Giving with One Hand: Scottish Devolution within a Unitary State

Posted: 7 Jul 2008

See all articles by Stephen Tierney

Stephen Tierney

University of Edinburgh - School of Law

Date Written: October 2007


This essay employs Scottish devolution as a prism through which to examine two public policies used to manage national diversity: accommodation and integration. While an accommodationist discourse can certainly capture many of the substantive constitutional outcomes sought by substate national societies, it may not provide the symbolic recognition that will articulate fully a plurinational concept of the state. Following from this, the essay focuses on the tension at the heart of the Scotland Act 1998. In terms of its autonomy provisions and the recognition these imply, the act may be seen as a genuine attempt to redefine the United Kingdom's constitution in a plurinational direction. However, in other ways, the structure of the settlement embodies strong integrative tendencies that sustain the categorical distinction between host state national society, on the one hand, and substate national societies, on the other. Finally, it is observed that the expanding powers of the European Union may restrict efforts to reorient the state in a plurinational direction, since many devolved powers of substate nations and regions are subject to the normative supremacy of parallel levels of EU competence.

Suggested Citation

Tierney, Stephen, Giving with One Hand: Scottish Devolution within a Unitary State (October 2007). International Journal of Constitutional Law, Vol. 5, Issue 4, pp. 730-753, 2007, Available at SSRN: or

Stephen Tierney (Contact Author)

University of Edinburgh - School of Law ( email )

Old College
South Bridge
Edinburgh, EH8 9YL
United Kingdom

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