Catalans and Scots: Union and discord

John H. Elliott, José Álvarez Junco and José Andrés Rojo

On 29 October 2018, the Rafael del Pino Foundation organised the dialogue "Catalans and Scots: Union and Discord" with the participation of John H. Elliott, José Álvarez Junco and José Álvarez Rojo (moderator) on the occasion of the publication of the latest work by John H. Elliott published by Taurus.

John H. Elliott is a British historian and Hispanist, who holds the posts of Regius Professor Emeritus at Oxford University and Honorary Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford and Trinity College, Cambridge. After studying at the elite Eton College, he received his doctorate in history from Cambridge University in 1952. Elliott was Professor of History at King's College London from 1968 to 1973. In 1972 he was elected to the British Academy. He was Professor at Princeton from 1973 to 1990, and Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford from 1990 to 1997. Since 1965 he has been a corresponding member of the Royal Academy of History in Madrid. In 1993 he received the Nebrija Prize from the University of Salamanca for the quality of his monographs, later he received the Prince of Asturias Prize in 1996 for his contribution to the social sciences, the Balzan Prize in 1999 for his contribution to the history of Spain and the Spanish Empire in the Modern Age, and in 2018 he received the Spanish Orders Prize.2 His studies focus on the period of the 16th and 17th century, the rise and decline of the Catholic Monarchy, and how its ruling elite managed these processes.

José Álvarez Junco is a Spanish writer and historian, who has been Professor Emeritus of History of Thought and Political and Social Movements at the Complutense University of Madrid. He studied Political Science in Madrid, where he worked with the historian José Antonio Maravall, who supervised his doctoral thesis on the political thought of Spanish anarchism, read in 1973. He published La ideología política del anarquismo español, 1868-1910 in 1976. Since then his activity has been constant. His works include: Los movimientos obreros en el Madrid del siglo XIX (1981); Periodismo y política en el Madrid de fin de siglo: el primer lerrouxismo (1983); Lecciones de derecho político (1984), in collaboration; El "Emperador del Paralelo". Alejandro Lerroux y la demagogia populista (1990). He published Mater Dolorosa. La idea de España en el siglo XIX (2001), which won the National Essay Prize in 2002, awarded by the Ministry of Culture, and the Fastenrath Prize of the Royal Spanish Academy in 2003. In this book he takes a historiographical approach, far removed from the essentialism that dominated the old debate on the Being of Spain. As a result of this work and due to the political context, he held a polemic with Antonio Elorza on the idea of the Spanish nation. Between 1992 and 2000, he held the Prince of Asturias Chair at Tufts University (Boston), and directed the Iberian Studies seminar at Harvard University's Center for European Studies. He was also Director of the Centre for Political and Constitutional Studies until May 2008 and, by virtue of that position, State Counsellor. He is a contributor to El País and co-directs the Contemporary History seminar at the Instituto de Investigación Ortega y Gasset. His work has been collectively analysed in 2013. He left his post as professor at the Complutense University of Madrid after his retirement in January 2014.1 On 7 October 2014, at the Fundación Juan March, he reviewed his life and intellectual itinerary with Santos Juliá. The author stands out for his pluralistic way of tackling hot topics such as social movements, populism and national construction.In 2016 he published a new book, Dioses Útiles. Naciones y nacionalismo, in which he condenses his research on the subject of nationalism into a short, easy-to-read volume, as well as the theories that are currently most prevalent, in an attempt to rationalise a historical-political problem characterised by its emotional nature.

José Andrés Rojoholds a degree in Sociology from the Universidad Complutense, has published Hotel Madrid (Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1988), an essay on youth culture in the 1980s; Peter Gabriel (Cátedra, 1994) and Vicente Rojo. Retrato de un general republicano (Tusquets, 2006; XVIII Premio Comillas), and has participated in the collective volume coordinated by Ángel Viñas En el combate por la Historia: La República, la guerra civil, el franquismo (Pasado y Presente, 2012). He joined the newspaper El País in 1992, and has been linked since then to the Babelia supplement, to Cultura and, since 2009, to Opinión.

In this book John H. Elliott explores the roots of one of Europe's most pressing contemporary problems. In this work he explores the striking similarities and contrasts between the Scottish and Catalan experiences over the last five hundred years, beginning with the royal marriages that brought about the union with their more powerful neighbours, England and Castile respectively, and tracing their history through the centuries, from the late Middle Ages to recent dramatic events. Elliott examines the political, economic, social, cultural and emotional factors that divide the Scots and Catalans from the larger nations to which their destinies united them. He sheds new light on the character and development of European nationalism, the nature of separatism, and the sense of grievance underlying the secessionist aspirations that led to the Scottish referendum of 2014 and the Catalan referendum of October 2017, with the subsequent unilateral and failed declaration of an independent Catalan republic.


