Why Stay Together? State Nationalism and Justifications for State Unity in Spain and the UK

Coree Brown Swan* (Corresponding Author), Daniel Cetrà

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)
10 Downloads (Pure)


This paper examines the way party elites in the UK and Spain discursively construct the nation and justify state integrity in the face of resurgent Catalan and Scottish demands for self-determination and independence. While in each case there is a plurality of conceptions of the state, in Spain the demos is predominantly defined as a single, indivisible nation of equal citizens while in the UK the focus is typically on a plurinational Union. This, we contend, shapes the arguments made in favor of state unity. The dominant case for state integrity in Spain is more negative, focused primarily on the unconstitutionality of independence and delegitimizing the independence agenda. In the UK, the predominant appeal to the Union is more positive and instrumental: as the country is perceived as a partnership entered into willingly, a case must be made for its continuation. This paper seeks to contribute to the understanding of state nationalism and political dynamics in plurinational states by shedding light on the ways in which party elites understand and legitimize the state at moments of profound internal challenge.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)46-65
Number of pages20
JournalNationalism and Ethnic Politics
Issue number1
Early online date19 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

We are grateful to Michael Keating, Michael Kenny, Jennifer Todd, Xose Manoel Nunez Seixas and the Politics Department of the University of Edinburgh for their insightful comments on earlier versions of this article.


  • majority nationalism
  • unionism
  • self-determination
  • state unity
  • territorial integrity
  • elite discourse
  • Scotland
  • Catalonia


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