SCOTLAND and Catalonia will legally vote on independence sooner or later, but it will take persistent demand to politically address the question, according to a former Catalan government minister jailed for his part in the ill-fated 2017 Catalan independence referendum.

Former MEP Raül Romeva was the Catalan External and Institutional Affairs Minister in the government of Carles Puigdemont before Spain scrapped the role when it implemented direct rule in Catalonia after their indyref, which the Madrid government declared illegal.

Speaking exclusively to the Sunday National, Romeva said he came late to the independence cause, which would not simply disappear because the state – the UK or Spain – denied its existence.

He said it had to be addressed politically: “It might be not the right moment now … it’s an option, but it will be tomorrow. And if not tomorrow, it will be the day after tomorrow, because you cannot simply escape that reality.

“There is a democratic principle that says when there is a persistent demand to politically address a question, there is an obligation to solve this ... in Scotland and Catalonia.

The National: Demonstrators outside the Spanish Consulate in Edinburgh protest against the extradition to Spain of the former Catalan education minister Clara Ponsati, who is expected to attend a police station in the city this week following a European arrest warrant

“My perception is that sooner or later, both will vote on their fate legally. It may take time, but this is not a question of whether it will happen or not.

“The relevant question is when this is going to happen, and this is what we are missing in Catalonia and where we are working.

“So, if they say the current circumstances are not the ones that make the referendum possible, we need to work on the circumstances, to work on the situations that make these … easy to make it happen.”

Romeva said Catalonia’s independence movement was still a “work in progress” and, for a long time, many people had been trying to diminish the importance of what was going on there.

“When I personally became pro-independence in the year 2012, I was a member of the European Parliament. I was not pro-independence. I was the defender and sometimes vehement in defending that [unionist] position.

“The fact is that after several attempts from the state to impede what to me is a democratic right, I understood that the problem was not wanting to be an independent state, but the fact that we were living in a state that had a lot of very fundamental democratic deficiencies and fundamental democratic faults.”

That was important in 2012, but Romeva then stood on the list for the 2015 Catalan parliamentary election when he led the pro-indy Junts per Si (Together for Yes).

He said the political scenario in Catalonia now was where it had always been: “Seventy per cent of the population understands that there is a political conflict in Catalonia in the sense that Catalonia wants to be something that the Spanish State doesn’t want it to be.

“But there is a huge perception that needs 70% of the population that says, ‘this is political conflict. We need a political and democratic resolution to that’. We are here, we have been here for years and we are not moving.

“The second aspect that is important to me to stress is before the October 1, 2017 referendum, there was a perception that this was a fake, that the people in Catalonia who wanted to be independent said, yes they want to be independent, but really they didn’t want it. I don’t know what that perception was based on, but the referendum demonstrated that despite all the consequences, there is a huge amount of the population in Catalonia that is ready to go to the democratic limits to make democracy move forward. And that was a turning point.

“Before October 1, there was a huge perception that ‘these are not serious people, they are not reliable, simply playing the game’. When we held the referendum – which technically and legally speaking, was not a crime, it was not included the penal code – we did it very much aware of the fact that this was not a crime.

“We assumed the consequences saying, ‘the state is not allowing us to do this the way we want it, but we need to show that our will is honest’.

“We needed to make everybody understand that when we say we want a democratic referendum to be recognised we mean it. We really didn’t demand this to happen, and if we cannot do it the way it should be done in a democratic state, we will do it the way we can do it, which is how we did it. We are still there. So this has not changed.

“There is a perception among some people that this is over, that people have gone to prison or are exiled and don’t want it anymore. That’s not true. The reality is exactly the same as we had in 2017 in terms of demand.”

Almost nobody has to be reminded of the extreme violence meted out to independence supporters by Spain’s National Police, the CNP during the 2017 referendum campaign. After the jailing of some of the major independence figures, stories began to emerge about ordinary indy supporters being forced into hiding and facing repression from Spanish state authorities.

Romeva said that is still happening: “We are talking about thousands and I’m not exaggerating – the prosecutor is simply keeping open [the cases of] several thousands of people and that is a reason why the people who wanted to be independent in 2017 remain committed to it.

“Before 2017 there were a lot of people who said, ‘well, it’s not serious’. But when they saw the reaction of the state in terms of repression, a lot of people who were not pro-independence became supporters, not because of a nationalistic approach, but because of that repression.

“That repression remains. There have been some changes, some specific cases. It’s true. The seven of us who were imprisoned – actually nine until one year ago – we got a partial pardon … which means that we were pardoned from the prison itself, not being banned from office, the prohibition from being elected for any public service, to be paid with any public money.

“So I cannot teach at the public university. I can teach at the private university but not at the public one. That situation remains and there are a lot of people who are now going to face trials, and can even face 12-15 years in prison if found guilty.

“I myself can go back to prison because the pardon can be reversed by the Supreme Court, and I have another trial pending that has to do with my role as Foreign Affairs Minister.

“What I’m trying to say is that the repression remains.”

During the campaigns to overturn the indy leaders’ jail terms, numerous international bodies said Spain had breached the jailed independence leaders’ basic human rights, but despite this and several calls for the European Parliament to intervene, the silence from Brussels was deafening.

Romeva said the bloc was guilty of double standards: “Everybody in Europe is very flexible, very courageous when they need to raise their voice, let’s say, against Hungary. But when what happens in Hungary is exactly the same that happened in Spain in many respects – the Constitutional Court for instance.

“There is a double standard where those who are criticising Hungary, or Poland for basic threats to democratic principles, stay silent when they’re asked to do the same towards Spain.

“That’s one of the problems – Spain is not a minor country, it’s an important country for many reasons, and it’s an ally of the other states.”

“I think in Scotland, it is clearer, because Scotland has an advantage right now over Catalonia. Scotland has already voted legally once. The result was ‘no’ with a very tiny margin, but if the result had been ‘yes’ everything would have been completely different.

“That doesn’t mean it cannot happen [again] … populations evolve, some people say it was voted so it’s not necessary to vote again.

The Spanish Constitution was voted in 1978 … it has not been modified since then. And then people say we voted already in ’78, so we don’t need to vote again on the constitution. Well, that’s not true.

“In generations the population evolves, so they need to do to adapt to the new circumstances. And this is democracy, nothing more than democracy.

“So this is the common aspect in Scotland and Catalonia.”