A CENTRAL theme of Catalonia’s National Day was a call for the Spanish government to free former Catalan ministers and pro-independence activists who have become political prisoners.

They have spent almost 10 months in jail awaiting trial on charges of rebellion and sedition.

But now Spain’s foreign minister, Josep Borrell, a Catalan, has said he would prefer them to be released on bail.

Borrell, a staunch unionist, was speaking on BBC World’s HARDtalk with Stephen Sackur, who asked him: “What does it say about Spain today that you have in Spanish prison nine activists … what does it say to the international community, because it looks like a political show trial?”

He replied: “I personally would prefer for these people to be conditionally free. I think there are other ways of taking care that they don’t fly [flee].”

Asked if his government could pardon the political prisoners and start to talk to them, Borrell started to talk about devolved regional powers, before adding: “A judge has taken the decision and the government had nothing to do with it.”

Borrell was asked if he recognised Catalonia as a region or a nation, and responded: “A nation,” but he claimed it did not have the right to hold a referendum on independence.

“It is secession,” he said. “First, the Spanish constitution doesn’t allow for it.

“It is a sentence of the Constitutional Court saying clearly you can ask about secession, but every question you want to put about it has to be done in the framework of constitutional change.

“Second, there is nothing in international law that gives Catalonia the right to secession, in spite of what Mr Torra [Catalan president, Quim] is saying every day.”

Last year’s Catalan indyref was deemed illegal by the courts, and Scotland’s experience in 2014 has been held up as an example of how a “legal” referendum should be held.

But Borrell suggested that Scotland did not have an automatic right to hold such a poll: “Today the Scottish people are asking for a new referendum and Mrs May is saying no. If they had the right they shouldn’t be asking for permission.”

Organisers of yesterday’s National Day – the Catalan National Congress (ANC) and Omnium Cultural – said they were happy with the huge turnout.

ANC President, Elisenda Paluzie, said: “You have shown that repression has not defeated you. On October 1 we gave the world a lesson and we won the right to independence. From the Assemblea and other entities we commit ourselves to convert the judgement of shame in the Supreme [Court] in a boomerang that returns to the state.”

Marcel Mauri, Omnium’s vice president, said he spoke in the name of Jordi Cuixart, the organisation’s head, who is one of those activists in prison.

“Let’s never forget it, the strength is in all of us … Jordi Cuixart, I am your eyes and your voice,” he said.

“To the government of [Spanish PM] Pedro Sanchez we say to him that we no longer believe his false promises.

“We ask Pedro Sanchez to assume that his state has committed the greatest of offences: To repress the citizenship.”

Repression was one of the day’s themes and cropped up again in a speech by Scots lawyer Aamer Anwar, who has been representing Clara Ponsati, who had been fighting extradition from Scotland.

He told the rally: For those Fascists in Spain who dream of the rebirth of Francoism, our message is simple – no pasaran …

“To conclude my friends a message from Clara Ponsati - Have no fear, because together we are so much stronger than each of us feels.

“Resist and carry on the fight and we shall overcome: prisoners and exiles will be free, and Catalonia will be republic.”