Luis Moreno: 1983 in retrospect: The Scottish ‘dead duck’ and the Catalan phoenix

In this blog Luis Moreno reflects on his fledgling research in 1983 comparing Catalonia and Scotland. You can read Moreno’s crucial 1988 contribution to debates over identities in these stateless nations on the SGY Archive: ‘Scotland and Catalonia: the path to home rule‘.

I first met Richard McAllister, then Lecturer at the Department of Politics of the University of Edinburgh, on occasion of the meeting of the Salzburg Global Seminar on ‘European-American relations’ in mid February 1983. Some thirty years later, I remember vividly our conversations walking on the thick ice of the frozen pond in the back of the magnificent Schloss Leopoldskron. My request for his advice was related to the possibility of my coming to Edinburgh to embark in a PhD programme, pending on the award of a scholarship, which eventually the Spanish Ministry of Education granted me after a competitive process. At that time I was finishing my term of office as elected member of the local council in an industrial town in the outskirts of Madrid (Torrejón de Ardoz). Indeed, those were exciting times as I felt that with my personal contribution I was helping to make possible Spain’s institutional transition from dictatorship to democracy. But I also felt that I was better suited to re-start my academic career as a political scientist. Being in the ‘trenches’ as a politician had also taught me how difficult at times it is to ‘swallow a toad every day for breakfast’, as a colleague used to joke about regarding the wheeling and dealing of the old political art of the possible.

As I had become more interested in the territorial politics of decentralisation with my involvement in the institutional articulation of the Madrid region within the emerging quasi-federal State of the Autonomies (Estado de las Autonomìas), my plan was to do research on Scotland’s devolution. As a vocational comparativist, I pondered that the most plausible study to carry out was between Scotland and Catalonia. Both stateless nations have shared a somewhat similar social configuration as communities with analogous perceptions, interpretations and aspirations for home rule. However, and as far as the achievement of institutional forms of self-government is concerned, Scotland and Catalonia have not always followed parallel processes over the last decades. I was particularly motivated to find out and explain why the most influential modern schools of thought (functionalist and Marxist, in their various variants) had insisted that both territories were failed national communities which were bound to disappear, an assertion that have been repeatedly falsified in contemporary times.

In Salzburg I was advised to get in touch with McAllister’s colleague at the Politics Department, Henry Drucker, who later agreed to become my PhD supervisor. When I arrived in Edinburgh to begin my doctoral research I experienced a certain disdain towards my task: “You are a rara avis being yourself a madrileño writing on Catalonia, aren’t you? Have you heard Thatcher stating that devolution is a ‘dead duck’? So Catalonia has arisen like a phoenix bird after 40 year of General Franco’s dictatorship?” … Rara avis, dead duck, phoenix… It seemed I was about to write a dissertation on ornithology rather than on political science. But I was very lucky to meet Henry Drucker.

As David McCrone and Lindsay Paterson have rightly pointed out in their account posted in this blog, the late Henry Drucker (1942-2002) was not only the promoter of the Unit for the Study of Government in Scotland and the Scottish Government Yearbooks, but he also helped to lay the basis for Edinburgh becoming a major centre for multidisciplinary research, teaching and writing. Indeed I was fortunate to have Henry Drucker as my thesis director. He had co-authored with Gordon Brown (British Chancellor of Exchequer and subsequent Prime Minister in the period 1997-2010) the book, The Politics of Devolution and Nationalism (1980). Other than providing invaluable academic guidance, Henry was very helpful with my practical field work. With his gifted managerial capability, Henry Drucker was able to ‘find’ £200 plus VAT [£230] for System Three to include in its survey what later has been coined as ‘The Moreno Question’. My wording was: ‘We are interested to know how people living in Scotland see themselves in terms of their nationality. Which of the statements on this card best describes how you regard yourself?’

  1. Scottish, not British;
  2. More Scottish than British;
  3. Equally Scottish and British;
  4. More British than Scottish;
  5. British, not Scottish.

A sample of 965 adults aged 18 and over were interviewed at home in 39 sampling points throughout Scotland over the period 26 June/1 July 1986.

When I passed my doctoral viva voce in September 1986, developments regarding Scottish devolution were gradually putting behind the fiasco of the 1979 Referendum. By contrast, the 1979 Statute of Autonomy had already allowed Catalonia to exercise an extensive degree of home rule. Nearly three decades later the two countries were on the brink of independence. Indeed, the Scottish ‘duck’ resurrected and came close to fly on its own after the referendum held in September 18, 2014. Two months later, the Catalans tried to follow the example of the Scottish flight in a public consultation which had previously been declared unconstitutional. The two countries now face scenarios of gaining deeper home rule within an interdependent European Union. For the foreseeable future, it cannot be adduced that both national communities are to be homogenised and dissolved within the British and Spanish polities, can it?

Luis Moreno, December 2014

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