We noted in the first chapter that Scotland’s position within the United Kingdom was difficult to describe using the familiar categories of political science. It is undeniably ‘different’ in ways which we have explored, yet it remains part of a unitary state and political system. The problem lies in the nature of the British state itself and its gradual evolution over time in response to immediate, pragmatic considerations, together with a traditional British reluctance to debate general principles or frankly address the question of power, its distribution and control. Generations of students have been instructed in the wonders of the ‘British Constitution’, that unwritten set of understandings and procedures whose flexibility permitted the transition from monarchy to democracy without a violent break. Yet the truth is that in Britain the language of constitutionalism, is the sense of a debate about the distribution and control of power (Pereira Menaut, 1986), is almost unknown. Instead, all such questions have been swept under the rubric of ‘parliamentary sovereignty’, the ability of the unitary legislature to exercise untrammelled power. The revival of nationalism in the British periphery from the late 1960s raised serious questions about the adequacy of this Westminster interpretation of British politics and stimulated new approaches to understanding the United Kingdom and Scotland’s place within it.
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