THE sneering response last week of the UK’s Unionist parties to the plight of the Catalan academic Clara Ponsati was instructive. The 61-year-old, a professor of economics at St Andrews University, is wanted by the Spanish regime for organising a violent rebellion and misappropriating public funds when she agreed to help her native Catalonia establish an independent government.

The European Arrest Warrant issued by Madrid has been met by fierce resistance in Ponsati’s adopted country of Scotland. A crowd-funding campaign to help with her legal fees reached almost £230,000 in a matter of days, and the Spanish Government faces months of resistance in Scottish courts before it can drag her back to its capital to face its own version of criminal justice.

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It wasn’t long before Murdo Fraser, the Scottish Conservatives’ spokesman for finance and the party’s former deputy leader, had something to say on the subject. “Time to book our holiday. Will be Spain – as usual. Wonderful people,” he tweeted. Fraser is the sort of Tory who would oppose JRR Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings being taught in Scottish schools on the grounds of Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf being dangerous revolutionary socialists. If Fraser didn’t exist we’d have to invent him. Fellow Tory MSP Graham Simpson endorsed his chum’s response.

If Spain ever does get the opportunity to try the economics professor for, ahem … “violent rebellion” I’m sure they’ll be keen to fly to Madrid and tell the Spanish judges how her very presence stirred up unrest on Scotland’s streets and that she was a vile and undesirable presence here.

By then, perhaps Madrid will have added more charges to Clara Ponsati’s rap-sheet: being in possession of a copy of Adam Smith’s The Wealth Of Nations with intent to hit someone over the head with it or cheering on Barcelona FC in the Champions League without a licence.

Before the massed ranks of Holyrood’s Union-facing politicians start dreaming of a ringside seat at a Spanish circus next year, the Madrid regime must face an uncomfortable ride. As things stand, Scotland is a goal up against Spain and it’s not even half-time – it’s a long time since we were able to say that.

Legal sources connected to the case, both in Scotland and in Spain, have indicated that Madrid has been caught off guard by the wave of support here for Professor Ponsati. It seems that the Spanish Government simply assumed that the European Arrest Warrant would be waved through unopposed in an English court and with the full approval of the Westminster Government.

Ponsati is being represented by Aamer Anwar, one of the UK’s top human rights lawyers, who is in the process of assembling a crack legal team in Scotland, London, Barcelona and Madrid. Last week he told me: “I suspect Spain was unaware of the difference in legal systems and political approach that would be adopted in Scotland and believed they could rely upon the unconditional support of the Westminster Government.

“The fierce response to her extradition in Scotland is not what they were expecting but they have not yet experienced what will happen when we go to court. They didn’t want this case to land here.”

A degree of caution ought to be applied, though, by those of Ponsati’s supporters who are eager for the Scottish Government to put pressure on in the struggle to keep her out of Madrid’s clutches.

Any attempts to influence the Scottish judiciary would be foolish in the extreme given that we cherish its independence. This is why Nicola Sturgeon has been circumspect in her own response. And, though Madrid now knows it is in a fight that it wasn’t really expecting, it’s one it will prosecute to the bitter end.

As the legal academic and writer Andrew Tickell wrote on these pages last week: “The Scottish Government has no legal locus to ‘reject’ anything. And if I may say so, there’s a strange irony in slating Spanish justice for being politicised, and simultaneously demanding that the First Minister should give unlawful instructions to Scotland’s court system about how to handle a case.”

However much you might feel that the Spanish government has behaved in an extraordinarily disproportionate manner in suppressing Catalonia’s own government and in pursuing its leaders, some thoughts are worth considering. This isn’t a middle-eastern kleptocracy or a corrupt Latin American state influenced by the drugs cartels. This is a member of the European Union, which a majority of Scots voted to remain part of last year, and to which they hope to return following Scottish independence.

Clara Ponsati’s best hope of avoiding extradition will be in the cold scrutiny of the facts of Madrid’s conduct since it actively sought to prevent law-abiding Spanish citizens participating in a peaceful independence referendum.

There has been very little in the way of intense examination of how the Spanish authorities behaved in those days and beyond, precisely because Spain is regarded as an enlightened democracy and fully paid-up member of the EU. If you were expecting anything else than ask yourself why no-one intervened during the exercise in raw intimidation and bullying of Greece during its financial crisis.

The plight of Ponsati, an intellectual who teaches at one of Europe’s most revered academic institutions, has already caught the world’s imagination. At further hearings next month this will intensify.

And nor will that be the end of the matter because an appeal will surely follow and Ponsati’s legal team will pull every lever in ensuring that her case strikes at the very heart of what it means to live in a civilised democracy and what we in turn expect from a state which regards itself as such. Their task will not be to portray Spain as a ruthless and reactionary state thirled still to the instincts of its fascist past but merely to demonstrate that in its suppression of Catalan independence it behaved like one.

The violent conduct of the Spanish police and the crackdown of the Spanish state will come under the unforgiving examination of Scottish justice. Aamer Anwar said: “The spotlight directed at them will be clinical and forensic and akin to a surgeon’s laser: we intend to expose every aspect of their case and leave no stone unturned.”