ABSTRACT

In an era of Brexit and on-going constitutional debates in the UK, questions around devolution and national identifications currently attract scholarly attention as never before. This article focusses on national identification in two devolved regions, Wales and Northern Ireland, never before compared in this way, to explore how devolution can act in a fluid and multidirectional way to produce differing framings of national identification. Using original qualitative research, combining the tools of documentary analysis, structured interviews and focus groups, it considers these theoretical ideas through the prism of both political elites and everyday life to explore and compare the reasoning behind the politicization of key national identifications.

The trajectory of devolution in Wales and Northern Ireland has thrown questions of national identity and its politicization into sharp relief. Focussing on changes in the articulation of Welshness and Northern Irishness and using original qualitative research including data from documentary analysis, focus groups and structured interviews, this article takes identity as the starting point through which to explore the wider implications of devolution as a policy framework. Our analysis points to complementary, yet distinct, conclusions from those approaches that have placed an emphasis on regional identity (for instance, Bogdanor, 1999 Bogdanor, V. (1999), Devolution: decentralisation or disintegration? The Political Quarterly, Vol.70, No.2, pp.185194. doi: 10.1111/1467-923X.00220[CrossRef], [Web of Science ®] [Google Scholar]). Rather than contributing to emergent nationalist tendencies, we suggest that devolution, as a process of identification, is fluid and indirect. Consequently, a comparison of the identification categories of Welsh and Northern Irish, as articulated by political elites, reveals hitherto under-appreciated facets of devolution in both countries. In both cases a de-politicization of central identity categories (‘Welshness’ and ‘Northern/Irishness’) is acting to usher-in a re-politicization of the devolution settlement, creating ever-new multidirectional lines of influence that may work to frustrate, undercut and traverse transactional or instrumental readings of the constitutional status quo.

Key features pertinent to the two cases of Wales and Northern Ireland have the potential to enhance knowledge of the politics of national identity. Both might be considered ‘stateless nations’ (Keating, 2001 Keating, M. (2001), Nations against the State: The New Politics of Nationalism in Quebec, Catalonia and Scotland. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. [Google Scholar]), a category of territorial entities increasingly associated with challenge to the existing order. Identity plays a significant role in the modern political and social landscape in both Northern Ireland and Wales; as McCrone (2002 McCrone, D. (2002), Who do you say you are? Making sense of national identities in modern Britain, Ethnicities, Vol.2, No.3, pp.301320. doi: 10.1177/14687968020020030201[CrossRef] [Google Scholar]: 307) highlights, a greater appreciation of national identity in contexts where it is both socially problematic and highly salient is beneficial, as processes of identity generation and maintenance become more visible. However, perhaps most significantly, both are rarely used as case studies in this context, with Scotland providing a common counterpoint to other European nations, such as Catalonia; or Northern Ireland being compared with other deeply divided societies that have suffered periods of violent unrest. This relative lack of academic attention means that, until now, few political or social scientific comparisons have been made between Northern Ireland and Wales.

The cases of Welshness and Northern Irishness demonstrate that national identity formation remains a core element of the outworking(s) of devolution. Specifically, they reveal that devolution opens political space for the framing and articulation of national identities that may be multiple or multidirectional rather than thick or (uni)linear. Although a similar dampening or even de-politicization of Scottishness can be detected within (and perhaps owing to) the rise of the Scottish National Party (Eichorn, 2015 Eichorn, J. (14 May 2015), There was no rise in Scottish nationalism: understanding the SNP victory, LSE Blog. Available at http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/there-was-no-rise-in-scottish-nationalism-understanding-the-snp-victory/ (accessed 20 July 2017). ), by linking devolution to national identity we posit a multidirectional vision of Welshness and Northern Irishness that intersects with but eventually transcends questions of party politics or public policy due to the accommodative and fluid ways in which those two regional identities are being framed and articulated.

