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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Separatist parties in central parliaments McGovern, Clare


This dissertation examines separatist political parties who compete in central elections and sit in central legislatures, focusing on the Scottish National Party, the 19th-century Irish Parliamentary Party and the Bloc Québécois. These cases represent an intriguing paradox: politicians who engage with the very institutions they wish to leave, using the existing political system to make a case for exit. Contrary to previous scholarly work on anti-system parties, my findings suggest that separatists do not always attack the political system. Indeed, they sometimes participate actively in institutions, despite being fundamentally opposed to the current constitutional set-up. These parties vary their electoral and legislative behaviour over time, in response to the potential for self-government and the structure of electoral competition. When self-government is taken off the immediate political agenda (for example after a failed referendum) I find that parties get more involved in parliamentary activities at the statewide level, beginning to use the legislature as a platform for their region's grievances. When self-government is imminent, separatists only participate in parliament if they are pivotal and therefore able to bargain over the terms of self-government. In election campaigns, separatists do not always focus on their region's grievances and their desire for independence. Grieving occurred most frequently when the separatist party was competing with the government party, as it was in its electoral interest to paint a negative picture of the region's fortunes, blaming this on the electoral rival. However, when competing with the official opposition party, separatists campaigned as the region's champion in the central legislature, claiming credit for services that their region has received. In doing so, they tacitly supported the constitutional status quo, arguing that their region can prosper in the existing system.

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