IT was September 19, 2018, when I visited Jordi Cuixart, Jordi Sanchez and Raul Romeva in their cells in Lledoners prison.

A glance at my diary reminds me that it was a dark stormy day during the 18-mile drive from Barcelona. A day that matched my mood.

All three, along with Dolors Bassa, Jordi Turull, Josep Rull, Joaquim Forn, Carme Forcadell and Oriol Junqueras had been imprisoned for their involvement in the Catalan independence referendum of 2017.

Peaceful political activists and elected members being arrested, tried and imprisoned in any country is shameful. It’s somehow more disturbing that it’s in a country so close to home. A country that welcomes so many Scottish tourists every year. A short hop on a plane. And yet a country that has never quite managed to extradite itself from the dark reign of General Franco.

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It may seem like ancient history to some, but the cloud of the Spanish Civil War still hangs over many in Spain.

While General Franco was backed by fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, the republicans receiving aid from the Soviet Union, as well as the International Brigades, composed of volunteers from Europe and the United States.

In many ways this was a precursor to the Second World War, not just in the rise of fascism across western Europe but in the methods of war.

For the first time air raids were carried out on civilians, citizens hid in air raid shelters. The horrors that were to come to pass across Europe were played out by Franco on his own people. Catalonia was torn apart, as were the Basque northern provinces. Mixed with the bombing raids were battles for rural villages and vantage points high on the mountains. While militia fought running battles in the streets of towns and cities, including Madrid and Barcelona.

It’s no wonder that passions ran high, the toll on all the Spanish people was terrible and the price in terms of political freedoms is still being paid today. This was no remote conflict, this was very personal. And it’s important because it has led to a mistrust of Madrid and fuelled the desire for autonomy.

When I spoke to Cuixart he told me he refused to be beaten by the system he opposes. He was quick to explain that in time people will decide the political and constitutional future of Catalonia and he saw his internment as a small part of that. But he was equally quick to point out that he and his fellow political prisoners are innocent of all charges and have been wrongly imprisoned. And that is why while he has now been pardoned, and I welcome that, Cuixart will still be saying, he should never have been incarcerated.

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As I read through my notes from that meeting, I am reminded of his plea to me not to allow the issue to be internalised by the Spanish authorities and to air his grievances on a wider international stage. He wanted the world to judge Spain, not him, he is already innocent.

In a small way I have tried to do just that. I helped organise a Christmas card writing programme to the nine prisoners to let them know that they were not forgotten. I raised their internment in the House of Commons, and I marched and spoke in Glasgow and London. But more importantly, so did thousands and thousands of other people. This was a mass movement raging against an injustice and while the EU failed to publicly reprimand Spain, ordinary men and woman refused to let the issue die.

There will be restrictions placed on their political involvement and that, in itself, is an infringement of their human rights but today at least I hope they can celebrate that in pardoning them, Spain has taken a step forward into the light.

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However, they have further to travel as there are still 40 former Catalan ministers and officials facing convictions and massive fines for their part in the 2017 referendum. Any prosecutions for peacefully progressing the cause of a democratic movement should be strongly opposed. The voice for Catalan autonomy should be allowed to be expressed without fear of recrimination.

But most of all I am delighted for the prisoners, their families and friends that they can all be reunited after such a troubling time as they have all been under an unimaginable strain these past years.