The comparison of Welshness and Northern Irishness, then, reveals what might be described as the positive and negative images of this framing: On the one hand, Welshness is being politicized for ostensible but, as yet intangible, electoral and discursive gain. On the other, Northern Irishness constrains political parties in a context of a decreasing Catholic/Protestant demographic gap. The incentive in Northern Ireland seems to favour the promotion of a semblance of governmental normality based on the policing of ethnicity at an inter-bloc level (McGrattan and Hopkins, 2017 McGrattan, C. and Hopkins, S. (2017), Memory in post-conflict societies: from contention to integration? Ethnopolitics. Available at https://doi.org/10.1080/17449057.2016.1218644 (accessed 19 April 2017). [Google Scholar]). The ‘negative image’ of Northern Irishness then relates to the revelation of what we describe as a ‘lock’ on inter-bloc outbidding. Accordingly, we explore Welshness through the lens of interview material and Northern Irishness through party documentation.

Our findings suggest that, contrary to the Horowitzian logic that once ethno-nationalism is invoked, ‘there is no point holding back’ (Horowitz, 2000 Horowitz, D. L. (2000), Ethnic Groups in Conflict. London: University of California Press. [Google Scholar]: 318) careful and considered attention to identity framing on the side of political parties requires nuanced appreciation on the side of analysis. Following from the framing methodology, we suggest that those appreciations have gone relatively under-appreciated in the existing literature on devolution, which is more frequently analysed through lenses other than identity. When identity is considered, it is as if it is refracted through those other policy concerns, including institutional changes (Mitchell, 2009 Mitchell, J. (2009), Devolution in the UK. Manchester: Manchester University Press.[CrossRef] [Google Scholar]); policy and service divergence (Keating and Cairney, 2012 Keating, M. and Cairney, P. (2012), Introduction: policymaking, learning and devolution, Regional and Federal Studies, Vol.22, No.3, pp.239–250. ); political transformations (Wilford and Wilson, 2005 Wilford, R. and Wilson, R. (2005), Northern Ireland: while you take the high road, in A. Trench (ed.), The Dynamics of Devolution, pp.6390. London: The Constitution Unit. [Google Scholar]; Deacon, 2012 Deacon, R. (2012), Devolution in the United Kingdom. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. [Google Scholar]); ideological modifications (Aughey, 2013 Aughey, A. (2013), The British Question? Manchester: Manchester University Press.[CrossRef] [Google Scholar]); and broader state and transnational transitions (Ruane et al., 2003 Ruane, J., Todd, J. and Mandeville, A. (eds) (2003), Europe’s Old States in the New World Order: The Politics of Transition in Britain, France and Spain. Dublin: University College Dublin Press. [Google Scholar]).

The Brexit referendum has already lent a certain historical quality to devolution in Northern Ireland (Guardian, 2017 Guardian. (2017), The Guardian view on the Northern Ireland assembly election: a warning to Brexit Britain: Editorial, The Guardian, 5 March. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/05/the-guardian-view-on-the-northern-ireland-assembly-election-a-warning-to-brexit-britain (accessed 19 April 2017). ): The 2017 collapse of the Assembly may prefigure a neat periodization of devolved government in the region, or a return of a reconfigured Assembly with not only the fact of Ulster unionism losing its electorally dominant position for the first time since partition but also with the seemingly increasingly realistic prospect of Sinn Féin being in government in both Irish jurisdictions (Kelly, 2017 Kelly, F. (2017), Possibility of FF going into coalition with SF increasingly accepted in medium-term, Irish Times, 15 April, p. 4. ). The referendum result and the triggering of Article 50 change the relationships between centre and peripheries within the UK. However, while framings of Welshness and Northern Irishness have been facilitated by devolution the very multidirectional aspect of these framings merit special attention as those territorial relationships continue to evolve. The draining of territorial, constitutional and ideological significance from these core identity categories occurs on several levels, including apathy and lack of trust and the repositioning of political parties. This may, in one view, be suggestive of stability and even contentment with devolution.11 In 2015, only 32% of respondents believed that the Northern Ireland Assembly would act in the best long-term interests of the region ‘just about always’ or ‘most of the time’ (http://www.ark.ac.uk/nilt/2015/Political_Attitudes/NIAINTNI.html). Polls on devolution and identity in Northern Ireland have typically linked these to the peace process.View all notes Just as the multidirectional nature of the framings of Welshness and Northern Irishness work to accommodate regional distinction immediate and longer term changes in the political dispensation in Northern Ireland and Wales may work to amplify the salience of these multifaceted framings.

