A LEADING Catalan politician who is facing jail in Spain has gone into exile in Scotland, taking refuge in St Andrews last week. Economist and academic Clara Ponsati was appointed education minister – Councillor of Education of the Generalitat of Catalonia – by former president Carles Puigdemont in July last year, and only resigned within the last few days.

She had been a member of the national secretariat of the Catalan National Assembly since mid-2016 and was on a sabbatical as the head of the School of Economics and Finance at the University of St Andrews.

In the aftermath of the Catalan declaration of independence last October, Ponsati fled Barcelona for Brussels in Belgium with ousted leader Puigdemont, and three other cabinet members, to escape legal action by the Spanish judiciary. It had demanded they should be remanded in custody without bail. Several other pro-independence politicians have been imprisoned in connection with October’s referendum, which the Spanish government considered illegal.

A European arrest warrant was issued against them but later withdrawn. Madrid dropped an attempt to extradite the ministers after Belgium refused to recognise charges of rebellion and sedition. Arrest warrants for pro-independence politicians in exile, including Ponsati, remain valid only in Spain. Yesterday, Ponsati tweeted in Spanish: “The Catalan exile arrives in the United Kingdom: enjoying my freedom of movement as a European citizen, this week I have rejoined the University of St Andrews.”

Vicent Partal, founder and manager of pro-independence online newspaper VilaWeb, told the Sunday Herald Ponsati had resigned as education minister in order to return to academia but would continue to have a role as an adviser to the Catalan government. “It is not an official role but she will be a representative,” he said. “Scotland is the third country where there is [someone from the cabinet] in exile.”

Partal said Ponsati was free to come to Scotland and had used her passport to travel to the country without challenge. As a European, she also has the right to live and work here. “But if they returned to Spain they would be interned,” he said.

Last month, the Swiss government confirmed it will not extradite Anna Gabriel, another leading figure in the Catalan independence movement because she was wanted “for political crimes”. Two weeks ago the British human rights lawyer, Ben Emmerson QC, confirmed he is taking Puigdemont’s case to the UN, arguing that Spain has violated his right to participate in political life.

The modern independence movement in Catalonia began in 2010 when the Constitutional Court of Spain ruled that some of the articles of the 2006 Statute of Autonomy — which had been agreed with the Spanish government and passed by a referendum in Catalonia — were

unconstitutional, and others were to be interpreted restrictively. Popular protest against the decision quickly turned into demands for independence with a demonstration that year was attended by more than a million people.

In late September 2016, Puigdemont told the parliament that a binding referendum on independence would be held in the autumn of 2017, with or without the consent of the Spanish institutions. When Catalonia held the vote last year, Spain did not recognise it as legal. Independence supporters won a referendum held amid a violent crackdown.

A spokesman for the University of St Andrews, where Ponsati is involved in research into political economy, said: “Professor Clara Ponsati was granted a sabbatical from her post as a senior academic in the School of Economics and Finance to serve as a minister in the Generalitat de Catalunya. We are delighted that she has returned to her research work at St Andrews.”