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From unitary state to union state: Labour's changing view of the United Kingdom and its implications

Mitchell, J. (1996) From unitary state to union state: Labour's changing view of the United Kingdom and its implications. Regional Studies, 30 (6). pp. 607-611. ISSN 0034-3404

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In an earlier paper I argued that the Conservatives have undergone a change in their attitude towards the UK. Formerly they saw the UK as a union state but they have increasingly viewed it as a unitary state. The terms - unitary and union state - are drawn from Stein Rokkan and Derek Urwin's work with state building.' The change is reflected in a hardening of the Conservative's opposition to Scottish legislative devolution. In this article I will argue that the opposite has happened within the Labour Party, although in moving towards a union state conception of the UK, there is much evidence that Labour has not entirely abandoned a unitary conception. The change in broad outlook is significant for it underpins a hardening of Labour's support for devolution. Previously, Labour have advocated devolution whilst still having a unitary conception ofthe UK, and encountered many problems. Advocating devolution in the context ofa union state conception of the UK solves these problems and opens up opportunities for the development of a semi-federal Labour Party and Britain. The article recognizes, nevertheless, that there are implications for Labour in adopting a union state interpretation of the UK which the party has yet to accept.