Devolution and identity politics

The question of overarching identity categories has been somewhat overlooked in preference to region-specific concerns. These include the meanings and implications of the depth of Scottish nationalism and the continued existence of the Union, particularly in the political and cultural landscape after the Scottish independence referendum and the general election victories of the Scottish National Party in May 2015 (Colley, 2014 Colley, L. (2014), Acts of Union and Disunion: What has Held the UK Together and What is Dividing It? London: Profile. [Google Scholar]; Craig, 2016 Craig, Cairns. (2016), Unsettled will: cultural engagement and Scottish independence, Observatoire de la Société Britannique, Vol.18, pp.1536. doi: 10.4000/osb.1800[CrossRef] [Google Scholar]; McCrone and Bechhofer, 2015 McCrone, D. and Bechhofer, F. (2015), Understanding National Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.[CrossRef] [Google Scholar]). This interest is perhaps reflective of what Charlie Jeffery has called the ‘piecemeal’ character of devolution (2008 Jeffery, C. (2008), Devolution in the United Kingdom: problems of a piecemeal approach to constitutional change, Publius: The Journal of Federalism, Vol.39, No.2, pp.289313. doi: 10.1093/publius/pjn038[CrossRef], [Web of Science ®] [Google Scholar]). Although Scottish and Welsh devolution occurred as part of longer term efforts to match the governance and administration of each country to its respective party political and ethno-nationalist demographics, in Northern Ireland, devolution was only one part of a broader package – Strand One of the three-stranded Belfast/Good Friday Agreement of 1998 (McGrattan, 2010 McGrattan, C. (2010), Northern Ireland, 1968–2008: The Politics of Entrenchment. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.[CrossRef] [Google Scholar]: 157) – aimed at restoring peace to the region. As Jeffrey points out, this related, but ultimately disconnected, constitutional reform project has meant that

devolution has opened up, rather than ‘settled’ the scope for debate about political community in the UK, leaving the different purposes and inter-relationships of structures of government representing different scales of political community at the devolved and UK levels in disequilibrium (2008 Jeffery, C. (2008), Devolution in the United Kingdom: problems of a piecemeal approach to constitutional change, Publius: The Journal of Federalism, Vol.39, No.2, pp.289313. doi: 10.1093/publius/pjn038[CrossRef], [Web of Science ®] [Google Scholar]: 291).

James Mitchell has demonstrated that one of the outworkings of this ‘disequilibrium’ has been the inauguration of a new era of differentiated citizenship within the UK (2009 Mitchell, J. (2009), Devolution in the UK. Manchester: Manchester University Press.[CrossRef] [Google Scholar]). In this perspective, devolution, through a renewed sense of governmental legitimacy (Mitchell, 2009 Mitchell, J. (2009), Devolution in the UK. Manchester: Manchester University Press.[CrossRef] [Google Scholar]), may have arrested the attenuation of the Union through divergent, even separatist, nationalisms. However, one unresolved implication might be that the dilution of common rights and access to services reinforces, rather than suppresses, national identity – or, at the very least, a sense of regional difference. Jeffrey concurs, citing Gordon Brown’s long-standing concerns to extol the welfare state, and the ‘British National Health Service’ (NHS) in particular, as kinds of Britishness binding agents. Jeffrey goes on to argue that

the problem is that the realities of education opportunity, labour markets, and health care provision do not match the Britain-wide reach of those beliefs, but, as a marker of the unmanaged divergence of post-devolution policy-making, instead vary significantly by national territory (2006 Jeffrey, C. (2006), Devolution in the United Kingdom: problems of a piecemeal approach to constitutional change, Publius: The Journal of Federalism, Vol.39, No.2, pp.289–313. : 306–307).

