Almost exactly three hundred years ago the illegitimate son of a Stuart monarch bombarded Barcelona into capitulation and, ultimately, Spanish rule.

Yesterday it was people leaving their mark on the Catalan capital rather than bombs, hundreds of thousands of them forming a giant V-shape along two of the city's main streets.

Their message? "Ara És l'Hora", or "it's time", time to regain the sovereignty lost in 1714.

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James FitzJames (the illegitimate son of King James II) was conspicuous by his absence, although President Obama was - in visual form - carried down part of the 11km-long demonstrations. David Cameron enjoyed a similar honour; Alex Salmond did not.

Nevertheless, "Scotland" is on many lips in Barcelona. Saltires punctuated several parts of the demonstration (known as the "Diada") while vendors sold T-shirts of the Saltire and Catalonian flags under the heading "Independència 2014". Yesterday's motto was: "9N Votarem. 9N Guanyarem" ('we will vote on November 9; we will win on November 9").

But while the planned referendum gave this Diada a contemporary focus, it has a deeper provenance: Catalan history emphasises the constructive approach of the British in 1707 (preserving elements of Scottishness under the Act of Union) with that of the Spanish in 1714 (abolishing Catalonian institutions under the Decree of Nueva Planta).

So the march had both contemporary and historical significance. At 4.45pm on a balmy September afternoon the two heads of the "V" began to move forward, joining at a single point 15 minutes later and then moving forward until, at the symbolic time of 17:14, a Catalan girl who will turn 16 on November 9 cast a symbolic vote in a ballot box at the head of the vortex at Plaça de les Glòries.

But while the press guidance claimed yesterday's "action" was the "best guarantee to ensure the realisation of the referendum" in two months' time, when I asked Alex Ribo, a spokesman for the Catalan National Assembly, what the reaction in Madrid was likely to be he replied: "None."

Madrid is in no mood to follow David Cameron's lead. An independence referendum would be illegal under the Spanish constitution, it argues; end of. Thus, says Ribo, "very positive envy" characterises the Catalan view of Scotland. He was aware of the Prime Minister's speech in Edinburgh a few days ago, in which he reiterated that Scots could not be kept in the UK against their will.

"That's amazing," he exclaimed, "that's a hit on the head for Mariano Rajoy [the Spanish Prime Minister]." Indeed, at an international press conference a few hours earlier, Catalan president Artur Mas repeatedly praised the UK's "high-quality democratic system". "We admire it, this British democratic sense," Mas said, "this British democratic mentality and the capacity they have to listen to people and [respond to] popular requests."

Mas is no constitutional radical (he has only supported full independence for two years); he is cautious, keen to do things by the book and broker, if possible, a deal akin to the "British solution" with Madrid. Next week the Catalan parliament will pass a Plebiscite Act allowing for a consultative referendum, and the government argues - somewhat tenuously - that as the Spanish constitution protects "freedom of expression" then it is not unconstitutional.

I asked Mas about the narrowing polls in Scotland and the potential impact of a Yes vote in both Madrid and Catalonia. He said he was certain all EU member states would "accept the result" immediately and that, in the end, that would "also be the position of the central government in Madrid". He was also convinced negotiations between Brussels, London and Edinburgh would start "very quickly". His implication was clear: if Scotland, why not Catalonia?

In Catalonia public opinion overwhelmingly supports both a referendum (around 80 per cent) and, according to polls, also independence (around 60 per cent). Spanish "Unionists", meanwhile, are a rare breed. "The real story was the split among the socialists," says Liz Castro, an American author who moved back to Barcelona last year, "with some favouring the 'right to decide' and others not."

Such is the constitutional consensus that British concepts of press neutrality don't appear to apply in Catalonia, and visiting Scottish journalists are assumed to be pro-independence, both at home and in an Iberian context.

Liam O'Hare, an activist with the Radical Independence Convention, was in Barcelona to give his Catalan comrades a confidence boost: "Just as we're going toe-to-toe with the British state, you're going toe-to-toe with the Spanish state," he said at a rally on Wednesday evening.

The two campaigns, however, have many differences. The Catalans - deprived of a legal referendum - are forced to dwell on process. But judging from yesterday's "Catalan Way", the majority long for a Scottish debate as well as a British solution.