Devolution and devolution plus: Anti-foundationalist foundations for constitutionalism

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


The United Kingdom as one of the more established and settled countries of the world with its history as a sophisticated, first world legal jurisdiction comprising both a strong economy and an established democratic apparatus, may appear to offer few parallels with the experience of Tibet and China. However the real history of the United Kingdom is one of continual change and accomodation where some fundamentals relating to the very nature and extent of the polity have undergone considerable constitutional innovation. Although the UK is often presented as a paradigm example of a stable constitutional order where constitutional verities such as democracy, the rule of law and, particularly, the sovereignty of parliament, endure, the reality is more complex. This is a continuing story and it is one which may have application beyond the very particular circumstances of the United Kingdom as developments here have required an often subtle and sometimes underestimated re-thinking of some of the basics of constitution order.
In particular there is the story of devolution in the United Kingdom. This is an incomplete tale but its continuing development does have wider interest beyond its constituent parts. The process by which the United Kingdom came together, and more particularly the unfolding story of how it is now potentially splitting further apart, illustrates the possibility of developing new forms of association within a changing polity where issues of sovereignty and territory, allegiance and nationality, as well as citizenship and identity, can evolve and mutate without necessarily requiring a fundamental re-establishment of the state. Indeed the continuing experience of devolution in the UK demonstrates how a mature democracy can accommodate change, the possibility of a radical re-ordering, and even dissolution of some its constituent forms, without undue trauma to the body politic. This in turn suggests possible directions for a post-sovereignty future.
This account will look at change as a motif within British constitutionalism generally before focusing particularly on the on-going process of gradually uniting the ‘home’ countries into the United Kingdom of Great Britian and Northern Ireland (which took up its present configuration only in 1922). The “big bang” devolution project of 1998 will be examined briefly. Attention will then turn to the more recent beginnings of a possible disintegration of the United Kingdom through a process of continuing devolution that has the potential to develop into something more. In particular this account will look at the postion in one of the devolved countries – Northern Ireland - where constitutional developments were required not only to deal with issues of regional autonomy but also resolve fundamental issues of conflict about the very nature of the polity, and how to share it. It is here, it will be argued, that the beginnings of a constitutionalism beyond sovereignty may be found in the provision of a framework for accomodating conflict without needing to resolve some of the fundamental antagonisms that remain.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRegional Autonomy, Cultural Diversity and Differentiated Territorial Government
Subtitle of host publicationThe Case of Tibet – Chinese and Comparative Perspectives
EditorsRoberto Toniatti, Jens Woelke
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9780203591031
ISBN (Print)9780415525350
Publication statusPublished - 21 Apr 2017


  • devolution,
  • constitutions
  • rights

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