Decentralization, Devolution and the Political Economy of Scale in Britain from 1945 to 2016
Vlahos, Nicholas Constantine
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On September 18, 2014, a referendum on Scottish independence took place with 55.3% of voters choosing to remain in the United Kingdom, indicating that Scotlands Union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland would tenuously endure for the near future. Meanwhile, just under two years later, on June 23, 2016, Britain made international headlines when nearly 52% of the public chose to leave the European Union via a referendum. How we make sense of the recalibration of political, economic and democratic scales within advanced industrial nation states is as relevant an endeavour as it has ever been. While much work has been done attempting to explain how and why political reform has been occurring across the world in terms of the partisan motivations and contested relationships involved in designing and reforming political institutions, economic factors and the possible politics behind them have been given much less attention. This dissertation uses an historical approach to provide a post-war analysis of the political economy of decentralization and devolution in Britain. Each chapter aims to capture how the competition between different actors at different levels of the state (local, regional and national) seek to control the means of capitalist development. In turn, the chapters indicate how this competition steers partisan relations in certain directions over time with the constant push and pull to control the levers of domestic capital investment especially. There is also a perpetual tension over the centralization and decentralization of decision-making apparatuses which ranges from the circumscribing of local government, the implementation of regional de-concentration, broadening asymmetrical devolution, and new public management approaches to local and regional policy-making. Ultimately, this dissertation shows how British devolution is broadly connected to the struggles over decentralization and democracy because of how they are simultaneous expressions and re-articulations of the spatial contradictions of capitalism and its associated class tensions. Political parties (statewide and regional), local councilors, the working class, and spatially rooted social movements, have been and continue to be divided by place and ideology when it comes to the scaling of the state, how economic development should be pursued, and how decision-making should be institutionalized.