Catalan President Artur Mas has told a Spanish court that he is being treated like a "criminal" for acting as a democrat.

The pro-independence leader was summoned to Barcelona's High Court on Thursday for organising what prosecutors said was an illegal referendum last year.

Mr Mas, accompanied by 400 mayors and thousands of supporters, told the court that he - and he alone - was responsible for a public consultation organised in November 2014.

However, he denied that the vote - essentially a mass protest after Madrid's Constitutional Court declared any Scottish-style referendum illegal - was a crime.

HeraldScotland: Junts Pel Si (Together For Yes) supporters wave flags while Catalan President Artur Mas and other politicians take the stage after polls closed in a regional parliamentary election in Barcelona REUTERS/Sergio Perez

Mr Mas said: "In the court I argued that if behaving like a democrat was the equivalent of acting like a criminal then I leave that in the hands of justice."

He added: "I accept the maximum responsibility for having taken this political initiative and having started this process.

"I am responsibe for having listened to thousands of people."

"I should have appeared before parliament but never before a court, not least in a criminal case."

HeraldScotland:

Picture, by independence campaigner Matthew Tree, shows support for Mr Mas at the court.

The president received his court summons just two days after storming to victory in regional parliamentary elections.

Along with two other ministers, he is facing formal charges of civil disobedience and "usurpation" of powers.

In a propaganda coup for his movement, his court case on October 15 will coincide with the 75th anniversary of the execution of a previous Catalan president, Lluís Companys, in 1940, by the regime of fascist dictator Francisco Franco.

HeraldScotland:

 

Picture: Catalan President Lluís Companys, shot by Franco's regime on October 15, 1940

Catalan "independentistes" seized on the legal action as an example of the legalistic intransigence from Madrid authorities that has done much to spark Mr Mas's victory last month.

However, Spain has stuck rigidly to its constitutional position that any referendum on independence would be illegal.

Mr Mas's previous administration has tried to carry out a Scottish-style vote in November 9, 2014.

Expert view: Micheal Keating on Catalonia's mock referendum.

This was blocked by the Constitutional Court of Spain. So instead he held what has been called a "public consultation" or "consulta", dubbed 9-N because of its date.

Observers judged it to be little more than one of a succession of impressive but ultimately purely symbolic mass protests.

Its results did not reflect the mixed opinion in Catalonia, with unionists largely staying away.

HeraldScotland:

However, more than 2.3 million people voted in the action with 80 per cent of them backing independence from Spain.

The investigation in to their referendum began last December. Madrid reports suggested that the timing of the courts summons - two days after Sunday's election - was co-incidental.

The very date, however, has huge resonance for Catalan nationalists.

The court concerned is the High Court of Catalonia. However, his prosecutors are Spanish.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, facing Spain-wide elections just before Christmas, has refused to negotiate with Mr Mas.

The SNP Government in Scotland has offered its assistance - and experience of last year's legally-binding Scottish referendum - to both sides.

Mr Mas and his allies won a majority of seats in the Catalan parliament and 48 per cent of the vote. His unionist rivals achieved 39 per cent of the vote with ambivalent parties taking the rest. Both pro and anti-independence groups claimed a moral victory.

This video, from Spanish news agency EFE, shows the sheer scale of political support for Mr Mas as he arrived for court.

 

Catalan language papers this morning stressing solidarity among pro-independence politicians for Mr Mas. This is the front page of El Punt Avui.

HeraldScotland: