Former Catalan minister Jordi Turull argued in Spain’s Supreme Court on Tuesday that the government followed the wishes of the public in organising a referendum on independence in 2017. “Catalans are not sheep” Turull told the prosecutor, adding: “We weren’t looking to involve people [in the independence bid], this already existed, and so a political solution had to be provided.”

As former presidency minister and cabinet spokesman, Turull was one of the highest-ranking government officials during the 2017 independence referendum, which the Spanish authorities declared illegal. Having so far spent 366 days in preventive detention, Turull is charged with rebellion and misuse of public funds, and faces a hefty prison sentence.

Turull is the third defendant to speak in the Catalan trial, after former vice president Oriol Junqueras and former interior minister Joaquim Forn testified last week.

Agreed referendum 

Responding to prosecutors’ questions, Turull maintained that pushing for independence was not against the law: “The Together for Yes candidacy was for independence. Everyone knew it. It’s not abnormal to try to peacefully and democratically deliver on what you pledged to Catalans.”

Turull pledged that the Catalan government “tried for an agreed referendum [with Spain] until the last minute.” Turull also said his department did not order any posters promoting the referendum. Over a year after the vote, he said he still does not know how the ballot boxes were purchased for the vote.

“I don’t know how the referendum ballot boxes were bought and how they ended up in the polling stations,” said the former minister responding to the public prosecutor.

Constitutional Court rulings

Accused of breaching the law by organising the vote despite Spain’s opposition, the former minister said that the central government in Madrid contravenes Constitutional Court rulings “every day.”

“Presenting yourself as constitutionalist allows you to bypass the Constitution whenever you want. As a pro-independence supporter, I’ve spent a year in prison for not complying with a ruling” said Turull.

Elected as an MP for the Junts per Catalunya (JxCat) party, Turull was put forward by the exiled former president Carles Puigdemont to become his successor, after Spanish courts ruled out his retaking the post at a distance.

Turull returned to prison on March 23, a day before he was to be sworn in as Catalan president in the Parliament. He was subsequently suspended as an MP, and prevented from retaking his post as presidency minister while in prison.