The politics of devolution
The politics of devolution

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The politics of devolution

3.2 Sub-state forms of nationalism

The advancement of democracy in contemporary Western nation-states and the intensification of globalisation processes have encouraged the re-emergence of nationalist movements representing oppressed or silenced nations that demand the right to self-determination. In the case of ethnic groups formed by people of immigrant origin, democracy has provided them with the tools to pursue the right to develop and practice their indigenous culture and language alongside those of the host country. One very important point in any theory of ethnicity concerns its dual nature: there is an ethnicity that members of a group claim and feel for themselves, but there is also the ethnicity which is attributed to them by others. There is also the more complex possibility that the claimed or felt ethnicity of group members may be shaped by that which is attributed to them by others. Although nation-states often corrode subordinate ethnicities, some nation-states may define themselves as ‘multicultural’ or ‘multi-ethnic’. This is the case in the UK, and also in the USA and other countries.

The rise of sub-state forms of nationalism in Europe and elsewhere can be interpreted as being a product of globalisation. The globalisation of the economy and social relations has contributed to the transformation of the nation-state and also seems to have contributed to the intensification of regional forms of nationalism. Globalisation, which involves greater awareness of diversity as it stresses interdependence between peoples, markets and cultures, is not an even process. Access to the technology that facilitates globalisation is restricted to certain nations, individuals and groups being dependent on certain means and resources. On the one hand, globalisation contains the potential for creating a world in which a greater number of cultures interact with one another. On the other, it also contains the potential for cultural homogenisation, where a single culture expands globally to the detriment of other cultures. This perceived threat is one of the key factors contributing to the revitalisation of minority cultures, many of which are struggling to find a niche in the global marketplace. Control over education and the mass media are crucial for nations who wish to promote their own languages and specific cultures. However, these nations should acknowledge that their languages and cultures will have to survive alongside more powerful ones that are gradually permeating – and influencing – all aspects of life. Minority cultures struggling to survive can only do so by entering an unequal contest with a major global culture.

One of the key elements in the construction of national identity is a shared history formed by memories of a community having suffered and thrived together. Making history not only involves selecting some specific events critical to the life of the nation, but also includes the collective forgetting of some events. It even leads to the modification and invention of memorable and dramatic experiences endured by the community. History emphasizes the transcendent character of the nation, expanding well beyond the life span of any individual. Equally importantly, history also portrays the nation as a community of fate.


  1. Briefly, note down what is meant by the terms state, nation, and nation-state.

  2. What does it mean to say that Scotland and Wales are nations without states?


1. Your answer should include the points listed below.

  • The state is a political institution.

  • The nation refers to a cultural community attached to a clearly demarcated territory, having a common past and a common project for the future and claiming the right to rule itself.

  • The nation-state is a modern political institution, defined by a type of state which seeks to unite the people subjected to its rule by means of cultural homogenisation. Most nation-states are not homogeneous and contain various minority national and ethnic groups within their territory.

2. Although Scotland and Wales are recognisable nations in the terms set out above, they are presently sub-units of the larger nation-state of the UK. The powers they exercise under their devolved Parliament are curtailed: for example they have no powers to determine foreign or defence policy. A nation-state has a full range of state institutions – legislature, executive, armed forces, civil service, etc; in theory it exercises full powers over its own territory in matters of politics and economics; and part of its claim to sovereignty includes a monopoly of the legitimate use of force within its territory. Thus you can understand that for some areas of Belfast (both Republican and Unionist) to be ‘no-go’ areas for the police and army represented a serious challenge to the state.


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