An evening with J. H. Elliot: Scots & Catalans, Nations without States

Professor Reglus Emiritus of Modern History at Oxford University, J.H. Elliott is a recently acclaimed author of Scots and Catalans: Union and Disunion, published last year. On the 18 February, Elliott delivered a lecture in the University of Edinburgh with speci c regards to his new publication, following an invite from the School of History, Classics and Archaeology.

Elliott holds at least 15 honorary doctorates, has taught at the University of Cambridge, Kings College London, and Princeton. He was also awarded the 1985 Leo Gershoy Award by the American Historical Association as well as the Francis Parkman Prize in 2007 for the publications of Richelieu andOlivares and Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492–1830 respectively.

On reaching the lecture, Elliot specified towards a historiographical focus on the comparative chapter between Scotland and Catalonia. Elliott described how his interest in the subject had sparked in 2012, following the beginning stages of the EU referendum and consequent discourse on Scotland as a united or independent nation state.

Elliott proposed the assumption that “separatist movements” could be seen paralleled in the Scottish andCatalan nation states, de ning themas “self-proclaimed nations without a state of their own.”

Attentive to their modern historical, socio-cultural and political distinctiveness, as well as the perils of aligning the two nation states together, Elliott argues that such cases of disassociation may bear more similarities than one may think.

The central part of the lecture was a summary of the synchronic, comparative analysis of historical events explored in Elliott’s book.

Poignant historical moments were presented, comparing namely, the 1469 matrimony of ‘the Catholic monarchs,’Queen IsabellaI of Castille and King Ferdinand II of Aragon, and that of 1603 between King James VI & I and Anne of Denmark (both of which symbolised the union of nation and nation state).

Another similarity that was elaborated on was the ‘comparable’ 1707-16 Nueva Planta decrees established by Philip V and 1707 Treaty of Union, which mandated the union of Castile and Catalonia, and of Anglia and Scotland.

Despite such parallels, Elliott denies full historiographical comparability between the two nation states for several reasons. One reason takes form in the way which Scotland, before 1707 was independent, whereas Catalonia “was never independent, though some argue contrarily.

This is, according to Elliott, partly because although the Kingdom of Aragon kept their own laws and parliament, they were never independent, just as Scotland perhaps was in the late 1600s, despite composite relations with England.

Another reason for incomparability, is that the Scots, unlike the Catalans, were considerably involved (though unwillingly in theory), with the British Empire.

The Spanish Empire on the other hand, deprived Catalonia from any involvement in their transatlantic relations and imperial colonies until 1745.

Additionally, the British Empire peaked during the 18th and 19th century, whereas the Spanish Empire’s last outposts were dated circa 1898.

For this reason, Elliott proposes that Scottish individuals were more likely to identify with Anglian imperial sentiments, therefore partaking in “double-patriotism” for Scottish and English national identity.

Questions addressed to Elliott ranged from disagreements with certain comparisons made, toclari cation on certain points, toqueries on what Elliott may foresee in the near future of Spanish-Catalan and Anglo-Scottish politics.

The lecture ended, sitting in awareness of the fact that Catalonia is not independent, and that Scottish and Catalan independences, though similar and linked to some extent, are separate cases.

With current debate on Brexit, and its impact on the students and staff of the University of Edinburgh, Scottish independence remains an incredibly important topic of conversation.

 

Image: Angela Llop via Creative Commons

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