NICOLA Sturgeon is to make an official visit to Catalonia in a sign of closer relations between the two pro-independence governments.

The First Minister has accepted an invitation from Catalan president Quim Torra to visit the regional capital Barcelona.

The trip was revealed in minutes of a meeting between Ms Sturgeon and Mr Torra at the First Minister’s Bute House residence last month.

The Catalan Government said it hoped to set a date in the coming weeks.

The Scottish Tories said the trip was a political visit to push separatism and should therefore be paid for by the SNP, not the public purse. 

Mr Torra’s meeting with Ms Sturgeon was the first high-level discussion between the Scottish and Catalan governments since Alex Salmond visited Barcelona as FM in 2008.

However the president at that time was Socialist José Montilla, who opposed separatism.

Mr Torra had been in Edinburgh to discuss Clara Ponsati, the St Andrews University Professor then facing extradition to Spain on charges of rebellion and abusing public funds.

The Herald:

Prof Ponsati was a member of the Catalan government which held an independence referendum in October 2017 despite Spain’s constitutional court ruling it illegal.

Spanish judges later threw out the case against her and the extradition case was dropped.

Mr Torra, a former journalist and lawyer, was sworn in as Catalan president in May after the previous Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, went into exile to avoid arrest by Madrid.

The Herald:

Ms Sturgeon had backed the Catalan government’s decision to hold the referendum, which produced a 90% vote for secession, and was marred by Spanish riot police attacking voters.

The minutes of the Bute House event, released under freedom of information, said the two leaders discussed the “challenging and complex situation” in Catalonia.

“They agreed that the way forward for Catalonia must be through peaceful and democratic solutions involving dialogue between the Spanish and Catalan authorities, respecting the right to self-determination of the Catalan people.

“The President extended an invite to the First Minister to visit Barcelona, the First Minister indicated she would be delighted to do so.”

The two governments also agreed to strengthen trading links, with the Catalan Secretary of Foreign Affairs offering to share experiences on creating a national investment bank.

The Scottish Government also offered lessons learned from holding a referendum through the “Edinburgh Agreement” process.

Ms Sturgeon’s briefing note emphasises “opportunities for bilateral cooperation”.

​Scottish Tory MP Adam Tomkins said: "As First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon has become utterly sidetracked playing to the nationalist gallery. It  now appears she intends to do that abroad as well as at home.

"If this is simply a political visit between two separatist parties, there can be no justification for Scottish taxpayers meeting the tab. It should come out of the SNP's own coffers."

A Scottish LibDem spokesperson added: “It’s astonishing the First Minister is eager to visit Barcelona to talk about her catastrophic independence plans when she is shying away from debating them at the SNP’s own conference.”

A spokeswoman for the Catalan government confirmed the Barcelona visit, and said there were hopes to fix a date after the summer recess in Catalonia.

She said: “It’s true that the last meeting between President Torra and the First Minister was a warm meeting and they agreed on a lot of issues and there was a good relationship between them. The aim [of the visit] is to strengthen that.”

READ MORE: Spain 'monitors' Sturgeon's meeting with Catalan leader amid diplomatic tension

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "The First Minister had a productive meeting with President Torra and we will look towards opportunities to work together in the future."