Variation in secessionism among sub-state nationalists is part of one of the great puzzles of ethnic politics. Sub-state national movements tend to bifurcate and, at times, trifurcate, into two or three basic nationalist orientations: independentist nationalism, autonomist nationalism (and its sub-variants), and federalist nationalism (and its sub-variants). There is a dearth of systematic comparative research into the sources and patterns of internal variation in the political orientations of sub-state national movements. This article investigates why some sub-state nationalists opt for a secessionist orientation while other nationalists within the same national movement opt for a variety of non-secessionist orientations. I use evidence gathered in Quebec and Catalonia, consisting of 42 interviews among the top leadership of the eight national parties of these societies, 15 focus group interviews with party militants, and 370 questionnaires answered by militants, etc. The national consciousness and materialist approaches fail to elucidate these issues. Instead, sub-state nationalists have expectations about what is fair treatment by the central state, and notions about what obligations emerge due to common membership in a plurinational state. Independentists and strong decentralizers (strong autonomists and radical asymmetric federalists) opt for their chosen orientations because they perceive that central state institutions are unable to promote an ethos of plurinational reciprocity and are aggrieved by state nationalism, while less-decentralizing nationalists (weak autonomists and traditional federalists) assert that the central state is capable of accommodation and reciprocity and have no grievances about state nationalism.