Brexit and devolved social security in Scotland: a tale of two referenda

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This article discusses the possible impact of withdrawal from the EU on social security in Scotland. Despite the relatively limited role of EU membership in shaping the UK social security system, the effects of Brexit could be significant, even if largely indirect. 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. Maintaining or enhancing EU citizens’ social rights would be in keeping with this self-image. The Scottish Government’s view 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. Even if the push for a second independence referendum following the Brexit vote has been put on hold for now, the possibility remains that the Scottish Government will seek renegotiation of the constitutional settlement. 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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)56-73
JournalJournal of Social Security Law
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 19 Mar 2018


  • Social security
  • Brexit
  • Welfare state
  • European Union
  • Devolution
  • Scotland
  • Social rights


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