It remains possible to acknowledge both a local/regional identity in tandem with an overarching UK one (Curtice, 2006 Curtice, J. (2006), A stronger or weaker union? Public reactions to asymmetric devolution in the United Kingdom, Publius: The Journal of Federalism, Vol.36, No.1, pp.95113. doi: 10.1093/publius/pjj006[CrossRef], [Web of Science ®] [Google Scholar]: 99–100). Yet, in both Curtice and Mitchell, the idea of identity still seems to be somewhat fixed and/or linear in the framing regionalism against centrism; furthermore, in Jeffrey’s (2008 Jeffery, C. (2008), Devolution in the United Kingdom: problems of a piecemeal approach to constitutional change, Publius: The Journal of Federalism, Vol.39, No.2, pp.289313. doi: 10.1093/publius/pjn038[CrossRef], [Web of Science ®] [Google Scholar]) case, despite a focus on constitutional moments, the effect is to evoke specificities or singular instances, rather than multi-directionalities or multilinearities. Rather than simply containing or constraining separatism, or facilitating or delimiting the growth of regional-nationalism, the relationship between the mechanics and institutional nature of devolution and identity may be both more fluid and hidden. In other words, regional distinction may subsist with approval for devolved government and administrative processes.

This is, of course, not quite the same as the New Labour vision of pluralizing the public sphere by creating a ‘new politics’ of access, transparency and participation (Meehan and Mackay, 2012 Meehan, E. and Mackay, F. (2012), A ‘new politics’ of participation? in C. McGrattan and E. Meehan (eds), Everyday Life After the Irish Conflict: The Impact of Devolution and Cross-Border Cooperation, pp.169183. Manchester: Manchester University Press.[CrossRef] [Google Scholar]). Indeed, it is qualitatively different and infers a willingness or consent to work within the broad strictures of devolution, even if those strictures appear as opportunities for pursuing localized identity claims. In this way, devolution is neither an event nor a process but something more, in that it both constrains and facilitates identity politics. These politics are fundamentally in tension with an overarching UK-wide affiliation, but they also involve acquiescence in the broader framework of the UK state. In other words, devolution facilitates a seemingly contradictory politics, wherein it is possible to hold a spectrum of identities that are suspicious of, or may even perceive the centre, or other peripheries, as a threat, while simultaneously supporting membership of the devolved and differentiated state.

Framing devolved identities

As Wilford and Wilson point out, the ‘“dynamics of devolution” have a very different connotation in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the UK’ (2005 Wilford, R. and Wilson, R. (2005), Northern Ireland: while you take the high road, in A. Trench (ed.), The Dynamics of Devolution, pp.6390. London: The Constitution Unit. [Google Scholar]: 63). One of the reasons for this is that the region has had historical experiences of devolved administration (from 1921 to 1972 and in 1974) to an extent not seen elsewhere in the UK, coupled with a broad and cross-community based desire to end what was seen as the democratic deficit of ‘direct rule ministers’ making decisions for which they would not be accountable to the Northern Irish electorate. As pointed out above, devolution in Northern Ireland was part of a broader package of reforms related to the peace process, but it can also be seen as part of a longer term attitude towards Northern Ireland by Westminster in that there has existed an (unspoken) preference by the centre to return responsibility for administration back to Northern Ireland, if only to insulate Westminster from the fractious politics of the region (Mitchell, 2009 Mitchell, J. (2009), Devolution in the UK. Manchester: Manchester University Press.[CrossRef] [Google Scholar]: 194).

In Wales, devolution progresses slowly: Despite the acquisition of primary legislative powers following a 2011 referendum (Wyn Jones and Scully, 2012 Wyn Jones, R. and Scully, R. (2012), Wales Says Yes: Devolution and the 2011 Welsh Referendum. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. [Google Scholar]), the levels of power and responsibility devolved to the Welsh Government continue to be the weakest of the three devolved UK nations, with Welsh Government decisions regularly resulting in Supreme Court battles over legitimacy.22 For example, in 2013/14 regarding the Agricultural Wages Board https://ukconstitutionallaw.org/2014/07/30/ann-sherlock-supreme-court-ruling-on-welsh-legislation/.View all notes There is increasing consensus, now partially accepted by the UK government, that the Wales Act, which received Royal Assent in January 2017, ostensibly designed to clarify what is and what is not devolved to Wales on a form of ‘reserved powers’ model, would ‘turn the clock back’ on Welsh devolution rather than develop it. The Act, which further conferred new powers around energy policy, ports and airports and decisions around elections and other democratic processes, has left academics commenting that the Act leaves Welsh Government decisions even more open to Supreme Court challenge (https://www.ucl.ac.uk/constitution-unit/publications/tabs/reports/edit/unit-publications/167.pdf). The impact of this new Bill on Welsh politics and national identity remains to be seen; the most recent polling suggested that only 6% of the population desire independence, 44% agreed with attaining new powers, while 29% were comfortable with the Assembly’s current level of powers (Scully, 2017 Scully, R. (2017), The BBC/ICM Poll, 1: devolution. Available at: http://blogs.cardiff.ac.uk/electionsinwales/2017/03/06/the-bbcicm-poll-1-devolution/ (accessed 17 April 2017). ).

