In 2014 the Catalan separatists wanted to be Scottish. On September 18 of that year an independence referendum was to be held in Scotland, in an orderly and legal manner. Meanwhile, in Catalonia those only had managed to prepare a substitute consultation, illegal in addition, for the day 9 November. Illegal was also the referendum of October 1, 2017, key piece of a real coup d'etat or pronouncement, mixture of the old and the postmodern. In any case, throughout 2014 references to Scotland were recurrent. According to the processist speech, the Scottish exercise was a sample of mature democracy, something that Spain suffered since it was preventing the Catalans from voting. Democracy is voting, they repeated one day after another, forgetting that in the Francoism was voted many times. Democracy is voting, it is true, but also many other things, which have to do above all with legality and freedom.
Catalonia was not Scotland: the desnortado Artur Mas he did not act like the experienced Alex Salmond -This stated that what happened in Catalonia had "nothing to do with what is happening in Scotland"-; excessive prudence and inaction of Mariano Rajoy contrasted with the inconsistent arrogance of David Cameron; the Scottish legal referendum bore no resemblance to the illegality that it intended to perpetrate in Catalan lands; the British written Constitution had nothing in common with the Spanish Constitution of 1978; the relations between Scotland and England were not similar to the history of a Catalonia integrated into the Spanish Monarchy since the fifteenth century and, previously, in the Crown of Aragon.
To the comparison between the past and the present of these two supposed stateless nations – as some define them, seeking in it a rarity to correct -, Scotland and Catalonia, as well as their respective particularist sentiments and nationalisms, dedicates the British historian John H. Elliott a book that has appeared, a few months apart, in the original English version and in Spanish translation. The author proposes to study the origins and evolutions of the "national sentiment" in these two territories and the separatist movements to which it has given rise in the last decades. For this, Elliott, outstanding specialist in Catalan and modern Spanish history, adopts a long-term perspective.
The structure of the book, in half a dozen parts, is chronological: 1469-1625, 1625-1707 / 1716, 1707-1789, 1789-1860, 1860-1975 and 1975-2017. The histories of Scotland and Catalonia, of deep antecedents in both cases and likewise integrated in other major entities (Great Britain and Spain), are and are not found, they are very similar and they are very different along this route. While at the end of the fifteenth century, Catalonia, which was part of the Crown of Aragon, was integrated by the traditional marriage route in "a country that was increasingly known by Spain", in 1603 the Scot Jacobo became, as ruler of Scotland and England, king of Great Britain. It was two of the great composite monarchies of the time. The kingdom of Scotland had been a sovereign state in the past. In contrast, says Elliott, Catalonia was never an independent state, nor "complete" nor "sovereign."
At the beginning of the 18th century, two succession crises ended up giving rise to two unions for incorporation, although with different formulas and designs. Great Britain was formally born on May 1, 1707 thanks to a union treaty. The War of Succession – dynamism, international, civil – turned the case of the incipient Spanish nation into something very different. In both territories the economic benefits were evident. In the nineteenth century, the prosperity derived from the British Empire and industrialization resulted in the Scots feeling more comfortable than the Catalans in the larger entity of which they were a part. The patriotism of the world wars affected in the same sense. The strong resurgence of Catalan and Scottish nationalism in the 1970s and 1980s does not respond, says Elliott, to a supposed oppression, but to more complex causes in which the economic (crisis of heavy industry and the new role of oil, for example, in Scotland), the political (Thatcherism or pujolismo) and the cultural (the nostalgia of an imagined past, in essence) have a central role.
John H. Elliott offers us an interesting exercise in comparative history. I would just like to point out a small objection, referring to the year 1931. The author points out that the installation of the Generalitat was "a return to the institution abolished by Felipe V". There is no continuity relationship between Generalitat contemporary and the Diputación del General of the 14th century. Despite the shared name, these are two different institutions in times and circumstances extremely different political, social and cultural. In 1931 nothing is restored, but something new is created with an old denomination. Francesc Macià is the first president of the current Generalitat. Although the question is obviously important, it is not, however, more than a minor detail in the set of almost five hundred pages-selected data, complex explanations, audacious comparisons-of this work. We are before an essential guide to guide us in the history of the States and the European regions of the last 500 years.
Catalans and Scots. Union and discord. John H. Elliott. Translation by Rafael Sánchez Mantero. Taurus, 2018. 496 pages. 24.90 euros.