SHE is a highly educated and well-respected economist and political activist – and, as president of the grassroots organisation the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), Elisenda Paluzie has never been far from the front line of the independence movement in Catalonia.

She is now into the last four months of her presidency, and in that capacity she has been visiting these shores to meet ANC branches in Glasgow and London and forging links with trade unions here.

Catalonia still remembers all too vividly the horrors of October 1, 2017, when officers from Spain’s National Police force tried to halt the independence referendum by beating defenceless people who were trying to vote. Images and film of the police violence quicky gained traction on social media, shocking millions of people around the world.

Four years on, with the Republican Left (Esquerra) leading a coalition Catalan government with Together for Catalonia (Junts), the party of former president Carles Puigdemont, Paluzie insists the conditions for independence remain strong.

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She told The Sunday National: “The arguments for independence have been reinforced after the events of October 2017 and the political pressure that followed.

“So, in terms of structural conditions, we have reinforced them in terms of the legitimacy of our self-determination process. We still have the integrated majority for independence that has been reinforced in the elections in the last election circuit and parliament.

“We still have the same problems in the political relationship with the Spanish state and the non-progress of home rule and self-government. We have also reinforced the legitimacy of self-determination with [Spain’s] violation of human rights.”

However, Paluzie admitted that the past four years have been more about reaction and resistance rather than making any tactical progress on the independence front, which had highlighted the differences in approach between the somewhat cautious Esquerra and more impulsive Junts.

“The political divisions between pro-independence parties are relatively important and that creates a little bit of frustration and immobilisation on an electoral basis,” she said.

“The path to independence is a path that is more complex than we thought in the previous period until 2017, so to get back to this road to independence is getting more difficult as a result. But I think we’ll find the opportunities again to do a sovereignty push, an independence push again in the near future.”

In the run-up to the 2017 poll – which Spain deemed illegal – Puigdemont and Junts frequently promoted his roadmap to independence, a document setting out the steps Catalonia would take to go its own way in the world after its people voted Yes.

However, the absence of such a plan now irritated Paluzie: “That’s the main problem, the absence of a common roadmap to independence and that links to the strategical division between parties.

“Each independence actor, including the ANC, including the grassroots movements, has had its own roadmap. We haven’t reached another common roadmap. In our [ANC] case, we still defend unilateral independence, not because we prefer it, but because we see it as a more realistic way to access independence in the context of the Spanish state.

“We don’t think it’s realistic to expect an agreed referendum on self-determination and independence with the Spanish government no matter what political party runs it.

“So our path to independence has to come back, and in the ANC roadmap, what we did was to change a little bit the approach of the movement towards the preparation of the conditions for unilateral independence to be successful … thinking more in terms of power, being stronger in civil society, in businesses associations; in all these things where political power is not something that only lies in the parliaments but extends its arms towards other parts of society.”

THE ANC has been trying to reinforce pro-indepen-dence trade unions which were weak at the time of the Catalan referendum.

However, it is something of a work in progress given the relatively low levels of unionisation in Catalonia compared to Scotland, for example.

“We realised that we needed them to call for general strikes, for instance. So that’s something that we’ve been working on. We’ve been trying to motivate citizens and workers to strengthen those unions that are favourable to independence.”

The ANC has even targeted the business sector and is trying to persuade consumers to use small, renewable energy firms, independent of Spanish political influence, to sap the strength of the “oligopolies that are very tight and linked to Spanish political power”.

However, that is fraught with difficulties because those in political and economic power in Spain know the danger such campaigns could pose for them, and do not think twice about involving the courts, which are notoriously conservative.

Spain’s coalition government, led by Socialist prime minister Pedro Sanchez, relies on support from Esquerra’s dozen deputies – and others – to pass legislation through Congress, but Paluzie said the ANC feared they were not being forceful enough in wielding that clout.

“They should have been using this political blockage power to get more national recognition and really a solution to the [Catalan] conflict.

“What Esquerra Republicana got from their votes to elect a centre first president of the Spanish government was this dialogue table. In principle, what the Catalan side wants to bring to the table is a self-determination referendum and amnesty and an end to repression. But the Spanish government says there’s no way of talking about self-determination because it is against the Spanish Constitution [which] does not recognise these rights, according to them.

“The thesis of Esquerra is that even if it doesn’t bring fruits, it’s another step in demonstrating that it is impossible to have an agreed referendum.”

That could reinforce the Catalan case internationally, but she said it also created a sense of “normalisation” of the conflict that left people across Europe thinking that the dialogue table was a harbinger to a solution.

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Paluzie told us that Nicola Sturgeon should have held a referendum with Brexit as the trigger and, if the result was Yes, make a unilateral declaration of independence.

With the Catalan dialogue table already six months old, with 18 months left to run, she added: “Let’s just

keep on doing what we have to do on the international front to denounce the violation of human rights. What we have to do in general is mobilise society.

“The Catalan government has to get back to a unilateral act of sovereignty. In the case of the ANC, we think it is a unilateral declaration of independence that should be sustained and reinforced by popular mobilisation. Other parties defend another referendum. I think it is not that important.”