The Devolution and Constitutional Change Programme was set up by ESRC in 2000 to explore the series of devolution reforms which have established new political institutions in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, London and the other English regions since 1997.
35 research projects have been selected to pull together a critical mass of researchers from across the social sciences to dissect the implications of devolution for the UK state, society and economy.
This website introduces the Programme and its projects. It provides a record of the research which comes out of the Programme, and includes details of all Programme workshops, conferences and publications. It will also be developed as a wider reference resource for research
on devolution during the Programme's life (which ends in 2005).
Why a Research Programme on Devolution and Constitutional Change?
The Devolution and Constitutional Change Programme is a major, £4.7 million investment in social science research. It was launched against the backdrop of the unprecedented reforms to the structure of UK politics carried out since 1997. These reforms have set up the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Greater London Authority, and new institutions in the English regions.
The establishment of the new devolved institutions has far-reaching implications for society, for the political system, and for the management of the economy in the UK. The devolution reforms have opened up a dynamic process, with radical institutional change interacting with the complex identity structures of a multinational state to open up new forms of governance and new ways of delivering public policy.
Views on the likely outcomes of this process diverge. Some see the devolution dynamic as unstable, likely to produce conflict between different parts of the UK and end in the disintegration of the UK union. Others see the new territorial politics of devolution as a core part of a project of revitalising and strengthening democracy in a union whose structures had become outdated.
The ESRC Devolution and Constitutional Change Programme was designed to build a critical mass of research capacity to provide rigorous analysis of the impact and outcomes of devolution. It has been set two challenges. The first is to mobilise and develop insights from across the social science disciplines - political science, economics, geography and business studies, social policy, sociology and social anthropology, but also history and law - to get to a fuller understanding of the devolution dynamic and its implications for the UK.
The second challenge is to feed the research into policy debates. Devolution has opened up uncharted territory for policy-makers around the UK to negotiate. Academic research can provide some of the necessary 'route maps', identifying potential pitfalls and problem areas, setting out alternative options, and creating opportunities for policy learning through comparison with experience elsewhere.
Commissioning the Research Projects
Research for the Devolution and Constitutional Change Programme was commissioned in two phases and involves a total of 35 projects based at universities around the UK.
A first call for proposals was announced in December 1999. 141 project proposals were submitted, and eighteen of them were commissioned in July 2000. Most of these started their work between January and April 2001.
The second call for proposals followed in November 2000. This was based on a revised research specification and generated 149 proposals. Seventeen of these were commissioned in September 2001 and commenced their research during Spring 2002.
The Research Themes
The research questions driving the Devolution and Constitutional Change commissioning process were organised around three themes:
• Nationalism and National Identity: How do people in the different parts of the UK understand and participate in the new institutions? Do they identify themselves differently as a result of devolution? Does a common sense of Britishness still unite people from different parts of the UK, or have more exclusive national - English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish - identities become more important? How are people's attitudes to devolved and UK institutions shaped and portrayed through the educational process, civil society organisations and the media?
• Governance and Constitutional Matters: How well do the new devolved institutions work? How far is the UK 'centre' in Westminster and Whitehall having to change the way it works as a result of devolution? How effectively are devolved and UK-level matters coordinated in new forms of intergovernmental relationship? What are the implications for EU policy-making? What role can the courts play in shaping these relationships? How have political organisations which have traditionally operated UK-wide - political parties, interest groups, the civil service - had to respond to a new 'multi-levelled' politics?
• Economic and Social Policy: Does devolution result in the provision of different standards of public service, say in health or education, or in growing differentials in economic performance from one part of the UK to another? If so, does it matter? How can the economic policy decisions of the UK centre and the devolved institutions best be coordinated? How might public finance better be distributed in order to finance post-devolution responsibilities in different parts and at different levels of the UK? Is there a viable alternative to the 'Barnett formula'?
The Programme Advisory Board
An Advisory Board has been appointed to monitor the development of the Programme and assist the Programme Director in meeting the Programme's objectives. It meets twice per year and is chaired by Peter Riddell, The Times. List of members of the Advisory Board.
The Programme in Action
One of the reasons for organising research in a coordinated programme is to maximise the possibilities for interaction between different research projects, but also to link the Programme in a structured way to wider academic and policy debates. An extensive programme of workshops, conferences and events, run either by individual projects or by the Programme Office, provides a means of doing this. The Devolution Events Diary section of this website provides a list of forthcoming and past events.
Although the great mass of publications from the programme will emerge only as projects near completion, there is already a growing number in circulation. These include the quarterly monitoring reports on devolution developments in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England produced by teams around the UK and coordinated by the Constitution Unit at UCL. The progress of the Programme will also be documented by its published outputs, as well as by coverage in the press.
For further information about Devolution and Constitutional Change
please contact the Programme Office.