Catalan leader travels to Scotland for historic talks

EDINBURGH, UK: After years of holding Catalan separatists at arm’s length despite obvious sympathy for their cause, Scotland’s pro-independence First Minister Nicola Sturgeon meets Catalan president Quim Torra for the first time on Wednesday.

Torra is visiting Scotland and will also meet with Clara Ponsati, a former Catalan minister who is fighting an extradition request by Spain on charges of “violent rebellion” for her role in Catalonia’s failed independence bid in 2017.

Ponsati, a 61-year-old professor in political economy at the University of St Andrews, has been released on bail as she challenges the extradition through the Spanish courts.

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Torra and Ponsati are due to give a press conference in Edinburgh at 1000 GMT on her case, after which Torra will meet Sturgeon at her official residence in Bute House.

Michael Keating, professor of political science at the University of Aberdeen, said the meeting between Torra and Sturgeon is possible thanks to “a degree of normality” returning to Catalonia after last year’s events.

There is a long-running affinity between Scottish and Catalan separatists.

When Scotland held its independence referendum in 2014 in which the unionist cause won by 55 per cent to 45 per cent, hundreds of Catalans came to aid the independence campaign.

During Catalonia’s own bid last year there were demonstrations of support in the streets of Scotland and several lawmakers from Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party traveled to Catalonia as observers of the vote.

Sturgeon at the time expressed her concern about the crackdown in Catalonia by Spanish authorities, defending the international principle of self-determination.

But she has kept the Catalan cause at arm’s length, keen to underline the legal basis of Scotland’s own efforts.

“The Scottish nationalists have followed the path of legality very very carefully,” Keating told AFP.

Sturgeon has to act “very carefully” also because she may be preparing to renew pro-EU Scotland’s independence bid as Brexit looms and is concerned about Spanish approval if it seeks to join the European Union, Keating said. “That issue hasn’t gone away,” he said.

Ahead of the talks, Sturgeon has come under criticism from Scottish Conservatives who have pointed to what they say were xenophobic comments made by Torra about Spanish speakers in Catalonia.

“Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP always like to pretend they’re appalled at anyone who would engage in divisive or bigoted language. But all that goes out the window when it comes to fellow separatists, as this red carpet welcome proves,” said Maurice Golden, a Scottish Conservative MP.

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Some commentators have pointed out that receiving Torra but refusing to meet US President Donald Trump, who will visit Scotland later in the week, is a case of double standards.

A Scottish government spokesman said Sturgeon “regularly meets and hosts leaders visiting Scotland and looks forward to the meeting with the President of Catalonia in Edinburgh to discuss issues on how our two countries can continue to work together.”

“Ministers have made clear our profound regret that the Spanish government has not proceeded by way of dialogue with Catalonia’s political leaders and that the issue is now, instead, subject to a judicial process,” he said.

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