The Institute for Government conducted a research project into intergovernmental relations in the UK, and governance challenges that Whitehall and the devolved administrations will face after the Scottish independence referendum of 18 September 2014 and as the process of devolution continues across the UK.

The work, entitled Governing after the referendum: Challenges for Whitehall and the devolved administrations after the Scottish independence referendum, formed part of the Future of the UK and Scotland research programme led from the Centre on Constitutional Change, and we are grateful to the ESRC and the Centre for their support.

About the project 

The central questions addressed in our project were:

  • How – and how well – does the Civil Service deal with territorial complexity and intergovernmental relations? What challenges are posed by the political divergence between the different governments of the UK?
  • What range of future constitutional scenarios should Whitehall and the devolved administrations prepare for?
  • What will be the impact on the Civil Service – and particular Whitehall departments – of a move towards a new constitutional settlement following the Scottish referendum?
  • What adaptations to intergovernmental machinery and processes would be needed in the event of significant further devolution?

To answer these questions, and to encourage thinking within government on how to adapt to the challenge of growing territorial complexity and political pluralism in the UK, we carried out a set of interrelated activities. These will include public seminars, private roundtables and workshops, interviews with officials from Whitehall and the devolved administrations, and a data-driven analysis of how different Whitehall departments relate to the devolved territories. Further details of our work will be published on this page as the project progresses.

The project ran from May 2014 to February 2015, and culminated in a final report published after the referendum that sets out recommendations for how Whitehall and the devolved administrations should work together and structure their relationships over the coming years.

Project update 

After the Referendum

On 19 February 2015 we published our final report, Governing in an Ever Looser Union: How the four governments of the UK co-operate, negotiate and compete. This reports outlines the conclusions of our 10 month research programme and sets out our recommendations for improving inter-governmental relations in the UK.

The release of our final report was accompanied by a blog from Akash Paun, Governing in an ever looser union, which sets out our key recommendations. This blog also appeared on the Constitution Unit website. 

On 15 December 2014, Akash Paun gave evidence to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee as part of their inquiry on The Future of Devolution After the Referendum. The transcript is available here.

On 27 November 2014, the Smith Commission published its recommendations for future devolution of powers to Scotland. We published two blogs analysing these suggestions and what they mean for the constitutional and fiscal future of the UK:

On 10th October we published a blog on the proposals Scotland's five main political parties have submitted to the Smith Commission on further devolution: 'Devo Gaps: parties remain far apart on further devolution plans'

On 19th September, the day after the Scottish people voted No to independence, we published 'It's a No, Now what?', a paper setting out the key questions that must be addressed in coming months.

In the lead up to the Referendum

On 11th September 2014 we published 'Future Constitutional Scenarios for the UK', an analysis of the future constitutional scenarios for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, ranging from Scottish independence to various models for further devolution. Our paper shows how the different proposed models compare in terms of the spending and tax-raising powers they would transfer to the devolved nations, and also discusses the practical implications of implementing such changes. 

The research team have also authored a number of blogs about the issues raised in this paper:

In August 2014 we published 'The Civil Service in Territorial Perspective: a data-driven analysis of Whitehall and the devolved administrations'. This report is the first publication in our Governing After the Referendum programme of work, and is a collaboration with the Institute's Whitehall Monitor. In it we examine the UK civil service from a territorial perspective and illustrate the capacity and characteristics of the civil service presence in each part of the UK. You can read more about our analysis on the Institute's blog.

In July 2014 we held two public events related to this programme of work. The first, 'Scotland in a changing union: Unionist visions for further devolution after the referendum', brought together representatives of the three unionist parties discuss their parties’ proposals, and what these would mean for Scotland and for relations between Scotland and the rest of the UK. Anas Sarwar MP presented the recommendations of Scottish Labour's Devolution Commission, Lord Purvis of Tweed discussed the Liberal Democrats' proposals, and Peter Duncan discussed the conclusions of the Strathclyde Commission.

Our second event, 'Scotland in a Changing Union: ensuring effective cooperation after the referendum', featured Pete Wishart MP, SNP Spokesperson for the Constitution, Home Affairs, and International Development, and Liz Saville Roberts, Plaid Cymru candidate for Dwyfor Meirionnydd at the 2015 election. Each speaker set out their parties' plans for a transformation of relations between Edinburgh, Cardiff and Westminster. Ruth Taillon, Director of the Centre for Cross-Border Studies in Ireland, discussed lessons learned from the experience of North-South policy cooperation between the administrations in Belfast and Dublin.

Project team

The research team for this project consists of Akash Paun, Joe Randall and Robyn Munro, with intern support from Lucy Shaddock and Charlie Mitchell and oversight from Institute for Government Director Peter Riddell and Professor Charlie Jeffery of the University of Edinburgh.

Queries about our work in this area should be directed to

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Project contacts

Senior Fellow