Catalan president cites 'Scottish model' in call for independence poll

Exclusive: Quim Torra insists there is consensus for fresh referendum during SNP visit

The new president of Catalonia, Quim Torra, has insisted he has a strong mandate to push for another independence referendum, as he visited Scotland for a meeting with the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

Despite a recent poll in the Catalan newspaper El Periódico, which showed only 21.5% of Catalans want an independent republic, with 62% in favour of increased self-government, Torra told the Guardian: “These surveys also always show 80% say that this should be solved by voting, so there is a consensus.

“Spain never has an answer to our question: why don’t we do something like the Scottish people did? We even tell them: remember that the pro-independence side lost in Scotland. Holding a referendum doesn’t mean we are going to win.”

Torra, a hardline Catalan nationalist handpicked by the region’s deposed president, Carles Puigdemont, was sworn in in May. Until then, Catalonia had been under direct rule from Madrid since the end of October in 2017, when the then prime minister Mariano Rajoy responded to Puigdemont’s unilateral independence referendum and declaration of independence by firing the Catalan president and his cabinet and calling new elections.

The choreography of the meeting on Wednesday evening with the SNP leader will be closely observed by independence supporters in Scotland and Catalonia alike.

The Scottish government was criticised by some pro-independence activists for its circumspect official response to events in Catalonia, while other party insiders pointed to Sturgeon’s reluctance to set a precedent for other governments to interfere with Scottish independence.

Describing Catalonia’s admiration for “the Scottish model”, he described its September 2014 independence refereudum as “an example for the world”.

Quim Torra and Clara Ponsatí.
Torra showed his support to Clara Ponsatí, the St Andrews academic who faces extradition proceedings on charges of rebellion. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Speaking before his meeting with Sturgeon, Torra said Catalan independence supporters had “great expectations” of the meeting, but added it was for the first minster to decide whether to publicly support a referendum for Catalonia on the lines of the Scottish model. Given the SNP’s historic reluctance to promote or endorse other independence movements, this is notably the first time that Sturgeon has met a Catalan president.

He said he was keen to discuss with Sturgeon how to build consensus around the issue: “They have built a very big movement, and we see the SNP as a very strong party that unites different points of view. The experience of the SNP is very important for us right now, how they have been able to go to demographics that are key for us, the working class, etc. In Catalonia we have a very strong civil movement that pushes the politicians but the combination of both is a very good [template].”

Torra was also visiting Scotland to lend his support to Clara Ponsatí, the St Andrews academic who returned to her native Catalonia last summer to take up a post as education minister under Puigdemont and now faces extradition proceedings early next month on charges of rebellion.

Torra said he was certain that the pending extraditions of the former Catalan government minister in Germany, Belgium and Switzerland, as well as Scotland, would fail, stating that he had “confidence in European justice and the separation of powers”. But he added he still could not understand why the EU had not condemned Spain’s violent response to last October’s referendum.

Torra, who has been dogged by accusations that he is little more than a puppet for Puigdemont, said that is was “natural” for him to describe his predecessor as the “legitimate president” following his deposition, and confirmed he talks to him “practically every day”.

Torra had his first meeting with the new Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, who replaced Rajoy at the beginning of July, on Monday. It was reported to be a cordial exchange, although how much progress is possible when the Spanish and Catalan positions remain essentially entrenched is questionable.

“The importance of the meeting is that after many years of denying the president of Cataliania [the right ] to sit with the president of Spain, it was the first time we could talk together. He recognised that [the independence question] should be solved politically, not with the police or the judges, and this is new.”

• This graphic was amended on 12 July 2018 to correct information on where the Catalan leaders were being held.

Torra warned: “We’ll see in the following weeks if the Spanish government really wants to solve this matter politically, we should see proposals and alternatives on the table.”

He denied that anti-Spanish statements he has made in the past made him a controversial negotiating partner for Spain, and also insisted there was no “fracture” in Catalan society over the issue, despite reports suggesting that opinions are as split as they are in Scotland.

Despite Catalonia being one of the most devolved areas in Europe, those in favour of independence wanted to have a debate about whether to use the region’s considerable wealth for its own social needs, said Torra. “If we manage all the resources the Catalans generate – there is a fiscal deficit with Spain of 8% – imagine what we could do with that.”


Libby Brooks

The GuardianTramp

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