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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

Abstract

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.

Keywords

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

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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

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