The Constitution Unit


Monitoring devolution through four territorial networks of 40 expert observers

January 2000 - April 2005

Sponsor: ESRC Principal Investigator: Robert Hazell Dates:  End of award report

Aims and objectives

The ESRC's Devolution Programme specification stated that devolution would be monitored by 'territorial observatories' in the different parts of the UK. This project created four monitoring teams, in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the English regions, to produce regular reports on political and constitutional developments for the full five years of the programme, from 2000 to 2005. The aim was

  • To provide an accessible, accurate, constantly updated account of devolution to other academics, policy makers, practitioners and the media
  • To provide a general background resource to other projects in the ESRC programme
  • To develop multi-disciplinary networks in each territory and across the UK who would deepen our knowledge and understanding of devolution, by pooling the contributions of their respective disciplines and territories
  • To collect and accumulate a contemporary, chronological, well referenced record of devolution for subsequent researchers and historians.

The monitoring teams produced quarterly and annual reports on devolution in their territory under a series of standard headings: the devolved governments; the assemblies; the media; public attitudes and identity; relations with Westminster and Whitehall; relations with the EU; relations with local government; finance; devolution disputes and litigation; political parties and elections; public policies. Each team was free to report on special developments in their territory, but the standard headings helped to ensure that nothing significant was missed, and that the reports were immediately and directly comparable. The aim was to produce a contemporary record, and a first draft of history:

  • a concise, accurate, chronological record of devolution as it unfolded: a contemporary account which would be much harder to construct retrospectively
  • compiled by teams of recognised subject experts in each territory
  • instantly published on the web, enabling easy access by the media and policy makers.

Main achievements

One achievement was to assemble such strong teams of experts from each part of the UK. The monitoring teams were

  • Scotland Prof James Mitchell, Strathclyde (team leader); Barry Winetrobe, Glasgow; Mark Shephard, Strathclyde; Prof John Curtice, Strathclyde; Alex Wright, Dundee; Neil McGarvey, Strathclyde; Prof Philip Schlesinger, Stirling; Prof David Bell, Stirling.
  • Wales John Osmond, Institute of Welsh Affairs (team leader); Dr Denis Balsom; Sarah Beasley, Cardiff; Jessica Mugaseth, IWA; Suzanne Grazier, IWA; Gerald Taylor, Glamorgan.
  • Northern Ireland Prof Rick Wilford, Queen's Belfast, and Robin Wilson, Democratic Dialogue (joint team leaders); John Coakley, UCD; Lizanne Dowds, Ulster; Greg McLaughlin, Ulster; Prof Elizabeth Meehan, QUB; Duncan Morrow, NICRC.
  • English Regions Prof John Tomaney, Newcastle (team leader); Peter Hetherington, Newcastle; Emma Pinkney, Newcastle.
  • Devolution and the Centre Prof Robert Hazell, UCL (team leader); Akash Paun, UCL; Dr Meg Russell, UCL; Alan Trench, UCL; Oonagh Gay, House of Commons.

The teams' main achievement was to produce the reports regularly, without fail, every quarter. Over the five year period each team produced 20 quarterly reports, averaging 40 to 60 pages each. The resultant archive is impressive: over 4000 pages in all, a careful and systematic account of devolution as it unfolded. The teams also contributed to an annual book on devolution, the five volumes in the State of the Nations series, which combine a contemporary record with a more analytical approach.

Main results

The results are highlighted in the one page summaries at the front of each quarterly report, and in the annual book. It is impossible to summarise them here. Nor have we attempted to do so in a separate Research Report: that is inappropriate for this project.

Monitoring Reports coming soon...

Dissemination activities

The monitoring reports have been

  • instantly published on the Constitution Unit website
  • emailed to a growing list of key users, now almost 1000 names, of policy makers and practitioners, media, academics in the UK and overseas
  • press released to national and regional media
  • summarised in the Constitution Unit newsletter, Monitor, which is mailed to 2,600 subscribers every quarter
  • collated in the annual State of the Nations review.

Each year the State of the Nations book has been launched at an annual lecture:

  • Dec 2000: Prof Robert Hazell on 'An Unstable Union: Devolution and the English Question'
  • Dec 2001: Robin Cook MP, Leader of the House, on 'A Modern Parliament for a Modern Democracy'
  • Jan 2003: Sir David Steel, Presiding Officer, on 'Achievements of the Scottish Parliament'
  • Jan 2004: Peter Hain MP, Secretary of State for Wales.

Impact on policy or practice

Since the monitoring reports essentially provide information and analysis, rather than findings or recommendations, we would not expect them to influence policy or practice. But in writing the reports we have maintained close contact with policy makers, who are one of our main sources of information. Policy makers and practitioners are the largest category amongst the 850 email recipients of the monitoring reports. The better informed will not have learnt anything they did not already know about devolution on their patch, but most will learn a lot about devolution in other parts of the country, which is poorly reported in the national press. We have consulted users to suggest improvements to the reports. One commented "I am already an avid reader of the quarterly reports, which give a valuable insight into how others see us. The content is invariably comprehensive and (sometimes strikingly) well-informed" (Cabinet Secretariat, devolved administration).