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Title: Agents and institutions : Donald Dewar and the politics of devolution
Author: McFadyen, Andrew Paul
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2011
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The creation of the Scottish Parliament was a major change in UK politics and the empirical research presented in this thesis makes a significant contribution to knowledge by revealing new evidence about some of the key political processes that led-up to the new constitutional settlement. This thesis also addresses a gap in the academic literature and offers a different approach by marshalling the evidence in respect of a single individual actor: Donald Dewar. Whilst the existing literature largely explains the success of the home rule movement by focusing on structural changes in Scottish society - such as the politicisation of Scottish national identity - this thesis focuses on the role of agents and institutions in four critical junctures in the devolution debate. These are the process of writing and promoting the Labour Party's 1984 Green Paper on Devolution, the Labour Party's decision to participate in the Scottish Constitutional Convention, the decision to hold a pre-legislative referendum and the publication of the 1997 White Paper, Scotland's Parliament. The research is informed by a historical institutionalist rationale and builds on existing insights in the new institutionalist literature. One of the themes of this research is that while changing circumstances and external crises can create pressure for change, the way in which actors interact within institutions often defines the path that is taken. Institutions are the arenas in which actors engage with new ideas and set policy goals; they are the level at which individuals confront structural constraints and scenes of ongoing political skirmishing. This thesis therefore puts a central focus on understanding the inner life of the institutions in which policy on devolution was made. Understanding new innovations and departures requires the researcher to build a rich and detailed pictures of the circumstances in which actors form preferences and build coalitions. The dissertation addresses this challenge by adopting a multi-method approach that is both qualitative and historical - including process tracing, documentary analysis and semi-structured individual interviews with elite actors. The four 'nested' case studies presented in this thesis provide a detailed narrative that connects the different stages of the devolution debate and enable us to identify causal factors that played out over a long stretch of time. One remarkable feature of the historical sequence from Margaret Thatcher's election as Prime Minister in 1979 to the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 is Donald Dewar's prominence from an early stage to its completion. This is one of those rare occasions when the decisions taken by an actor at particular points in the political process actually helped to create the structural and institutional constraints that guided his own future actions. One important new source of evidence that I have used to gain an insight into the Labour Party's internal debate is the record of the monthly meetings of the Parliamentary Labour Party: Scottish Group and the weekly meetings of the Executive Committee of the Parliamentary Labour Party: Scottish Group, from 1983 to 1997. The thesis adds to the historical record and challenges the current academic consensus about some of the key developments in the campaign for a Scottish Parliament. It also intended to make a contribution to the wider theoretical debate on the way in which agents interact within institutions and how this contributes to political change.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available