Explaining accommodation and resistance to demands for independence referendums in the UK and Spain

Daniel Cetra* (Corresponding Author), Malcolm Harvey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)
7 Downloads (Pure)


This article examines why the UK Government accepted the 2014 Scottish independence referendum while the Spanish Government opposes a similar referendum in Catalonia. Adopting a most similar research design, we argue that the variation is best explained by perceived political opportunities by the two ruling parties. These are embedded in different conceptions of the state and constitutional designs, mostly mononational in Spain and mostly plurinational in the UK but multiple and contested in both cases. In Spain, vote‐seeking calculations incentivise the Popular Party to oppose a referendum, while its mononational conception of the state and the Spanish constitutional design provide a further constraint and a discursive justification for their position. In the UK, David Cameron's accommodating position was based on the view that the Scottish referendum was low risk – as support for independence was minimal – with a high reward: the annihilation of the independence demand. The Conservatives have recently adopted a more restrictive position because seeming political advantage has changed. The findings suggest that independence referendums will continue to be rare events.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)607-629
Number of pages23
JournalNations and Nationalism
Issue number2
Early online date3 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019

Bibliographical note

We would like to thank the anonymous referees for their helpful suggestions, which contributed to improving the article. We are also very grateful to Professor Michael Keating, Professor David McCrone, Dr Wilfried Swenden and Dr Ivan Serrano for their insightful comments on earlier versions of this manuscript.


  • Catalonia
  • nationalism
  • Scotland
  • secession
  • state


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