Comparative European Politics

, Volume 12, Issue 4–5, pp 488–509 | Cite as

UK devolution in the shadow of hierarchy? Intergovernmental relations and party politics

  • Wilfried Swenden
  • Nicola McEwen
Original Article


This article looks at the dynamics of intergovernmental relations (IGR) in the context of UK devolution and how these have been affected by the more widespread occurrence of party incongruence since 2007. As predicted by the hypotheses in the introduction to this special issue, we first show how the asymmetric design of devolution is conducive to bilateral and weakly institutionalised IGR, and how the asymmetric design of UK devolution has been perpetuated since devolution was implemented in 1999. Yet, although devolution (unlike federalism) implies a constitutional hierarchy between levels, in the second part of the article we demonstrate that UK governments have used their constitutional muscle with some restraint, in part for fear of losing electoral support and legitimacy among their electorates. Finally, although the absence of wide-scale intergovernmental conflict in the face of party incongruence is consistent with the third hypothesis of the introduction, we argue that this is not simply the result of the devolved state alone, but also of other institutional features and the presence of political context in which neither the UK government nor the devolved governments would benefit from a path that prioritises intergovernmental conflict over cooperation.


devolution federalism intergovernmental relations independence party incongruence hierarchy sub-state nationalism UK Scotland 


