Art of the possible: framing self-government in Scotland and Flanders
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Brown Swan, Coree Anne
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Sub-state nationalist parties mobilised and saw an increase in electoral support in the 1960s and 1970s. A heterogeneous group of parties, they are united by their claims upon the state in favour of self-government. However, sub-state nationalist parties advance a variety of goals, ranging from more moderate forms of recognition and cultural or political autonomy, to more radical restructuring of the state along federal lines, to even more radical demands for political independence. The language, content, and arguments in favour of these goals varies – both between parties and within individual parties’ over time. As a result, we know less than we should about self-government goals themselves. This research asks two core questions. Firstly, what do sub-state nationalist parties want? And more importantly, operating from the assumption that sub-state nationalist parties are strategic actors, how do their goals reflect strategic considerations, understanding of the contexts in which they are expressed, and their historical positions? By comparing three cases, a third question can be explored, assessing the ways in which variation in the empirical contexts in which these goals are articulated may manifest in variation in the framing of self-government goals. In this research, I argue the self-government goal presented by a given sub-state nationalist party can be considered a reflection of the ‘art of the possible’, a pragmatic articulation of what might be achieved under a system of constraints rather than the single-minded pursuit of self-government, regardless of its costs and consequences. In order to fully capture the complexity of self-government goals and the contexts in which they are expressed, three case studies, in two territorial contexts, are studied in depth. The first is the Scottish National Party, which seeks political independence for Scotland. The other two are parties which emerged in Flanders, the Volksunie, which existed between 1954 and 2001, and its successor, the Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie. These cases represent some of the most successful sub-state nationalist parties, both in electoral terms, particularly in recent years, and arguably in making progress towards their self-government goals.