THE people of Catalonia “weren’t left with any choice” but to hold an independence referendum in defiance of the Spanish government, Nicola Sturgeon has claimed.

The First Minister also said the EU had let Catalans down by failing to condemn the “grotesque and unacceptable” violence of Spanish police during last week’s ballot.

However she refused to say if the Scottish Government would recognise the result of the disputed election in favour of an independent Catalonia.

Although many SNP supporters support the Catalan Yes movement, Ms Sturgeon knows that accepting the result would antagonise the EU countries she wants on side during the Brexit process and may need in future if Scotland voted for independence.

“I consider myself a friend of Spain,” she said in one TV interview on Sunday.

The government of the wealthy north east region said 90 per cent of the 2.3m people who voted on October 1 backed independence on a 43 per cent turnout.

Catalan leaders are expected to declare independence this week, despite Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy refusing to accept the vote and refusing to rule out anything “within the law” to halt the process.

At least 350,000 people gathered in the Catalan capital Barcelona on Sunday to oppose independence, waving Spanish and Catalan flags and carrying banners saying "Together we are stronger" and "Catalonia is Spain".

On the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, Mr Sturgeon avoided saying if she would recognise a declaration of Catalan independence in the present circumstances and called for dialogue.

She said: "What I think has to be recognised is the strength of feeling in Catalonia.

"I think it's now time for dialogue to replace confrontation. You cannot simply say the right of a people to choose their future is illegal in all circumstances."

Pressed on whether she would back the Catalan leaders, she said: "We'd recognise the decisions and the statements that were made, but I'm not going to speculate here on what will happen in Catalonia before it happens.

"I'm not in control of that. It's not for me to decide what is the right future for Catalonia."

Appearing on ITV later, Ms Sturgeon added: “I think to be fair to the Catalan government and the people of Catalonia, they weren’t really left with any choice because you had a government in in the Spanish government saying that there is no way that you can be allowed to take this decision.

“It’s a very different circumstance [to Scotland]. In 2014 we had the precedent of the Edinburgh agreement, two governments with diametrically opposed views on the question of independence nevertheless agreeing the process of letting the people decide.

“And that should always in my view be the precedent for referendums of this nature.

“The [violent] scenes we saw last Sunday were grotesque and unacceptable and everybody should condemn them. I think the EU should have condemned what we saw. I think they let the people of Catalonia down.

“It can’t in a democracy simply be illegal for people to decide what kind of future they want, that’s absurd.

“At the end of the day people are sovereign, and whether it’s in Catalonia or Scotland it’s for people to decide how they want to be governed and what their future should be.”