Metropolitan and City-Regional Politics in the Urban Age: Why Does '(Smart) Devolution' Matter?
Posted: 22 Aug 2017
Date Written: August 16, 2017
In recent years, two apparently contradictory but, in fact, complementary socio-political phenomena have reinforced each other in the European urban realm: the re-scaling of nation-states through “devolution” and the emergence of two opposed versions of “nationalism” (i.e., ethnic, non-metropolitanised, state-centric, exclusive, and right-wing populist nationalism and civic, metropolitanised, stateless, inclusive and progressivist-emancipatory-social democratic nationalism). In light of these intertwined phenomena, this paper shows how an ongoing, pervasive, and uneven “metropolitanisation effect” is increasingly shaping city-regional political responses by overlapping metropolitan, city-regional, and national political scales and agendas. This effect is clear in three European cases driven by “civic nationalism” that are altering their referential nation-states’ uniformity through “devolution”. This paper compares three metropolitan (and city-regional) cases in the UK and in Spain, namely, Glasgow (Scotland), Barcelona (Catalonia), and Bilbao (Basque Country), by benchmarking their policy implementation and the tensions produced in reference to their nation-states. Fieldwork was conducted from January 2015 to June 2017 through in-depth interviews with stakeholders in the three locations. Despite the so-called pluri-national and federal dilemmas, this paper contributes to the examination of the side effects of “metropolitanisation” by considering three arguments based on geo-economics (“prosperous competitiveness”), geo-politics (“smart devolution”), and geo-democratics (“right to decide”). Finally, this paper adds to the existing research on metropolitan and city-regional politics by demonstrating why “devolution” matters and why it must be considered seriously. The “metropolitanisation effect” is key to understanding and transforming the current configurations of nation-states, such as the UK and Spain (as we currently know them), beyond internal discord around pluri-nationality and quasi-federalism. This paper concludes by suggesting the term “smart devolution” to promote more imaginative and entrepreneurial approaches to metropolitan and city-regional politics, policies, and experimental democracy within these nation-states. These approaches can identify and pursue “smart” avenues of timely, subtle, and innovative political strategies for change in the ongoing re-scaling devolution processes occurring in the UK and in Spain and in the consequent changes in the prospects for the refoundational momentum in the EU.
Keywords: metropolitanisation, city-regions, nations, nationalism, devolution, UK, Spain, Glasgow, Scotland, Barcelona, Catalonia, Bilbao, Basque Country, self-determination, right to decide, smart devolution
JEL Classification: R28, Z38, R12, H77, P25, R58
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation