Books and information sources
The literature about devolution is now extensive, and will grow larger yet with the Scottish independence debate. When it comes to understanding the existing legal and institutional arrangements, one book I’d recommend very highly for beginners is Vernon Bogdanor’s Devolution in the United Kingdom (Oxford University Press paperback, 2nd edition 2001). It’s now rather dated (it was actually written in 1998, after the devolution legislation had been passed and before powers had passed to the devolved institutions). However, it’s a very clearly written exposition of the history of demands for forms of self-government and home rule in the UK, including the failed attempts of the 1970s, and of the framework of what was put in place in 1997-8.
Also still very useful, though also dated as it was published in 2000, is Noreen Burrows’s Devolution. This is a law book, concerned with the formal structures of devolved powers (and obviously doesn’t take account of subsequent changes such as the Government of Wales Act 2006).
Volumes in the Constitution Unit’s series The State of the Nations will be helpful. (I edited most of them, so perhaps I’m biased.) The most recent one, The State of the Nations 2008, covers the period from 2005 to mid-2008, including the run-ups to the 2007 elections, post-election negotiations and manoeuvrings, and the first year of the new governments. It also discusses some of the emergent key issues for the new governments. Sadly, the lack of funding meant it was not possible to continue that series.
There are now a number of textbooks on Scottish politics, including ones by Michael Keating, Neil McGarvey and Paul Cairney, and Peter Lynch. There’s nothing comparable on Wales yet, sadly, though I hope that will change shortly. The best book about Welsh devolution is Richard Rawlings’s Delineating Wales: Constitutional, Legal and Administrative Aspects of National Devolution (University of Wales Press, 2003), but this is not an easy read and it’s now hard to get hold of. The literature on Northern Ireland is voluminous, though mostly focussing on the Troubles and the process of peace-making rather than the working of the present post-Belfast Agreement system. Books by Jon Tonge and Paul Dixon are exceptions to that, though.
As well as newspapers, there are some good magazines and journals around. Scottish Affairs, edited by Lindsay Paterson and published by the Institute of Governance at the University of Edinburgh, is both scholarly and readable, and appears quarterly. The magazine of the Institute of Welsh Affairs, Agenda, is more popular in style. Contemporary Wales is an annual scholarly journal published by the University of Wales Press, with much of interest in it. In Northern Ireland, Fortnight magazine (now published every two months, despite the title) is the best source of comment and discussion.
Online sources abound. I’ve included links to the relevant official and government websites on the right. Some of these include good discussions of the devolution settlements. Aberystwyth University’s Information Services maintain a good bibliography on ‘Devolution and the New Legislative Bodies in the UK’. Although I’m often hesitant about recommending Wikipedia to students as an academic source, its devolution entries were pretty good when I last looked at them; generally accurate, and clearly written. As a first (but not last) point of reference, it’s useful, subject to the usual qualification that its contents need to be treated with a degree of caution as they can be changed so easily.
From 1999, the Constitution Unit at UCL co-ordinated a series of Devolution Monitoring Reports for the various parts of the UK. Initially, these were funded by the Leverhulme Trust, and subsequently the Economic and Social Research Council joined in. After 2005, they were funded by the ESRC and a number of the devolved governments. Sadly, that funding ran out in mid-2009, and has not been renewed. The reports are meant to be a detailed first cut of history, and build up to provide a pretty comprehensive history of devolution’s first decade.
I used to recommend The Book Depository as the best place to buy books online, as their prices were usually as keen as Amazon’s. They are now an Amazon subsidiary and their prices are no longer as competitive as they were, but they do they offer free delivery to the UK and a wide range of other countries. For overseas readers, that may be particularly attractive. For second-hand and out-of-print books, I find Abebooks (now another Amazon subsidiary) invaluable.