The framing of devolution within the politics of identity gives way to the notion of a linear trajectory: namely, that devolution promotes the expression of banal nationalism or attenuates nationalist sentiment; in this way, it essentially reinforces the logic of the Davies’ (1999 Davies, R. (1999), Devolution: a process, not an event. Cardiff: Institute of Welsh Affairs Gregynog Papers. [Google Scholar]) process or event question in that the policy of devolution remains somehow constitutive of national identity. Bogdanor (1999 Bogdanor, V. (1999), Devolution: decentralisation or disintegration? The Political Quarterly, Vol.70, No.2, pp.185194. doi: 10.1111/1467-923X.00220[CrossRef], [Web of Science ®] [Google Scholar]), for example, contends that devolution inaugurated a new way of doing British politics: rather than eliding distinction through recourse to parliamentary sovereignty, difference would be recognized and contradictions accommodated. This emphasis on devolution-as-recognition evokes devolution as transversalism: the handover of powers to the regions deepens equality based on difference. The tension inherent in that assumption can be seen in what have become known as Section 75 debates in Northern Ireland, relating to the duties outlined in the 1998 Northern Ireland Act to promote equality and good relations (Meehan and MacKay, 2012 Meehan, E. and Mackay, F. (2012), A ‘new politics’ of participation? in C. McGrattan and E. Meehan (eds), Everyday Life After the Irish Conflict: The Impact of Devolution and Cross-Border Cooperation, pp.169183. Manchester: Manchester University Press.[CrossRef] [Google Scholar]): the ability to participate in the ‘new politics’ of devolution, in other words, might be restricted to and valorize certain kinds of identities.

Framing theory suggests a more multifaceted and multidirectional way to view the relationship between devolution and identity. Within political science, framing theory was developed in relation to the social movement research of Benford and Snow (2000 Benford, R. D. and Snow, D. A. (2000), Framing processes and social movements: an overview and assessment, Annual Review of Sociology, Vol.26, pp.611639. doi: 10.1146/annurev.soc.26.1.611[CrossRef], [Web of Science ®] [Google Scholar]). The concept of collective action frames has since been applied to a wide range of causes and across academic disciplines, from psychology and media studies to political science and sociology. Ferree et al. (2002 Ferree, M., Gamson, W. A., Gerhards, J. and Rucht, D. (2002), Shaping Abortion Discourse: Democracy and the Public Sphere in Germany and the United States. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.[CrossRef] [Google Scholar]) note that the use of the term frame has two primary connotations: firstly, it denotes the idea of a picture frame, whereby certain elements are contained inside a border; secondly, it evokes the idea of a structure, which shapes and supports the elements it encases. In this way, an individual’s conceptualization of their national identity can be understood in terms of a frame, whereby the elements encompassing their identity are contained within a border, with that border providing a structure encasing and supporting the material inside. For example, one Welsh identifier may include speaking the Welsh language inside this frame, while another may not. The importance of the framing metaphor, as such, is that it reveals how identity categories can be harnessed to complementary and contradictory meanings. For instance, it is vital to remember that what is left out of the frame can be of equal significance to what is included within it. By definition, while certain elements will be included in a frame and encased in a border, other elements will be left outside. When these frames are subsequently mobilized, those elements left out will be silenced, either purposely or unconsciously so (see, Pitchford, 2001 Pitchford, S. R. (Spring 2001), Image-making movements: welsh nationalism and stereotype transformation, Sociological Perspectives, Vol.44, No.1, pp.4565. doi: 10.2307/1389808[CrossRef], [Web of Science ®] [Google Scholar]; Gagnon, 2004 Gagnon, V. P. Jr. (2004), The Myth of Ethnic War: Serbia and Croatia in the 1990s. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. [Google Scholar]; Muro, 2009 Muro, D. (2009), The politics of war memory in radical Basque nationalism, Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol.32, No.4, pp.659678. doi: 10.1080/01419870801943654[Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ®] [Google Scholar]).

