by Dr Karlo Basta
Whoever determines what politics is about runs the country, because the definition of the alternatives is the choice of conflicts, and the choice of conflicts allocates power. So wrote the American political scientist Elmer Schattschneider some six decades ago. His point was that worthy perspectives on major issues may be almost entirely left out of the public debate.
In Scotland, the main political divide for the past decade ran between two increasingly sharply defined alternatives – independence or union. Discussions of other perspectives have come to be confined to specialised circles of academics and policy-makers. UK Labour’s recent proposals for constitutional reform constitute one attempt to broaden the menu of choices, but there is room for more options still.
One obstacle to such broadening of perspectives relates to the tendency to equate Scottish nationalism with support for independence. Sub-state nationalism, however, is compatible with a much broader range of institutional options: from independence, through confederalism, to various configurations of territorial and non-territorial self-government. Indeed, there is precedent for this kind of thinking within the Scottish National Party itself. This is a particularly important point to make at a time when support for Scottish independence remains high while politically and constitutionally feasible paths to the pursuit of independence seem closed for the foreseeable future.
In order to contribute to this kind of thinking, the Centre on Constitutional Change will host a series of five blogs on non-secessionist nationalist parties in what can loosely be termed the regions and countries of the Global North: Quebec (Canada), Catalonia and Basque Country (Spain), Flanders (Belgium), and South Tyrol (Italy).
Each of these regions is unique in terms of constitutional status; historical evolution; and relative demographic, political, and economic weight. Some have seen decades-long and electorally successful secessionist movements, others have not. What unites them is that they have all been governed by explicitly nationalist parties that did not – or did not always – pursue independence as an immediate policy goal.
Each party, as the contributions to this series will show, managed to build political influence, and leverage it to obtain for their region some combination of new powers, additional resources, and/or constitutional gains. As significantly, each party has been electorally successful for extended periods of time, in some cases for decades. Of course, every trajectory was distinctive as parties faced different opportunities and constraints. Our expert contributors address both of these aspects and draw out implications for the present and future for the regions in question.
Every one of these situations is interesting and important on its own terms. Taken together, they exemplify the range of pathways available to nationalist parties that fall short of independence. We hope that this series will contribute to thinking that goes beyond the familiar political and constitutional alternatives.
Dr Karlo Basta is Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Edinburgh, and co-director of the Centre on Constitutional Change