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Territory and Power Revisited: Theorising Territorial Politics in the United Kingdom after Devolution



The article seeks to contribute to theoretical analysis of political decentralisation in the UK occasioned by devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in 1998–9. It examines the contribution that can be made by Jim Bulpitt's 1983 book, Territory and Power in the United Kingdom. First, it argues that Bulpitt's critique of conventional wisdoms in the early 1980s remains highly relevant to reflecting on shortcomings in the literature today. Key among these is the lack of a common conceptual language for analysis, and Bulpitt's overarching re-conceptualisation of the field as the study of ‘territorial politics’ would repay renewed reflection. Secondly, the article clarifies Bulpitt's own centre perspective and argues that its application is best understood today as a realist historical institutionalist account of UK territorial politics. In so doing Bulpitt also provides an enduring methodological and interpretative challenge to assumptions of state centralism. Thirdly, the article argues that key methodological/interpretative insights can be adapted from Territory and Power in analysis of UK territorial politics and the advent of devolution. This reinforces the utility of Bulpitt's historical institutionalism to contemporary analysis. Finally, it argues that Territory and Power's concepts and methods, understood in these ways, would bear application in comparative studies of political decentralisation.