It is a uniquely Catalan mark of respect and even affection paid to deserving figures, and now the gesture has been extended to Alex Salmond.

The First Minister has been immortalised as a "caganer" or crapper, a traditional - if crudely scatological - Christmas decoration in north eastern Spain.

The 4-inch-high hand-painted plaster model is the big new hit of this holiday season as Catalans, desperate for their own vote on independence, remain glued to Scotland's referendum.

The doll captures Mr Salmond's front profile, however if you turn the figure round you get sight of the politician with his trousers down and doing, bluntly, what the Catalan name suggests.

Sculptor Marc Alos, whose family firm makes the figurine, stressed the tradition of modelling someone answering a call of nature was in no way an insult.

In fact, he said, the model is a mark of how much Mr Salmond is respected in the Spanish region that regards itself as a nation.

"We are always talking about Alex Salmond here," said Mr Alos. "He is a point of reference for us and now he even has his White Paper to show how independence would work."

The Salmond caganer is part of a whole new range produced by Mr Alos and his team for Christmas 2013. Others include a bekilted "Scottish nationalist" waving a Saltire while defecating. "We have caganers of Basques and Catalans carrying flags too.

"We have decided to do these figures this Christmas because we think of many Catalans and many Scots and many Basques all marching towards the same goal, independence!"

Caganers, which are placed in the elaborate nativity scenes made in every Catalan home, have been around for centuries. They are as Catalan as bagpipes and haggis are Scottish. Barcelona Council recently produced a municipal nativity without any of the squatting defecators. There was a public outcry.

The figures - including the little figures made by Mr Alos and his team from their workshops in the staunchly Catalanist Girona province - are designed to be a great leveller. "The caganer is a likeable, well loved and respected figure in the typical Catalan Nativity crib," Mr Alos explained. "It is not meant as a jest, rather just the opposite, it is a type of homage to his/her personality, and the office and activity he or she represents."

However, the figures are also designed to show that all of us - high and low - have to go to the toilet. This simple act, the theory goes, is the world's great leveller.

Mr Salmond has taken his place in the ranks of caganers alongside major politicians and celebrities such his Catalan counterpart Artur Mas, the Pope, the Queen and Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta. Mr Alos has also made a caganer of Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister who this week issued a veiled threat tabout Scottish membership of the European Union.

Mr Salmond seemed to like the company he was keeping. "It is an honour to be joining the likes of Barack Obama, Albert Einstein and Elvis Presley as a caganer favourite among the Catalan people," he said last night. "I trust that, as custom dictates, those who buy my caganer are blessed with luck and joy throughout the year"

Mr Salmond may almost be a household name in Catalunya, but he is far from the favourite pin-up of the nation's independentistas. That remains the First Minister's arch-enemy, David Cameron.

Catalans love the man from No. 10, not least because of his decision, as they see it, to "let" Scotland have its big vote next year.