Contesting the austerity and “welfare reform” narrative of the UK Government: Forging a social democratic imaginary in Scotland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The “welfare reform” narrative of successive Conservative-led UK Government emphasises public spending reductions, individual responsibility and strengthening of benefit conditionality. The purpose of this paper is to cast light on how this narrative is challenged and disrupted by the Scottish Government through their articulation of a social democratic welfare state imaginary.

The study draws together a decentred governance perspective that emphasises ideational tradition for understanding (re)construction of governance (Bevir, 2013, p. 27) with critical discourse analysis to examine how welfare interpretations/representations are carried into the policy and public arena. The Scottish Government documents are deconstructed to interrogate the ideas and form of their emergent discourse and its relation to the independence referendum and welfare governance reform.

Responding to changing socio-economic contexts and welfare governance, the Scottish Government has developed a discourse of modernisation rooted in British and Scandinavian social democratic traditions. Fusing (civic) nationalism with social wage and social investment concepts, they conjure up imaginaries of a prosperous, solidaristic, egalitarian welfare state as a feasible future reality, recuperating “welfare” as a collective endeavour and positioning a maldistribution of power/resources between groups and constituent countries of the UK as the “problem”.

The paper is of value to those interested in how changes to centralised-hierarchical welfare governance can open new spaces for actors at different levels of government to articulate counter-hegemonic discourses and practices. Its originality lies in the analysis of how the Scottish Government has reworked social democratic traditions to weave together a welfare imaginary that directly contests the problem-solution narrative of successive Conservative-led UK Governments.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)639-654
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Sociology and Social Policy
Issue number11-12
Early online date10 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • UK
  • discourse
  • austerity
  • social democracy
  • social investment
  • welfare reform


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