CATALONIA’s hotly-disputed referendum is “not about independence, but democracy”, according to Catalonia’s top man in the UK.

Speaking exclusively to The National, Sergi Marcen, head of the Catalan Delegation to the UK, said he was sure people would go to the polls, despite attempts by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government to stop it going ahead tomorrow.

He has drafted in thousands of extra police officers to Spain’s wealthiest state to halt the indyref, which he has declared as illegal, despite a call from the United Nations to ensure his government respected the Catalan people’s fundamental rights.

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But Marcen told The National the Catalans had already won the argument: “There is no movement towards dialogue, it’s incredible.

“Now they have 13,000 police prepared to close the polling stations and not allow people to put their ballots in the ballot boxes.

“On the other hand, there are four million people – 80 per cent of the population of Catalonia – who want to exercise their right to vote.

“So, we win because we are four million people against 13,000 police, but we want to focus this battle in a peaceful way.

“If the police try to close the polling stations we will remain in front of them ready to vote, but no confrontations or violence… I think we have won this battle because the people want to vote.”

Marcen said there had been no support for the Spanish position from other western democracies, and pointed to Rajoy’s meeting with Donald Trump when the US president would only say that “speaking personally” he would prefer to see a united Spain.

“The Spanish government is losing because they are not respecting that democratic right. For that reason, we will continue doing what we are doing ‘the Catalan way’.

“We are open to talk with the Spanish government until the last second before the poll, but nothing from them except persecution, police, prosecutors and judges – this is Mariano Rajoy’s answer.”

Older Spaniards remember all too well the days of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, and Marcen said they do not want to see a return to that period. He said his grandmother was a prime example: “My grandmother is 96 years old. When I stayed with her last week she said, ‘Please Sergi, carry on doing what you are doing because we want to vote and we want to defend democracy, because these people are trying to go back on our democracy’.

“She knows what happened when people had nothing to eat, the repression they suffered in the past.

“A few years ago, people of this age stayed back and said, ‘we are better than before so don’t do anything [to disturb that]’ and they lost their fear [of the dictatorship].

“Now, Rajoy has reactivated these people and they have lost fear and instead of saying things are better than before they are encouraged to go against the government.

“In Spain we don’t have a problem with independence, we have a problem with democracy.

“The transition in Spain was really good because we were coming from a dictatorship and for a lot of people this was the beginning of something. But for the people that came from the dictatorship it was the end of something.”

Marcen said judges who face legal action for allowing the referendum to go ahead were now being followed by Guardia Civil officers as they drove between their homes and places of work.

This, he said was an example of the public prosecutor not obeying the law: “The law says that when a case is in a court the prosecutor has to stop further action. But the prosecutor has continued harassing the media, investigating people.

“When the civil servants were detained [last week] there was a big, peaceful demonstration.

“Now the prosecutor and the judges are trying to charge these people with sedition – a law that comes from the Franco dictatorship, and has never been used before.

“It can be punished with a sentence of up to 15 years - they are playing with something very serious, the freedom of the people to express their opinion on the street.”

All eyes will be on Catalonia tomorrow as people are expected to go to the polls, which the Catalan police, Mossos d’Esquadra, have been ordered to seal off.

Marcen said this was unlikely to happen because of the population’s relationship with Mossos: “We love our police. They did a really good job following the terrorist attacks in Barcelona, and we have a really good relationship with them.

“The Spanish government is trying to break this relationship.

“There is a law that says the first job of the police is to protect the people. If you imagine a polling station with 2,000 or 3,000 people trying to vote and 20 police trying to stop them, or deny them access.

“It’s better the police let them vote and they can go back and report that they couldn’t do anything because there were a lot of people and ‘if we do something we can provoke violence’.

“So, common sense is the best thing for tomorrow”