A GOOD friend of mine, Sergi Marcen, was fined €187,000 – that’s £160,000 – by the Spanish courts last week. Actually, he was fined exactly €187,339.74.

The neo-fascist Spanish legal institutions are always very precise.

Sergi has to pay in cash within 15 days or the Spanish authorities will take his family home outside Barcelona – which I’ve visited – where he lives with his wife and two lovely daughters. Needless to say, Sergi can’t afford to pay the fine and faces destitution.

What was Sergi’s crime? He was the appointed representative of the Catalan government to the UK and Ireland. Catalonia runs a system of offices in other countries to promote trade, tourism and public relations. The Scottish Government does the same thing. In fact, ScotGov now has eight foreign offices, in London, Washington, Berlin, Beijing, Brussels, Dublin, Paris and Ottawa.

However, when the Spanish government suspended devolution in Catalonia in October 2017, in the wake of the Catalan independence referendum, Madrid closed the Catalan government’s offices in the UK, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and the United States.

Worse, Madrid declared these offices were serving as “propaganda” tools for the Catalan independence movement and so were illegal. Subsequently, the Spanish Court of Auditors declared ultra vires the cash spent by Diplocat, the official agency tasked with promoting Catalonia’s interests abroad. Note: Diplocat involved not only the Catalan government but local councils, unions, universities, and even FC Barcelona.

Last week, after rejecting appeals, the Spanish Supreme Court ordered some 40 Diplocat officials and elected Catalan ministers to pay back personally the public monies expended in Catalan diplomatic and economic activities abroad prior to 2017. The total fines come to £4.3 million.

Hence my friend Sergi’s “fine” for doing his job in the UK. As part of that job, Sergi and his staff visited political party conferences, including that of the SNP. He also helped organise a trip I made to Catalonia when I was an SNP MP, during which I met the speaker of the Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell, and held talks with the Catalan economics minister, Oriol Junqueras, and foreign minister Raul Romeva.

Sergi Marcel has been fined for doing exactly the same job for the elected Catalan administration as is now being carried out for the Scottish Government by Brian Dornan in London, Joni Smith in Washington, Mike Neilson in Brussels, Martin McDermott in Beijing, Alexandra Stein in Berlin, Catriona Little in Ottawa, Lucy Sterne in Paris, and John webster in Dublin. Imagine if those civil servants were fined by a court in London for doing their job.

Ah, I hear someone quibble! Surely the Spanish Court of Auditors has investigated and decided that Sergi and the other Catalan foreign representatives were acting beyond the law. Consider this: the activities of the Diplocat offices and staff had already been scrutinised by the official auditor in Catalonia.

She found the designated activities of Diplocat to be within the law. Guess what? The courts in Madrid have also fined the Catalan auditor general, Mireia Vidal, a cool €3m for daring to approve the original Diplocat spending. Her fine is the second biggest after that of the former secretary-general of Diplocat, Albert Royo, who has been stuck with a €3.63m claim.

There is no room here to explain in detail the way the old Francoist court structures were deliberately retained after the dictator’s death, as a safeguard for the technocrats, torturers, and corrupt politicians who continued in office following the so-called “transition” to democracy.

READ MORE: Catalan activists hit with £4.6m in costs for 'promoting' indy abroad

To this day, the Spanish court system remains heavily politicised. Members of the Supreme Court are appointed by a body called the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ). But the CGPJ is chosen by Spain’s parliament. As a result, court appointments are party political. Over the years, the right-wing Popular Party (the home for old Francoists) has attempted to pack the Supreme Court.

LAST month, Supreme Court judges were involved in a public slanging match with Spain’s socialist prime minister, Pedro Sanchez. The court opposed Sanchez granting a pardon to nine Catalan elected politicians jailed for holding the 2017 independence referendum.

Sanchez released the prisoners under mass pressure from the Catalonia independence movement – a victory we in Scotland should note when considering how to deal with the Tory government. The judges’ decision to impose exemplary fines on Catalan diplomats and former politicians can be seen as political retaliation.

If the fines are not paid – unlikely unless pro-democracy supporters in the Spanish state come up with the cash – then those affected will be bankrupted. This is not justice. It is blatant vindictiveness by the Spanish right. But then the Spanish right has shown no interest whatsoever in pursuing a dialogue with Barcelona.

In fact, in 2010, the constitutional court struck down parts of a new autonomy statute for Catalonia, even though Spain’s parliament had passed it and the region’s voters approved it in a legal referendum.

It was this intransigence that gave rise to the independence referendum in 2017.

There are deep lessons here for Scotland. Some in the Scottish independence movement are dismissive of the Catalans, claiming the referendum of 2017 was illegal and adventurous. But even discussing independence in the Catalan parliament is considered illegal by the Spanish courts.

Speaker Forcadell was jailed for 11 years, for simply allowing a debate on independence in the Catalan parliament. The Catalan referendum in October 2017 was a last-ditch democratic appeal for the right of self-determination. Spain responded with the batons of the notoriously brutal Civil Guard, long jail sentences and now with massive fines.

It is vital that democratic Europe responds to the latest set of fines, and we should start that here in Scotland. The SNP government and SNP, Labour and Green MSPs should unite in publicly criticising these vindictive fines and demanding their withdrawal. SNP and Alba Party MPs at Westminster should sign an Early Day Motion defending Sergi Marcen and his colleagues for simply doing their job. To re-iterate, the fines are not connected with the 2017 referendum but with the former Catalan government’s promotional activities abroad – normal promotional activities similar to those conducted by the Scottish Government.

An international campaign of solidarity with those fined has already been initiated. More than 50 of the world’s leading economists, including 33 Nobel laureates, have signed an open letter in support of the former Catalan finance minister, Andreu Mas-Colell, who has been fined a staggering £2.4m.

Mas-Colell is one of the world’s leading mathematical economists and was Catalan finance minister between 2010 and 2016. He retired when Carles Puigdemont became Catalan president in 2016, and thus was not in the government during the run-up to the indy referendum. However, the Supreme Court, in its wisdom, has cast the net of “guilt” back to 2012, in a bid to destroy the entire independence movement.

Faced with London’s continued refusal to grant a Section 30 order for a new independence what will Scotland do? If political statis continues after another Westminster election in 2024, the prospect of a unilateral independence referendum cannot be ruled out without condemning the movement to utter frustration.

Meantime, Scotland should be holding out the hand of international solidarity to Sergi Marcen and our friends in Catalonia.