On 20th August, The Oxford Handbook of Scottish Politics was published, edited by CCC Director Michael Keating. In this introduction to the handbook, Michael argues that Scottish politics no longer needs to be seen as exceptional to matter.
Back in 1972, when I was starting a PhD on The Role of the Scottish MP, Scottish politics did not exist as an academic subject except, perhaps, as a post-script in history books. The following year, James Kellas’ pioneering The Scottish Political System gave us the first book-length treatment of the matter. By the time I finished my thesis in 1975, the SNP’s strong performance in the General Election of 1974 had sparked some interest. Scholars working in the field, however, still had to demonstrate that, to matter, Scotland had somehow to be ‘different’ from an otherwise homogeneous United Kingdom (or at least Great Britain). There was also a feeling that anyone writing about Scotland must be focusing on nationalism and even, perhaps, that the author be some sort of nationalist.
In the two decades since devolution, there has been an explosion of writing on Scotland. Thanks to the work of two generations of political scientists, sociologists, historians and legal scholars, Scotland can now be viewed as a ‘normal’ European nation, which does not have to be ‘different’ or exceptional in order to exist. It has been rediscovered as a component of a plurinational union and located in a wider political space that includes not just the United Kingdom but ‘these islands’, Europe and the world.
This coming-of-age is symbolized by the fact that Scotland is the first nation that is not an independent state to have its own Oxford Handbook of Politics. This was a mammoth undertaking, with 37 chapters and 300,000 words spanning the breadth and depth of contemporary politics. We examine constitutional theory and practice; institutions and how public policy is made; parties, elections and voting behaviour. We cover gender, age and ethnicity and explore the complexities of identity. We look at Scotland in the UK, Europe and the World.
Scotland has come a long way since devolution twenty years ago and it is easy to forget how controversial the idea of having a Parliament was for so long. Parliament and Government have now become part of the political landscape and scarcely anyone wants to go back. There is much less agreement about the future.
There have been two further devolution Acts since the original one in 1998. The independence referendum of 2014 produced a clear, if surprisingly close, result but the issue has not gone away. Brexit has raised new questions about Scotland’s place in two unions, the United Kingdom and the European Union.
Back in the 1970s, outside commentators often saw the re-emergence of the Scottish question as a reversion to the past, a sign of stunted modernization. Now, in a complex, interdependent world where issues of sovereignty, borders, identity and self-government are at the centre of political attention, it provides a laboratory for working through the meaning of political community and the appropriate scale for addressing economic, social and environmental challenges. As our chapters show, the answers will not be simple or easy.
In the coming months, we will provide further blogs from our authors to highlight their findings and, sometimes, provoke debate.
The Oxford Handbook of Scottish Politics, edited by Michael Keating, was published by Oxford University Press on 20 August 2020 in the UK and Europe.