The idea of framing is implicit in McCrone and Bechhofer’s (2015 McCrone, D. and Bechhofer, F. (2015), Understanding National Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.[CrossRef] [Google Scholar]) survey of national identity research in which they focus in particular on the narrative understandings that articulate Englishness and Scottishness and argue for a multifaceted perspective in ‘get[ting] at’ national identity (2015 McCrone, D. and Bechhofer, F. (2015), Understanding National Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.[CrossRef] [Google Scholar]: 21). The evidence presented below derives from a mixed methods approach: 12 interviews and 8 focus groups were conducted in Wales, with between 5 and 10 participants per group, between November 2013 and January 2015, supported by selected quantitative data. The Northern Ireland data come mainly from political party documents and the Northern Ireland Life and Times Surveys. There are multiple advantages to mixed-method approaches, including their ability to generate a more holistic representation and highlight different perspectives, their capacity to allow for triangulation between methods to reinforce reliability and their allowance of more effective analysis (Bryman 2012 Bryman, A. (2012), Social Research Methods. London: Oxford University Press. [Google Scholar]: 627).

Viewing devolution through the lens of framing theory allows us to grasp the core paradoxical elements of devolution as involving exclusive regional identities that are nonetheless not completely exclusionary of the overarching policy. Rather than a one-way direction, devolution continues as a policy framework that precipitates and/or facilitates subtle shifts in the articulation of those regional identities. Thus, it is possible to see the embedding of devolution in Northern Ireland and Wales is intricately linked with the evacuation of Northern Irishness and Welshness of political-constitutional content.

Politicizing Welshness

The concept of Welshness, as interpreted by quantitative survey studies, has remained remarkably constant. Despite almost two decades of devolution, appetite for independence remains below 10% (Scully, 2015 Scully, R. (2015), Support for welsh independence doubles. Available at http://blogs.cardiff.ac.uk/electionsinwales/2015/03/05/support-for-welsh-independence-doubles/ (accessed 12 May 2016). ) and, on the Moreno scale, the majority of Welsh people continue to self-identify as Equally Welsh and British (Wyn Jones and Scully, 2012 Wyn Jones, R. and Scully, R. (2012), Wales Says Yes: Devolution and the 2011 Welsh Referendum. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. [Google Scholar]: 131). Devolution, it was claimed, would deepen democracy and improve transparency, accountability, inclusivity and representation, fostering a climate of ‘new politics’ in Wales (McAllister, 2000 McAllister, L. (2000), The new politics in Wales: rhetoric or reality? Parliamentary Affairs, Vol.53, No.3, pp.591604. doi: 10.1093/pa/53.3.591[CrossRef], [Web of Science ®] [Google Scholar]; Chaney et al., 2001 Chaney, P., Hall, T. and Pithouse, A. (2001), New Governance, New Democracy? Post-Devolution Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. [Google Scholar]). However, a secondary rationale determined that devolution would increase a sense of Welshness (Bradbury and Mitchell, 2001 Bradbury, J. and Mitchell, J. (2001), Devolution: new politics for old? Parliamentary Affairs, Vol.54, No.2, pp.257275. doi: 10.1093/parlij/54.2.257[CrossRef], [Web of Science ®] [Google Scholar]); indeed, Jeffrey (in Adams and Schmueker, 2005 Adams, J. and Schmueker, K. (2005), Devolution in Practice 2006: Public Policy Differences Within the UK. London: Institute for Public Policy Research. [Google Scholar]: 10) argues that reflecting national identity and expressing cultural and historical difference were key driving forces behind devolution. There are mixed assessments as to whether this has occurred, with some analysts arguing that it has remained stable (Wyn Jones and Scully, 2004 Wyn Jones, R. and Scully, R. (June 2004), Devolution in Wales: what does the public think? ESRC Research Programme on Devolution and Constitutional Change – Devolution Briefings. Available at: http://www.devolution.ac.uk/pdfdata/Scully_RLJ_Briefing7.pdf (accessed 17 February 2013). ; Rosie and Bond, 2008 Rosie, M. and Bond, R. (2008), National identities and politics after devolution, Radical Statistics, Vol.97, pp.4765. [Google Scholar]) Bradbury and Andrews (2010 Bradbury J. and Andrews, R. (2010), State devolution and national identity: continuity and change in the politics of Welshness and Britishness in Wales, Parliamentary Affairs, Vol.63, No.2, pp.229249. doi: 10.1093/pa/gsp029[CrossRef], [Web of Science ®] [Google Scholar]) argue that it may be the case that Welshness has remained stable but that its politicization has increased; the rationale behind which, they suggest, represents a convergence on a sense of ‘civic Welshness’.

