Two (or three?) referenda and a general election: Brexit and devolved social security in Scotland

Activity: Talk or presentationInvited talk


The impact of EU membership on national social security systems has been limited: member states have been required to open up some benefits to immigrants from other member states, but there has been relatively little pressure for harmonisation. Ironically, the UK’s withdrawal occurs just as proposals for a new ‘pillar of social rights’ suggest the Union may take a closer interest in this field of policy. Nonetheless, Brexit could have a significant (if largely indirect) impact on social security in Scotland. The recent EU and independence referenda have allowed devolved elites to portray Scotland as more concerned with social justice and more internationalist than the UK as a whole. This social justice narrative underpins commitments to build a Scottish social security system based on respect for the dignity of individuals and the potential raising of the profile of social and economic rights at devolved level. Maintaining or enhancing EU citizens’ social rights would be in keeping with this self-image. The Scottish Government’s argument that Scotland has a greater need for immigration than other parts of the UK provides a further, pragmatic argument for enhancing its attractiveness as a destination by allowing migrants to access family benefits in particular. The limited extent of devolved social security competences means this is not currently an option. However, the push for a second independence referendum that has followed the Brexit vote points to the possibility of further renegotiation of the constitutional settlement after the general election. Social security is an obvious field for further devolution. The door could hence be opened to divergence from DWP on the entitlements of EU migrants, and potentially in other aspects of policy.
Period13 Jun 2017
Event titleBrexit, Regulation and Society
Event typeConference
LocationManchester, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Brexit
  • social security
  • Scotland
  • devolution
  • welfare state
  • European Union