Speaking for 'Our Precious Union': Unionist Claims in the Time of Brexit (2016-2020)

Daniel Cetra* (Corresponding Author), Coree Brown Swan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
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Brexit and its implications pose the latest challenge to the Union as a political project and to unionism as the doctrine of state legitimacy. How did key unionist actors articulate the legitimizing foundations of the Union in the critical period 2016–20? And to what extent did they set out a renewed case for its continuation? Drawing on an extensive database including parliamentary debates, party documents and conference notes, we find that, despite the profound nature of the challenges posed by Brexit, dominant legitimizing claims continued to be instrumentalist defences of the Union rooted in economics and welfare. These were underpinned by ideas of social union around shared solidarity and belonging and supplemented by an invocation of common British values. Overall, while we identify a plurality of competing and often conflicting unionist themes, we conclude that key unionist actors struggled to adapt the legitimizing foundations of their political project to the realities of a post-Brexit UK.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)646-660
Number of pages16
JournalTerritory, Politics, Governance
Issue number5
Early online date19 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Open access via T&F agreement
The research for this article was undertaken as part of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)-funded project ‘Between Two Unions: The Constitutional Future of the Islands after Brexit’ [grant number ES/P009441/1].


  • Union
  • Unionism
  • Nationalism
  • Scottish independence
  • Brexit
  • UK


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