On 29 October 2018 a dialogue took place at the Rafael del Pino Foundation between John Elliot, Regius Professor Emeritus of Modern History at Oxford University, and José Álvarez Junco, Emeritus Professor of History at the Faculty of Political Science of the Complutense University of Madrid, on the occasion of the presentation of Elliot's book "Catalans and Scots. Union and discord", a work which, according to Elliot, expresses a historian's concern for what is happening around him and for offering a vision of it with a very long view of history that establishes similarities and differences in order to better understand the separatist movements in Scotland and Catalonia. This is important because historians, says Álvarez Junco, cannot experiment like scientists. They can only compare and look for similarities. In this sense, Catalonia can be compared not only with Scotland, but also with other Spanish territories such as Galicia, with so many favourable circumstances to have a strong nationalism that has not occurred, perhaps because there is no capital, perhaps because the discontented have had a way out, which is emigration. As for Catalonia, Elliot said that Catalonia was never independent; Scotland, on the other hand, was. The English tried to conquer it in the late 13th century, but failed. The other parts of the United Kingdom, like those of Spain, were part of composite monarchies, which are those that have incorporated territories by conquest, marriage or the demise of the ruling dynasty. These territories retained their laws and institutions until the early 18th century. A composite kingdom accepts the plurality of the state, the diversity of the different regions. In these kingdoms everything depended on a permanent dialogue between the elites. What happened with Scotland was that, with the extinction of the dynasty of Elizabeth I of England, James VI of Scotland acceded to the English throne as James I of England, so it was a dynastic union. There were tensions for religious rather than fiscal reasons. In 1660, Scotland seceded due to the dissolution of the Commonwealth after Cronwell's death. Scotland's history is also different because it entered into a union agreement with England to prevent the return of the Catholic Stuarts. The Scottish elite, moreover, had a vested interest in the agreement because Scotland was bankrupt after its failed attempt to colonise Panama. With the agreement to crown Queen Anne as monarch of the new United Kingdom, Scotland retained its religious system of government, laws and institutions, and its MPs participated in the common parliament of the United Kingdom. In Spain, on the other hand, the War of Succession took place, which placed the House of Bourbon on the throne. The king wanted a united, centralised Spain governed by an autocratic monarch, and to this end the Nueva Planta Decrees were introduced. This union is remembered in Catalonia as a defeat that led to Catalan submission and decadence, when what actually happened was just the opposite, because thanks to its integration with Spain and the empire, Catalonia began to emerge economically. Another difference between Scotland and Catalonia is that in Scotland there were two societies, the Highlanders, who supported the Stuarts, and the Lords, who were Jacobites. These differences led to a revolt by the Highlanders, which was severely repressed. From then on, attempts were made to extirpate both Gaelic, the language of the rebels, and the clans. In Catalonia, on the other hand, Catalan continued to be spoken in the lower strata of society. Later, in the 19th century, with Romanticism, it was revived in the upper strata of society, and the language became the reference point of Catalan nationalism. On the other hand, it is of no importance in relations between Scotland and England. Even so, a certain victimhood reigns in Scotland, but never on the scale it does in Catalonia. On the other hand, there is the impact of the respective empires on Scotland and Catalonia. The Scots were part of the British Empire from the beginning. Scotland was always a nation of emigrants, who spread throughout the empire and were its pioneers. The Catalans also entered the Spanish empire, but after the loss of the last American colonies there came a dramatic moment and an attempt at regeneration on the part of the Catalans. This fact, according to Álvarez Junco, together with problems with the language, led to a feeling of economic grievance in Catalonia. In the case of Scotland, there was also the problem of religion. These changes, Elliot points out, began in the early 19th century with romanticism, because at that time the nation was defined as something organic, with its collective memory of successes and failures. At that time, Prat de la Riva said that Catalonia was an authentic nation, while Spain was no more than an artificial construct. However, this was not the view held by the majority of Catalans. On the contrary, dual patriotism reigned among them. At times of coherence, such as the First World War, the Scots fought alongside the English, which gave coherence and reflection. In Spain, at that time, things went in a different direction. The First World War, Junco points out, marked the end of the nationalising process in Europe. Romanticism replaced loyalty to kings with loyalty to the nation and, from then on, there was talk of modernisation, freedom, rights, but how do you define the people? That is the problem, because romanticism attributes a soul to the people. In this sense, Elliot commented that Scotland used to think that religion was what gave it its national character. Now it doesn't think so much, which has created an ideological vacuum. Nationalism also exalted clan history and invented a symbol such as the kilt. It also invented a medievalism that did not exist either in Scotland or in Catalonia. He also created the idea that Scottish society was egalitarian when, in fact, it was as hierarchical as English society. And the fact is that every society needs myths to give it coherence and unity. The problem is that this narrative is now being questioned. In Catalonia, the industrial revolution generated a feeling of insecurity that led Catalans to look to the past for the certainties they could not find at the time. In this context, problems of social instability arose that created an enormous crisis, which led Catalan businessmen to support the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera. In Catalonia, too, people do not talk about Carlism because they want to present its history as a history of progress. Carlism, however, was very strong there too. The elite want to escape from that, but, to do so, they have to look for help in Madrid, although they do not participate in the government, unlike the Scots. Nationalism is now explained by globalisation, the impact of which has been to widen the gap between those who govern and those who are governed. It is also influenced by the fossilisation of the old political parties, as well as the catastrophic effects of the 2008 financial crisis. In this context, people do not know where to look for a way out, there is a huge political and social vacuum, combined with a sense of wanting to regain control of their own lives. This is the right scenario for demagogic politicians to launch their populist message.

The Rafael del Pino Foundation is not responsible for the comments, opinions or statements made by the people who participate in its activities and which are expressed as a result of their inalienable right to freedom of expression and under their sole responsibility. The contents included in the summary of this conference, written for the Rafael del Pino Foundation by Professor Emilio González, are the result of the debates held at the meeting held for this purpose at the Foundation and are the responsibility of the authors.

The Rafael del Pino Foundation is not responsible for any comments, opinions or statements made by third parties. In this respect, the FRP is not obliged to monitor the views expressed by such third parties who participate in its activities and which are expressed as a result of their inalienable right to freedom of expression and under their own responsibility. The contents included in the summary of this conference, written for the Rafael del Pino Foundation by Professor Emilio J. González, are the result of the discussions that took place during the conference organised for this purpose at the Foundation and are the sole responsibility of its authors.