The implications of the 2011 Scottish election and the proposed referendum on Scottish independence for the future of social policy across the devolved UK are profound but far from certain. It is crucial to understand not only the historical nature of this conjuncture but to develop an adequate conceptual understanding of the place of social policy in the dialectic between state and nation in Scotland. To this end, we critically examine theories that depict Scotland as an essentially ‘stateless nation’ in the light of recent developments. In so doing, we examine the implications for social policy of the changing character of statehood in Scotland, the nature of civil nationalism, and the problem of legitimacy in Scotland for the UK as a multinational state. As the architecture of statehood is re-negotiated, strong centrifugal pressures are being created for a more distinct divergence of social policy in Scotland from the rest of the UK regardless of the outcome of the independence referendum. Policy-making is ensnared in a series of tensions, not just between Westminster and Holyrood but also, more broadly, tensions between competing principles of social justice and territorial justice, and competing demands between welfare nationalism and competitive nationalism.