The 2014 Scottish Referendum and the Nationalism-Social Policy Nexus

Daniel Béland, André Lecours


During the campaign leading to the 2014 Scottish referendum on independence, social policy issues played a central role. This article explains the nature of Scottish nationalist mobilization and its relationship with social policy, from the drive for ‘home rule’ in the 1980s and early-mid 1990s to the 2014 referendum campaign. As shown, the idea that Scotland must become independent from the United Kingdom to protect its more progressive nation from social policy retrenchment originating from the central (British) government appeared long before the 2014 referendum campaign. In fact, the march towards devolution in the 1980s and early to mid-1990s had featured a similar argument about how political autonomy could enable Scots to make social policy better suited to their social democratic preferences. Through a comparison with the 1980 and 1995 Québec referendums on sovereignty, this article offers a comparative and historical perspective on the social policy debate surrounding the Scottish referendum while focusing primarily on health care and pensions.


Nationalism; social policy; referendum; independence; Scotland

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@Canadian Political Science Review (CPSR). ISSN 1911-4125