These arguments notwithstanding, it remains the case that quantitative studies are ill-equipped to examine the fundamental nature of Welshness as a framing device; it is plausible to suggest that respondents self-identifying as ‘Welsh-only’ may well have a different conceptualization of Welshness than those answering ‘Equally Welsh and British’, one as much bound up with conceptualizations of Britishness as with Welshness. Further, even if the sense of national identity amongst the electorate has not altered drastically as a result of devolution, the idea that political elites would seek to mobilize Welshness to a greater degree than ever before would suggest that national identity is a key facet of the devolution process. As levels of Welsh-only identification remain stable and turnout at Welsh Assembly elections remains stubbornly lower than that of their Westminster equivalent (38–46% compared with 62–74%) (McAllister and Cole 2012 McAllister, L. and Cole, M. (2012), The 2011 Welsh general election: an analysis of the latest staging post in the maturing of welsh politics, Parliamentary Affairs, Vol.67, No.1, pp.172190. doi: 10.1093/pa/gss036[CrossRef], [Web of Science ®] [Google Scholar]), the increased politicization of ‘Welshness’ may have had limited effect, despite the persistence of politicians. Why this may be the case is also interesting: is the politicization simply ineffective, or is the content of what is politicized unappealing to the electorate?

The politicization of Welshness is inherently connected to devolution in a form that problematizes the conception of devolution as a linear process. Recent qualitative fieldwork demonstrates that high-level representatives from the key Welsh political parties agree that there is a strong link between the advent of devolution and a reinvigorated (or, in some cases, entirely new) desire to politicize a sense of Welsh national identity (see Bradbury and Andrews, 2010 Bradbury J. and Andrews, R. (2010), State devolution and national identity: continuity and change in the politics of Welshness and Britishness in Wales, Parliamentary Affairs, Vol.63, No.2, pp.229249. doi: 10.1093/pa/gsp029[CrossRef], [Web of Science ®] [Google Scholar]). In exploring whether devolution had increased a sense of Welshness amongst the electorate, they argue that quantitative data suggests that this is not the case, and that levels of national identification have not undergone the significant change that would be expected to occur following the creation of an autonomous parliament and partial political and legal jurisdiction. Instead, they argue that it is the politicization of the concept of ‘Welshness’ that has predominated, as political elites seek to mobilize national identity electorally and present themselves as ‘Welsh’ parties in ‘Welsh’ elections. In so doing, political frames of Welshness are projected onto the electorate in the apparent hope of increased electoral chances.

There is a clear sense that politicians believe that they must present themselves as ‘Welsh’ in order to place a border around their credibility, suggesting an inherent belief that the Welsh electorate vote in large part in accordance with their understanding of their national identity. Bradbury and Andrews argue that an ‘idea’ of ‘civic Welshness’ is essential to that political framing:

the promotion of civic Wales has bridged different understandings of Welshness and sought to broaden it out in a manner that robustly asserts the existence of a Welsh political arena, therefore giving devolution real meaning, but implicitly not one that seeks to be independent. (2010 Bradbury J. and Andrews, R. (2010), State devolution and national identity: continuity and change in the politics of Welshness and Britishness in Wales, Parliamentary Affairs, Vol.63, No.2, pp.229249. doi: 10.1093/pa/gsp029[CrossRef], [Web of Science ®] [Google Scholar]: 236–237)

This takes place, they contend, within the ‘framework’ of the British state (238).