  1. AWCR. (2009) All Wales Convention Report. All Wales Convention, November.Google Scholar
  2. BBC. (1 October 2009) Morgan’s bumpy path to the top, by Phil Parry,
  3. Birrell, J. (2012) Intergovernmental relations and political parties in Northern Ireland. British Journal of Politics and Intergovernmental Relations 14 (2): 270–284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bogdanor, V. (1979) Devolution, 1st edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Bogdanor, V. (1999) Devolution in the United Kingdom, 2nd revised edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Bradbury, J. (1998) The devolution debate in Wales: The politics of a developing union state? Regional & Federal Studies 8(1): 120–139. Reprinted in Elcock, H. and Keating, M. (eds.) (1998) Remaking the Union, Devolution and British Politics in the 1990s. London: Frank Cass, pp. 120–139.Google Scholar
  7. Cairney, P. (2006) Venue shift following devolution: When reserved meets devolved in Scotland. Regional and Federal Studies 16 (4): 429–445.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cairney, P. (2012) Intergovernmental relations in Scotland. What was the SNP effect? British Journal of Politics and International Relations 14 (2): 231–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Elazar, D.J. (1988) Exploring Federalism. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press.Google Scholar
  10. Evans, M. (2003) Constitution-Making and the Labour Party. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gallagher, J. (2012) Intergovernmental relations in the UK: Co-operation, competition and constitutional change. British Journal of Politics and International Relations 14 (2): 198–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Giordano, B. and Roller, E. (2004) ‘Té para todos’? A comparison of the processes of devolution in Spain and the UK. Environment and Planning A 36 (12): 2163–2181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Good Friday Agreement. (1998) Agreement reached in the multi-party negotiations,
  14. Hazell, R. (2006) The English question. Publius: The Journal of Federalism 36 (1): 37–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hazell, R. (2010) The Conservative Agenda for Constitutional Reform. London: The Constitution Unit, UCL.Google Scholar
  16. HM Government and Scottish Government. (2012) Agreement between the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Government on a referendum on independence for Scotland, Edinburgh, 15 October,
  17. Héritier, A. and Lehmkuhl, D. (2008) Introduction: The shadow of hierarchy and new modes of governance. Journal of Public Policy 28 (1): 1–17.Google Scholar
  18. Hooghe, L., Marks, G. and Schakel, A. (eds.) (2008) Regional authority in 42 countries 1950–2006. A measure and five hypothesis. Special Issue, Regional and Federal Studies 18 (2–3): 111–302.Google Scholar
  19. House of Commons Justice Committee (HCJC). (2008) Devolution: A Decade On. Fifth Report of Session 2008–2009, Vol. 1, HC 529-I.Google Scholar
  20. House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution. (2002) Devolution: Inter-Institutional Relations in the United Kingdom, Session 2002–2003, 2nd Report, HL Paper 28.Google Scholar
  21. Jeffery, C. (2011) Devolution in the UK. In: M. Flinders, A. Gamble, C. Hay and M. Kenny (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of British Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Keating, M. (2001) Nations against the State. The New Politics of Nationalism in Quebec, Catalonia and Scotland, 2nd edn. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  23. Keating, M. (2009) The Independence of Scotland. Self-Government and the Shifting Politics of Union. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Keating, M. (2012) Intergovernmental relations and innovation: From co-operation to competitive welfare federalism in the UK. British Journal of Politics and International Relations 14 (2): 214–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Laffin, M., Shaw, E. and Taylor, G. (2007) The new sub-national politics of the British Labour Party. Party Politics 13: 88–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. McEwen, N., Swenden, W. and Bolleyer, N. (2012) Introduction: Political opposition in a multi-level context. British Journal of Politics and International Relations 14 (2): 187–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. McLean, I. and McMillan, A. (2005) State of the Union. Unionism and the Alternatives in the United Kingdom since 1707. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  28. MacPhail. (2008) Changing EU governance: A new opportunity for the Scottish Executive? Regional and Federal Studies 18 (1): 19–35.Google Scholar
  29. Midwinter, A., Keating, M. and Mitchell, J. (1991) Politics and Public Policy in Scotland. Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Mitchell, J. (2003) Governing Scotland: The Invention of Administrative Devolution. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Mitchell, J. (2009) Devolution in the UK. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Office for National Statistics (ONS). (2012) Regional GVA NUTS 1, 12 December,
  33. Parry, R. (2012) The civil service and intergovernmental relations in the post-devolution UK. British Journal of Politics and International Relations 14 (2): 285–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Poirier, J. (2001) The functions of intergovernmental agreements: Post-devolution concordats in a comparative perspective. Public Law 45: 134–157.Google Scholar
  35. Rokkan, S. and Urwin, D. (1982) The Politics of Territorial Identity. Studies in European Regionalism. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  36. Ruane, J. and Todd, J. (1996) The Dynamics of Conflict in Northern Ireland: Power, Conflict, and Emancipation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Scotland Office. (2012) Scotland’s constitutional future. A consultation on facilitating a legal, fair and decisive referendum on whether Scotland should leave the United Kingdom. Cmnd 8203. London: HMSO,
  38. Swenden, W. (2006) Federalism and Regionalism in Western Europe. A Comparative and Thematic Analysis. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  39. Tierney, S. (2008) Giving with one hand: Scottish devolution within a unitary state. In: S. Choudhry (ed.) Constitutional Design for Divided Societies. Integration or Accommodation? Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 438–460.Google Scholar
  40. Tonge, J. (2002) Northern Ireland: Conflict and Change. London: Pearson.Google Scholar
  41. Trench, A. (2004) Devolution: The withering-away of the joint ministerial committee? Public Law, pp. 513–517.Google Scholar
  42. Trench, A. (ed.) (2007) Washing dirty linen in private: The processes of intergovernmental relations and the resolution of disputes. In: Devolution and Power in the UK. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, pp. 160–197.Google Scholar
  43. Trench, A. (2008) Intergovernmental Relations, Scotland Devolution Monitoring Report, January. London: Constitution Unit, University College London.Google Scholar
  44. Trench, A. (2012) The courts and devolution in the UK. British Journal of Politics and International Relations 14 (2): 303–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Watts, R.L. (1998) Federalism, federal political systems, and federations. Annual Review of Political Science 1: 117–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Wyn Jones, R. and Royles, E. (2012) Wales in the world, intergovernmental relations and sub-state diplomacy. British Journal of Politics and International Relations 14 (2): 250–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Wyn Jones, R. and Scully, R. (2012) Wales Says Yes: Devolution and the 2011 Welsh Referendum. Cardiff, UK: University of Wales Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wilfried Swenden
    • 1
  • Nicola McEwen
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Social and Political Science, University of EdinburghEdinburghUK
  2. 2.Academy of Government/Future of the UK and Scotland Hub, University of EdinburghEdinburghUK

Personalised recommendations