Devolution and the shifting political economic geographies of the United Kingdom

Mike Danson, Gordon MacLeod, Gerry Mooney

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    12 Citations (Scopus)


    In the aftermath of its sweeping election to power in 1997 the New Labour government moved quickly on its preelection pledge to deliver for the United Kingdom a comprehensive programme of devolution and constitutional change. To a certain extent devolution was considered to be the Labour Party's `unfinished business' following an eighteen-year period that had witnessed a gradual decline in the legitimacy of Conservative rule in the Celtic nations (Mitchell, 2006). It was also heralded as a timely modernisation of territorial government, whereby the uneven and differentiated administrative devolution that had unfolded across the UK's landscape since the late Victorian era - featuring a Scottish Office (since 1885), a Welsh Office (1964), a Stormont parliament in Belfast (1921), and the Government Offices for the Regions in England (1994) would be injected with new democratic credentials and an enhanced policy relevance befitting the era of globalisation and the multilevel government of the European Union. To this extent the peculiarity of the UK's historical and political geography was given due expression in the new constitutional map that emerged in 1999, featuring an elected Parliament for Scotland, elected Assemblies for Wales and Northern Ireland, a directly elected Mayor and Assembly for London, and unelected regional development agencies (RDAs) for the rest of England. Not surprisingly, this momentous agenda of political and institutional reform provoked intense interest from academic and research communities, as throughout the early-to-mid 2000s The Leverhulme Trust's Nations and Regions programme ran in parallel alongside the ESRC's Devolution and Constitutional Change initiative. It is impossible here to do justice to each programme and their respective projects, but there is little denying that they offered a profusion of valuable periodical monitoring and mapping of the newly formed institutional arrangements (eg, Trench, 2004) as well as substantive analyses of emerging tendencies (eg, Adams and Schmuecker, 2006; Lodge and Schmuecker, 2010; Publius:The Journal of Federalism 2006; Regional Studies 2005; Trench, 2004) and fascinating insights into the postdevolution institutional architecture of particular territories (eg, Deacon and Sandry, 2007; Hazell, 2006; Keating, 2010; Paterson et al, 2001). Much of the most notable work has helped to uncover fresh intergovernmental networks, the asymmetrical relations of power and anomalies that have either intensified or come to the surface since 1999 (not least the West Lothian Question),(1) and the `lopsided' nature of the UK state given England's size and related `spillovers', as well as the scope for significant policy variation between the nations and regions and the extent to which devolution satisfies the democratic demands of citizens (Greer, 2009; Jeffery, 2007).
    While acknowledging our debt to these research programmes and to the studies highlighted above, which have illuminated key aspects of the devolution process, it is our contention that the moment is ripe for a renewal of critical debate on the political economy and political geography of devolution. In no small part is this prompted by the shifting geoeconomic landscape that punctuates the examination and analysis of devolution in 2012.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-9
    Number of pages9
    JournalEnvironment and Planning C: Government and Policy
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2012


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