Professor Michael Keating: The Fractured Union. State and Nation in the United Kingdom

Date and time

4 May 2021 17:00

Location

Zoom

In this lecture, organised by the Department of Politics and International Relations, Pembroke Alumnus Professor Michael Keating argues that the United Kingdom should be understood as a plurinational union in which they key issues of demos (the people), telos (the purpose of the state), ethos (values) and sovereignty have always been contested. It worked because multiple understandings could coexist. Understood this way, the United Kingdom was a good fit with the European Union, which shared these qualities. Brexit, on the other hand, was based on the need to restore the sovereignty of a unitary Parliament and people. Traditional unionism recognized national pluralism but insisted on parliamentary sovereignty and supremacy as the bedrock of the constitution. Since devolution, unionism has struggled to come to terms with the new dispensation. While progressively devolving powers, it has doubled down on Westminster sovereignty and sought to forge a new ideology of Britishness embodying all the higher values. Brexit has meant a further push to rebuild a unitary, sovereign state, and a significant reversal of devolution. Combined with the Remain majorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland this has unleashed centrifugal forces. Yet the UK can no more fall neatly into its component parts than it can cleanly extract itself from Europe.

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