SHE has been exiled in Scotland since autumn 2017, is fighting a European arrest warrant issued by Spain alleging sedition and has become one of the most recognisable faces in Catalonia’s pro-independence lobby.

Now University of St Andrews academic Professor Clara Ponsati, Catalan education minister in the run-up to the 2017 independence referendum, sits in the European Parliament alongside ex-Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and his former health minister Toni Comin.

Puigdemont and Comin, who have been in exile in Belgium since 2017, won their seats in last year’s European election, as did jailed former vice-president Oriol Junqueras.

Ponsati was elevated from Spain’s MEP list to one of the five seats the country gained following Brexit, and told The Sunday National she had not expected to be sitting in Brussels: “No I didn’t, I was hoping that the UK would stay in the EU, so it was not in my foreseeable events a few months ago.

READ MORE: Catalonia: Scots urged to write to FM over sedition convictions

“But given that it has happened at least it has some small benefit for the Catalan voters who supported our coalition.”

In her maiden speech in the European Parliament, she made much of Spain’s intolerance towards Catalonia, an early indication that she and the others want to keep the issue on Europe’s political agenda.

“We ran as exiles and we got a lot of support, it’s our mandate to use the European Parliament as a loudspeaker for our cause, for the freedom of the prisoners and the independence agenda in Catalonia.”

Spain is trying every conceivable measure to silence the trio, as well as ignoring a ruling from the European Court of Justice – the bloc’s highest court – that Junqueras had immunity from the date the election results were declared, which was months before he was found guilty and sentenced.

Hakim Boularbah, a lawyer acting for Spanish Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena, has accused the three exiles of trying to “destabilise” him with a civil lawsuit alleging he held a bias during the Catalan referendum trial. Boularbah has also claimed the judge has “state immunity” in Belgium, while lawyers for the exiles believe the European Court of Justice (ECJ) should settle the question of whether Belgian courts can try the Spanish judge.

The National: From left, Toni Comin, Clara Ponsati, and Carles Puigdemont celebrate taking their places as MEPsFrom left, Toni Comin, Clara Ponsati, and Carles Puigdemont celebrate taking their places as MEPs

For Ponsati, Spain’s continued disregard for the ECJ is an act of self-harm: “The longer this goes on the greater the deterioration of Spanish democracy.

“It’s painful for those of us who are victims of this but in addition it’s extremely damaging to the reputation and respectability of Spanish democracy.

“In a way it’s an act of self-harming – the longer it goes on the worse it will be.”

The European Parliament is also considering a petition from Spain against the trio’s immunity, but Ponsati doesn’t believe it will impact on her case in Scotland: “I don’t think it will affect it in any way because my case was open before I was an MEP and as such I guess the judge has to go through the process.

“In principle, if Spain was acting according to European law they should have withdrawn my arrest warrant.

READ MORE: Catalan independence referendum leaders get time out of prison

“But they have a very peculiar way of looking at immunity – they have requested the [European] parliament to remove my immunity but they have not acted in a way consistent with that request because if they think my immunity should be removed then they should … remove the European arrest warrant which they haven’t done, so it’s a bit paradoxical.

“There is no reason to think that I won’t be treated with impartiality, according to Scots law.

“It’s not really appropriate for me to comment on that but I do have trust in the system.”

Over the past week we have seen jailed former speaker of the Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell, and ex-minister Dolors Bassa, allowed to leave prison for a few hours to look after elderly relatives, after others, including Omnium Cultural leader Jordi Cuixart and ex-minister Joaquim Forn, were given the same temporary freedom to work outside jail.

Ponsati says this is a normal benefit and is not special treatment: “They’ve been in prison for a long, long time, well before their trial and they’ve already served the necessary quarter of their sentence, after which they have the possibility of being allowed eight hours a day for a number of days per week.”

The National: Jordi Cuixart, president of the Catalan Omnium Cultural organization, left, and Jordi Sanchez, president of the Catalan National AssemblyJordi Cuixart, president of the Catalan Omnium Cultural organization, left, and Jordi Sanchez, president of the Catalan National Assembly

The week also saw Omnium calling on European citizens to contact their leaders – including Nicola Sturgeon – to put pressure on Spain for an amnesty and the prisoners’ release, which Ponsati says might help eventually: “It’s one of many things that may have an impact.

READ MORE: Catalan police hero could face 11 years in jail for 'rebellion'

“We’re in a stalemate and it’s something European public opinion might have an influence on and that would certainly help, but it’s also something that needs to be resolved inside Catalonia with the mobilisation of Catalans and the actions of the Catalan institutions.

“It’s certainly not a problem that will be resolved for us, we need to keep up our fight. The fact that it’s difficult should not be a reason to discourage us.”

Ponsati added that her introduction to the European parliament, as the only MEP from Britain, had caused some confusion: “To be honest it was a bit perplexing to civil servants in the parliament who were looking at my file, at my address – they were a bit puzzled.

“I just find it a sorry state of affairs that we no longer have British MEPs and I’m hoping it is only temporary … but of course that’s up to the Scottish people. As far as I’m concerned we would welcome them back. I think it’s a big loss to the European project that the British people are not participating.”