National Identity and Attitudes towards Europe and Immigration in Autonomist Parties (Fellowship)

  • van der Zwet, Arno (Fellow)

Project: Research Fellowship

Project Details


The most influential theoretical models in the literature on nationalism and national identities distinguish between civic and ethnocultural national identities. The main implication of these models is that the former are conceptualised as more inclusive whereas the latter are considered more exclusive. However, such models have come under increased scrutiny and have received considerable criticism.

This project operationalises the civic versus ethnocultural model in the context of two autonomist parties, the Scottish National Party in the United Kingdom and the Frisian National Party in the Netherlands. First, it explores the validity of this model in both parties by examining whether a distinction between civic and ethnocultural national identities can be made. Second, it aims to analyse how different conceptions relate to attitudes towards immigration and European integration in these parties.

The project adopts a mixed method approach that includes quantitative analysis of party memberships’ survey data, to uncover general trends, and semi-structured interviews with party elites as well as documentary analysis, to uncover the underlying mechanisms. It also works towards the development of a grant proposal for a large scale cross-country comparative project that investigates territorial identities and their impact on political attitudes and behaviour in autonomist parties.

Key findings

This research projects examined the implications of different conceptions of national identity held by members and affiliates of the Scottish National Party and Frisian National Party. The research demonstrates that national identity can be considered as multi-dimensional. It reveals that four dimensions – civic, ethnic, territory and culture - are non-competitively related to each other and that national identity can be conceptualised as consisting of ‘layers’; a base layer which is made up of criteria on which almost everybody agrees . This base layer can be ‘topped up’ with other dimensions that are considered part of the nation’s identity by some and therefore more controversial. As such the findings challenge traditional binary models that have remained prominent in the literature.

On the other hand, the research findings demonstrate that the prominence given to certain aspects of national identity can have a significant impact on policy positions. First, there is a strong relation between those that include a more exclusive – ethnic - dimension in their conceptualisation of national identities and having more negative attitudes towards cultural pluralism. For civic autonomist parties maintaining an inclusive party image is an important consideration as any doubts over the nature of nationalism the party advocates can be very damaging. Therefore, the party mainstream tends to guard the party’s civic image carefully and is quick to discredit members and supporters that express more negative linkages between national identity and cultural pluralism.

Also in relation to attitudes towards Europe there is a significant relation between those that include a more exclusive dimension in their conception of national identity and attitudes towards European integration process. One key finding in the context of attitudes towards European integration is that autonomist parties should not be regarded as uniformly pro-European – despite strong mainstream support - and that more negative views demonstrate a significant relation with exclusive conceptions of national identity. In the case of the SNP the findings have important implications in relation to the independence referendum where the party mainstream places Scottish independence within the framework of European integration but within the party there is a significant minority that do not support such a position. The findings also provide important insights into how conceptions of (post) sovereignty are linked to national identity.
Effective start/end date1/03/1228/02/14


  • ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council): £70,783.00

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities


  • National identity
  • sub-state nationalism
  • Territorial politics
  • Immigration
  • European integration
  • Scottish National Party
  • Frisian National Party


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