Social Justice, Social Welfare and Devolution: Nationalism and Social Policy Making in Scotland

Mooney, Gerry and Scott, Gill (2011). Social Justice, Social Welfare and Devolution: Nationalism and Social Policy Making in Scotland. Poverty & Public Policy, 3(4) pp. 1–21.




Constitutional change in the UK in 1998 led to the establishment of devolution for Scotland, and the Scottish Parliament was reconvened in 1999 after a gap of nearly 300 years. Devolution promised the development of policies that were more in tune with ‘Scottish needs’, and was heralded as delivering ‘Scottish solutions for Scottish problems’. Now with a Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) Government in power in Edinburgh committed to greater devolution for Scotland and with a goal of full independence for Scotland, it is timely to assess the ways in which the SNP have approach the question of social policy – and more specifically poverty and inequality. While key areas of social welfare policy, notable in relation to benefits, employment policy and most areas of taxation remain reserved to the UK parliament in London, the Scottish Parliament enjoys powers over most areas of social policy as they affect Scotland: health, housing, education, community development, regeneration and criminal justice. This paper considers some of the main influences on SNP policy making, and in particular explores its concern to develop policies that promote solidarity, cohesion and fairness. However, these are secondary to a strategy which promotes economic growth and Scottish economic competitiveness. The paper also considers the importance of nationalism for the analysis of social welfare arguing that social policy making is often central to nation building, and particularly so in the context of multi-national devolution of the kind that has developed in the UK and elsewhere in recent times.

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