Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been invited to visit Catalunya’s regional president Quim Torra in Barcelona later this year in return for his little-known visit to Bute House a month ago.
According to Scottish pro-independence newspaper The National, whose reporters have had access to the minutes of the two regional leaders’ meeting in July, Ms Sturgeon and Sr Torra had a ‘very cordial’ exchange during which they agreed to strengthen bilateral trading links.
Over the course of the SNP leader’s visit to Spain’s second-largest city, it is expected Catalunya’s foreign affairs secretary will talk to her about his experiences in setting up a national investment bank.
At the Bute House meeting, Sturgeon and Torra talked about what they called ‘a challenging and complicated situation’ in Catalunya, whose bid for secession was, inevitably, compared with that of Scotland.
Whilst Scotland was allowed to hold a referendum on independence in 2014 with Westminster’s backing – and against the backdrop of its ‘Better Together’ campaign – Catalunya has been persistently denied permission to do so and its attempt on October 1 last year led to riot police seizing ballot boxes, blocking polling station entrances and arresting voters, with alleged incidences of violence against the public, and several politicians are now in jail facing sentences of up to 30 years or are else in exile elsewhere in Europe.
One of these is Dr Clara Ponsatí, who initially fled to Belgium before returning to St Andrew’s University in Edinburgh to resume her old job as an economics professor.
Torra had partly been in Scotland to discuss her situation, although she is now safe since a European arrest warrant issued by Spain’s Supreme Court – twice – has now been revoked, meaning she would only be jailed if she set foot in her native country.
According to excerpts from the meeting minutes quoted in The National, Sturgeon and Torra ‘agreed that the way forward for Catalunya must be through peaceful and democratic solutions’.
It should involve ‘dialogue between Spanish and catalán authorities’ and ‘respect the right to self-determination’ of the region’s people.
Spain’s former national government – replaced in early June – had persistently refused any dialogue centred on ‘illegal activity’, as it calls the referendum, citing the Constitution which outlaws ‘any attempt to break up the country’.
An official statement from Scotland’s government said: “Both leaders agreed that in 21st-century Europe, issues of self-determination must ultimately be addressed through democratic referenda.
“The 2014 Scottish independence referendum agreed between Edinburgh and London is the best example of such a process, underlining the fact that issues of constitutional sovereignty should always be resolved through peaceful and democratic means.”
One of the most persuasive aspects of the ‘Better Together’ campaign, and which influenced a high number of those who voted to remain in the United Kingdom, was that an independent Scotland would automatically be outside the European Union.
But voters and Scottish Parliament now feel betrayed, since the region will be removed from the EU by default as a result of the ‘Brexit’ referendum two years later.
Catalunya and Scotland both expressed a wish to consolidate their already-close relationship in what was the first meeting in a decade between the leaders of both regions.
The last bilateral talks between Scotland and Catalunya were in 2008 when the then First Minister Alex Salmond – a key figure in the referendum and staunchly pro-independence – went on an official visit to Barcelona.