Understanding policy divergence after United Kingdom devolution: Strategic action fields in Scottish energy efficiency policy

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This paper examines diverging energy efficiency policy in Scotland and England, consequent on UK devolved government. It makes two main contributions. First it provides new empirical insights into the political dynamics of energy efficiency policy divergence by analysing Scotland’s divergence from policy in England, in the context of UK devolution. Second it introduces the concept of strategic action fields (SAF) to extend institutionalist approaches to analysing energy policy governance. Use of the SAF concept shows that formal devolution of powers is necessary but not sufficient to explain policy divergence; the political process creates scope for interpretative flexibility to enable differential policy and institutional innovations. Contrasting political-economic objectives in successive UK Conservative-led, and Scottish SNP-led, governments have sustained a motive for Scottish policy divergence. UK government political narratives centred on liberalised markets, prioritising short-term energy supply prices, reducing ‘green levies’ on tariffs and ending public funding for energy efficiency. Scottish government political narratives centred on a social market model, cultivating a strategic action field to legitimise commitments to universal retrofit of building stock. Lacking powers over energy supply, Scottish policy-makers articulated a whole systems approach to reducing carbon emissions, constituting demand-side policies as welfare, climate and economic gains, rather than as cost burdens. The result is a more comprehensive, planned, approach in Scotland than England, with specific policy institutions and funding.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102121
JournalEnergy Research & Social Science
Early online date1 Jun 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Jun 2021


  • building energy efficiency
  • net zero
  • policy divergence
  • devolved government
  • Scotland
  • England


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