have a referendum while Catalonia’s poll was met with unprecedented police violence against people who only wanted to cast their vote.

And as Catalan President Quim Torra met First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in Edinburgh yesterday, he was not disheartened by the refusal of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to countenance an agreed poll at their first meeting earlier this week.

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In an exclusive interview with The National, Torra said he expected his next meeting with Sanchez to be more productive.

“Imagine how critical the political situation is in Catalonia that for us having meetings with a head of state is something that we have to celebrate,” he said.

“For at least six years it would never have been possible to sit at the same table with the president of Spain talking together about everything, and recognising each other as two parts – the kingdom of Spain and the government of Catalonia that aspires to become an independent republic.

“So, I had the opportunity to talk very sincerely and very frankly with Mr Sanchez to explain our position and at the end he admitted that we are in front of a political issue that has to be solved politically.

“This is really new for us because with a conservative party in Spain they never said anything like this before. They only wanted to apply political or judicial solutions to what is in essence a very political issue. So that was very important for us.”

Aside from recognition that the Catalan crisis is a political issue, Torra said the other positive to emerge from the meeting was the establishment of a bilateral relationship between Spain and Catalonia.

“I had the opportunity to explain for more than two hours what was happening in Catalonia – and what has happened in the past 10 years and why the independentist movement is now the central movement in the political map of Catalonia.

“Being the president of Catalonia, having the opportunity to talk and explain to the president of Spain historically what has happened and what our plans are for the future – I think this was positive but with no results.

“We had our self-determination referendum last October 1, we proclaimed our independence on October 27, so this is our starting point.I asked Mr Sanchez what was his position on this and he told me they only see a solution inside the constitution and the laws.

“We established at least the two frames in which we are and we know we have to solve these two opposite, very different positions, politically.

“The critical meeting will be the second one because we appreciate that the meeting we had was an honest and frank discussion, but in the second meeting it will be facts on the table – ideas and principles – so let’s see what they are going to propose.

“They have accepted that the Catalan issue should only be solved politically – there is no other way to solve it politically than by voting.

“Mr Sanchez didn’t tell me what his proposal was but we expect to know what it is to resolve the issue democratically and politically.”

During their meeting Sanchez also denied the existence of political prisoners or exiles, as if simply repeating the mantra would make it true.

The pro-independence politicians and civic leaders who have been in jail since last year have been transferred from Madrid to prisons near the Catalan capital Barcelona, closer to their families, some of whom have suggested they could be allowed to come home during the day, or even subject to house arrest to make their relatives’ lives easier.

However, Torra said his hands were tied: “We can’t do anything – it is the justice [department] that has to act.

“We can’t accept the crimes for which they are persecuted. For us our colleagues, politicians and democrats, honourable politicians who only let the Catalan people vote in the independence referendum – they should be at home, they should be free, they should be with their families, their friends, they should be at the parliament.

“For us it’s not possible to negotiate with anybody because we don’t accept the reasons why they are in prison, we can’t accept that because they were acting democratically and were acting because we voted for them to do that.

“Their position is not negotiable.”

SPAIN’S Supreme Court on Tuesday announced the suspension of six jailed and exiled politicians as MPs, a subject Torra said would be discussed in a special session of the parliament, whose lawyers are studying the decree.

The move does not appear to have been unexpected and there’s a sense that the court was waiting for an outcome from the Torra-Sanchez meeting before announcing it.

Torra gives a sigh when asked about Europe’s inaction throughout the crisis: “We ask the European leaders to see the Catalan issue as a European issue because it’s not just about the Catalans.

“It’s about democracy it’s about human rights, civil rights, freedom of expression – it is much more than a political issue.

“I think it’s about the essence of the European ideal to make Europe great, the values of Europe are being discussed in Catalonia.

“Let people decide what they want to do or not; let people be free to defend a democratic project or not; let people talk freely or not.”

He points to the example of rapper Valtonyc, sentenced to three years for writing a song about the king of Spain – and now exiled in Belgium.

“He has been forced into exile because he would now be in jail – this is what’s happening in Spain and it’s intolerable in a democracy at the heart of Europe.”

We turn to one of the reasons Torra is in Edinburgh – his meeting with Sturgeon.

HE is well aware that foreign policy affecting Scotland is reserved to Westminster, but he believes their meeting is a historic one: “It’s the first meeting that the president of Catalonia will have with the First Minister of Scotland – I think it’s historic – it has never before been possible.

“We are two nations with the same goal – to achieve independence for our countries. For us it’s a very historic, crucial meeting because Scottish people could do what we want to do, to self-determinate in a specific and democratic way.”

The other reason for the visit is to see Clara Ponsati, the St Andrews University professor who is fighting extradition to Spain.

Torra says Scotland may have adopted her, but she belongs at home in Catalonia: “We want Clara back with us. We miss her a lot and we love Clara at least as much as the Scottish people. Thank you Scotland for taking care of Clara – it’s something there will never be enough thanks for. But we want Clara to come back to her country to Barcelona, to Catalonia. She is fighting for the value of freedom, freedom of speech, human rights and no democrat can understand why Clara is in exile.

“She is under threat because she gave the order to open the schools of Catalonia to be polling booths for the referendum. That’s the reason why Clara has been persecuted and is facing sentence of around 30 years – it is unbelievable that this could happen.

“I’m here to tell her that the government of Catalonia is behind her, we will support her and we miss her and want to see her as soon as possible back in Catalonia.”

Almost as famous as Clara is Carles Puigdemont, the former president exiled in Germany and who Torra says is still the “legitimate” premier: “He won the elections, he had the absolute majority of the parliamentary chamber to be re-elected president, but only because the Spanish state stopped it.

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“We tried to elect a president on four occasions and always Spain blocked it, but at the end the president of Catalonia is the person who’s talking to you.

“Spain has blocked what the Catalans decided in an election – we won this election. We strongly believe that President Puigdemont is the legitimate president of Catalonia and we are working to make it real.

“The happiest day of my political life will be when President Puigdemont would come to Catalonia and become again – officially – the president of Catalonia.”