Devolution, state restructuring and policy divergence in the UK


  • The information, practices and views in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).


Devolution has become a key ‘global trend’ over recent decades as many states have decentralised power to sub-state governments. The UK resisted this trend until the late 1990s when devolution was enacted by the then Labour Government, taking a highly asymmetrical form in which different territories have been granted different powers and institutional arrangements. Devolution allows the devolved governments to develop policies that are tailored to the needs of their areas, encouraging policy divergence, although this is countered by pressures to ensure that devolved approaches do not contradict those of the central state, promoting convergence. This review paper aims to assess the unfolding dynamics of devolution and policy divergence in the UK, spanning different policy areas such as economic development, health and social policy. The paper emphasises that devolution has altered the institutional landscape of public policy in the UK, generating some high-profile examples of policy divergence, whilst also providing evidence of policy convergence. In addition, the passage of time underlines the nature of UK devolution as an unfolding process. Its underlying asymmetries have become more pronounced as the tendency towards greater autonomy for Scotland and Wales clashes with a highly centralised mode of policymaking in Westminster, the consequences of which have spilt over into the devolved territories in the context of the post-2007 economic crisis through public expenditure cuts.