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The author provides a critical response to the social scientific literature that cast political interest and cleavages as the projection of sociocultural dynamics onto the political scene. Sociopolitical cleavages in general, and nationalism in particular, are thus viewed as having taken form outside the partisan arena, and only subsequent to their societal formation do they take on political importance. Through a comparison of the development of political nationalism in interwar Scotland and Flanders, the author argues for the importance of political forces in defining and shaping the political and social meaning and significance of nationalism. In Scotland, despite the potential popular appeal of nationalism, it does not emerge as a significant and autonomous political cleavage, principally due to configurations of partisan programs and alliances, and a politically unfavorable "demographic geometry." In Flanders, on the other hand, markedly different political conditions fostered the development and societal significance of nationalism. Hence, political nationalism did not emerge as a necessary concomitant to societal and cultural change; it was in part the result of political conditions and institutions that could foster or constrain the sociopolitical significance and meaning of nationalism.