In the paper I address the empirical puzzle arising from different responses by political authorities in Spain and the UK to the existence of political parties integrated in the terrorist groups Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA, Basque Homeland and Freedom) and the Irish Republican Army. More specifically I address the question of why the radical Basque nationalist political party Herri Batasuna and its successors, and the republican parties Sinn Féin and the Republican Clubs, enjoyed periods of legality and illegality during periods in which they all were implicated in (separate) violent campaigns against established authorities. I adopt a ‘discursive institutionalist’ approach and argue that decisions to ban the political parties linked to the IRA and ETA can be explained at least in part by the dominance of a ‘discourse of intolerance’ in which proscription is seen predominantly as a problem of law and order; the banned party is deemed ‘abnormal’ and thus unworthy of usual privileges and entitlements; and where proscription is seen to positively contribute to ending violent conflict. In contrast, parties were legalized when a ‘discourse of tolerance’ predominated, where the role of parties for realization of free speech rights and representation is also emphasized, and where proscription is seen as inimical to resolution of conflict underpinning violence. In the context of party competition, a winning coalition is required for one discourse to predominate. However, I also argued that both ideas and institutions matter; varying institutional structures and norms empower different actors in the two countries with the result that unlike the UK, the judiciary are veto players in Spain and are able to overturn preferences of political parties on matters of proscription if they have not been in agreement.
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Political Studies Association Specialist Group Territorial Politics Biennial Conference, 2012