UK Devolution in the Shadow of Hierarchy: Intergovernmental Relations and Party Politics

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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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)488–509
Number of pages30
JournalComparative European Politics
Issue number4-5
Early online date26 May 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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