Regional demands for cultural rights, for full civic rights which are being suppressed by central government, or for partial or total autonomy from the central government, are often voiced even in well-established ‘nation states’, and may take the form of regional political parties, calls for referendums, demonstrations and civil resistance or violent resistance. The movements in the Basque region of Spain – where despite success for moderate nationalists ETA has waged a prolonged armed struggle, and the rise since 2010 of a nonviolent Catalan nationalism, illustrate these tendencies. There are regional movements with varying degrees of public support in Italy (Sardinian activists proposed in 2014 that Sardinia should secede and become a canton of Switzerland), and in France (for example in Brittany). Where there are divisions within a region based on ethnicity, language or religion political solutions may be undermined by bitterness and tension, as in Kosovo’s moves towards independence (see Vol. 1. Guide to Civil Resistance, D.I.).
In this section we are not attempting a comprehensive coverage of regional movements, but focus on those within the UK, which illustrate a variety of different political approaches and issues. Nationalists in Scotland have made major gains primarily through the political process: in September 2014 the nationalists won 44.7 per cent of the votes in a turnout of over 84 per cent of the electorate in an independence referendum, and the Scots were promised further significant measures of devolution. Radical nationalists engaged in a few spectacular exploits – for example four Scottish students removed then symbolic Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1951 – and a few symbolic targets such as letter boxes in Scotland with the Queen’s name were bombed or dynamited. But these were a temporary and minority part of a predominantly constitutional campaign, which is not directly relevant to this Guide.
Movements which are relevant are the nonviolent action campaign for the use of the Welsh language in Wales, and the examples of civil resistance – in particular the Civil Rights Movement of 1967-73 – in Northern Ireland. Welsh nationalists have otherwise primarily pursued a political path towards greater autonomy through Plaid Cymru contesting elections. The position in Northern Ireland is however complicated by its broader history within the movement for Irish independence, the divisions between the Protestant and Catholic communities with their distinct political allegiances, and the legacy of armed struggle embodied by the IRA (and in the late 1960s the Provisional IRA). Northern Ireland illustrates how nonviolent resistance can be overtaken by violent resistance and how this can lead in turn to inter-communal violence. But on the positive side Northern Ireland illustrates too the scope for creative initiatives towards reconciliation and peacemaking from below, which is another reason for including it here. Moreover, the long political peace process in Northern Ireland, involving both the British and Irish governments as well as parties on the ground and US mediators, has – despite continuing evidence of tensions – become a model for resolving bitter political conflicts in other parts of the world.