Defence as a devolved policy concern in the United Kingdom

  • Tomos Evans

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Arguably, the most important duty of the state is to defend itself and its citizens from external threats. In the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, this duty rests with the Westminster Parliament and UK Government. Yet, in order to actually fulfil this duty, the government asks civilians to serve and potentially make the ultimate sacrifice. Thus, the state is permanently in debt to those who have served their country in the process of defending the realm. In order to repay this debt, the state commits to ensure that those who have served and their families are not disadvantaged by said service. Subsequently, it has long been assumed that the responsibility to repay this debt rests with the parliament at Westminster and the UK Government. This thesis documents that this is not the case; rather, it is shared by all the legislatures of the UK. Despite the creation of the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Senedd (formerly the Welsh National Assembly), and the Northern Ireland Assembly, it is assumed that defence policy is the sole responsibility of the UK Parliament. This thesis highlights how this assumption made in both political and academic discourse is incorrect.

By examining the case of the defence footprint and how defence policy concerns are engaged with in devolved politics, this thesis highlights how it is a mistake to rely on a devolved/non-devolved heuristic to conceptualise governance in a contemporary United Kingdom. Through employing aspects of new institutionalism, this thesis provides a single case study of how governance in the UK is more complex than many established approaches allege. The approach taken in this thesis allows for a clearer exploration of what different layers of government actually do rather than focusing on what statute says they should not do. Subsequently, this thesis contributes further to the study of governance, offering lessons more widely related to policy complexity in multi-level systems of governance. Ultimately, this thesis makes the case that viewing governance in the UK exclusively through the lens of where powers formally lie is an oversimplification.

Finally, in examining defence policy concerns as they relate to devolution, this thesis engages with a topic that has not been explored by scholarship. In the process of documenting how defence becomes a mainstream point of political discussion in the devolved institutions, this thesis shows how uniformity should not be assumed between the devolved nations. Their histories, cultures, and political contexts are distinctive and unique. As this thesis reveals, this uniqueness explains why defence as a devolved concern differs between Scotland, Cymru, and the north of Ireland.
Date of Award22 Jun 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorDavid Moon (Supervisor) & Sophie Whiting (Supervisor)

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