SCOTLAND has been praised for standing “completely apart” from the rest of Europe over its support for Catalonia.

Artur Mas – president of Catalonia from 2010 to 2015 – made the comments as he criticised the EU for failing to back the “essential principles” of civil rights, democracy and human rights.

He added: “I must confess that Scotland is a case completely apart from the others, because it has been very supportive to the Catalan cause.”

Mr Mas was banned from public office for two years in March 2017 for pushing ahead with an unauthorised vote on self-determination in 2014, in defiance of Spain.

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He told The Herald: “Right now, in Catalonia, in one of the territories of the European Union, some very important things are at stake – civil rights, democracy, human rights are at stake.

“When these principles and values are at stake, you always think that you could have more people helping you. And specifically more governments helping you.

“But not in order to defend the Catalan position – in order to defend democracy, freedom, civil and human rights.”

But he insisted Scotland stood “completely apart”, adding: “There are, of course, differences between Scotland and Catalonia, but also a lot of similarities, a lot of coincidences.

“And in this specific case, a lot of Scottish politicians and many people in Scotland have given their support to the leaders of the Catalan political movement.

“And they have also given their support to the referendum in Catalonia, as an example of the right nations have to decide on their political future.”

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Mr Mas was accused of civil disobedience for his role in 2014’s vote, despite rebranding it a "process of citizen participation" after Spain blocked holding an official referendum. As well as his two-year ban, he was fined €36,500.

His comments come amid the continuing fall-out from last year’s separate independence referendum, which Spain declared illegal.

Mr Mas previously said many Catalans had been “ashamed” by the response from other EU countries after Madrid imposed direct rule following the vote.

Professor Clara Ponsati, an academic at St Andrews University and a former Catalan minister, is fighting extradition to Spain over charges of rebellion and misuse of funds connected to the referendum.

She is just one of 16 leaders – including deposed president Carles Puigdemont – who are in prison or have fled the country.

Mr Mas said he understood that EU countries felt competing pressures – but insisted the events in Catalonia touched on fundamental principles.

He said: “I understand that the European Union is composed of nation states, and nation states play the game according to their interests – and there are a lot of interests here.

“Spain is putting a lot of pressure on the majority of the European governments, parliaments and countries.

“So I can understand that sometimes they have to protect their national interests.

“But in my opinion, there has been a lack of support for the real basis and the essential principles of European values.

“When I talk about democracy, civil rights, human rights – and I say that these kind of principles are at stake – that should probably merit stronger support by some European leaders.”

Mr Mas, who was speaking in Edinburgh before meeting First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, said he hoped Ms Ponsati would be able to fight her extradition to Spain.

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Ms Ponsati handed herself in to police in Edinburgh last month after Spain issued a European arrest warrant, and is currently on bail.

He added: “Clara Ponsati was a member of the former government. She helped to organise a referendum. But nothing other than that.

“So I don’t think that organising a referendum should mean that she could be extradited to Spain, to be sent to prison.”