This article will address the assumption that the essential definition of nationalism is parliamentary political. By highlighting the solitary Scottish nationalist movement in the mid-nineteenth century, the National Association for the Vindication of Scottish Rights, this article asks whether a ‘centralised’ state for the Scottish nation should be the model against which nationalism is interpreted. By developing the concept of ‘civil society’ as both ‘container’ and ‘director’ of nationalism, this article will show the influence of a ‘decentralised’ state to conceptions of ‘best-governing’. By stressing the contradictions in the legitimacy of the British state mid-century, it will be argued that Scottish nationalism can not be regarded as merely romantic, nor, as its outcome, can Scottish culture be presented as somehow weak. This article will argue that intellectual thought regarding the state meant that the only form of nationalism at this time was ‘Unionist-nationalism’, more union with England, not less.