Why no federalism in the United Kingdom?

Michael Keating*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Citation (Scopus)


The United Kingdom is, in many ways, a veritable fountainhead of federalism. In Michael Burgess’s (1988) words, ‘the British have been the greatest exponents of federalism for others for well over a century’, giving federal constitutions to innumerable former colonies, some of which have proved successful and others less so. There is, as Burgess (1995) has noted, a long British tradition of federal thought. The country is manifestly not a unitary nation-state but a union of four nations, each with its own political traditions and sense of political community. There has never been a Jacobin project of the sort practised in France and (less successfully) in Spain to assimilate the peripheral nations into a single identity. The territorial constitution has been on the political agenda, with varying degrees of intensity, since at least the 1880s, with periodic campaigns for limited selfgovernment, first in Ireland and then in Scotland. Tests of opinion, whether opinion polls, referendums or elections at which it was an issue, have shown consistent majorities in the peripheral nations in favour of devolutionary arrangements of various sorts, with the singular exception of the Welsh referendum of 1979. The Liberal (and Liberal Democrat) and Labour parties have for most of their history supported self-government in theory, although Labour usually subordinated this to the quest for power at the centre (Jones and Keating, 1985).

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUnderstanding Federalism and Federation
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781317004967
ISBN (Print)9781472433893
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Alain-G. Gagnon, Soeren Keil and Sean Mueller 2015.


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