Devolution has marked a shift in the understanding of Welshness as a composite identity category. This assertion is substantiated by recent qualitative evidence from focus groups and structured interviews. A point to note: any remarks made by politicians must, of course, be contextualized; views on these issues will differ within political parties and between individual politicians. Welsh Labour, for example, is known for internal conflicts between unionist and ‘Welsh’ wings (see Tanner et al., 2000 Tanner, D., Williams, C. and Hopkin, D. (eds) (2000), The Labour Party in Wales 1900–2000. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. [Google Scholar]). These internal differences, however, as often not made publicly explicit, and parties will instead seek to present united messages as part of a process of politicization. Respondents indicated that a changed political dispensation coloured the meaning they afforded to Welshness:

Conservative Senior AM (22/7/2014): It’s difficult to know cause and effect, but I think they kind of go together, that the arrival of devolution was … a rediscovery of … Welsh distinctiveness.

Welsh Labour Senior AM (7/11/2014): Fifteen years ago, we had difficulties with the concept of Welsh Labour … the party felt that, by calling ourselves Welsh Labour we were in some way suggesting that we were only for Welsh speakers … but those days are long gone … there’s complete comfort now with the idea that we are Welsh Labour … Welsh Labour probably now has a stronger Welsh identity than it ever has done in the past.

Indeed, this has caused the Welsh Conservatives in particular to change their outlook:

Welsh Conservative AM (18/8/2014): The Conservative Party over the past fifteen, twenty years, has developed its Welsh branch … it’s become … more Welsh in its outlook … certainly since the establishment of the Assembly, it certainly has had to become more Welsh, and it’s certainly much more Welsh than it was, say, twenty, twenty-five years ago … 

Conservative Senior AM (18/9/2014): Since ’97 … we’ve been very proactive in supporting the values of the Assembly and the values of Wales … the last fifteen-odd years have been a journey of transition for Welsh Conservatives, from, basically, just being part of the overall UK party, to being a very distinct and separate entity now.

Politicians are clear, then, that politicization of ‘Welshness’, rather than a sense of ‘Welshness’ itself, has increased dramatically following devolution.

Bradbury and Andrews’ assertion that that sense of Welshness hinges upon a civic understanding is challenged by qualitative evidence that suggests that, instead of converging on one shared meaning of ‘Welshness’ political elites instead practice a method of conflation. Instead of associating Welshness with a broader civic, social and cultural project, all four mainstream parties conflate Welshness with their own political ideology. This is evident in the following excerpts:

Welsh Liberal Democrats Senior AM (5/8/2014): There’s an underlying sense in Wales about trying … to make society fairer … but also … a proud tradition of standing up for individual freedoms … looking out for another person, but also empowering that person to take control of their own lives … those are … the core values of the party, which I think are very Welsh values.

Plaid Cymru Senior AM (27/11/2014): It’s … not surprising that [we are seen] as a Welsh party, and only for Wales … we are the only party for Wales.

Welsh Labour Senior AM (4/7/2014): As a political strategy, it has been very important to us to be able to capture the ground that says you can be Welsh and Labour, in fact, to be Welsh and Labour are to be the same thing … Wales is a Labour nation, if you want to be Welsh, then being Labour will be a very natural … fit … That’s our message, that it is perfectly possible and natural in Wales to be Labour.

Despite clear attempts to frame and politically mobilize ‘Welshness’ for electoral gain on the part of politicians, these attempts appear somewhat fruitless as they lack purchase with the electorate; if national identity is not an overwhelming factor conditioning the majority of voters’ political preferences, what are the prevailing factors and why do politicians believe that national identity is so important? One answer to this last part of the question may be that it varies from political party to political party. Welsh Labour, for example, may be reacting to pressure from another ‘Welsh’ party. The way that devolution opens space for alternative articulations of identity means that Welshness may be harnessed to differing framings. The distinctions between these framings, while perhaps contradictory, may be displaced or decontested, allowing relatively bland and constitutionally asinine readings. This helps to explain the hollowing-out of a particularist or separatist vision of Welshness and its replacement by a malleable notion that is utilized by different political parties.

Welsh Labour Senior AM (7/11/2014): Historically within the party, there was a fear that Welshness was the preserve of Plaid Cymru, that was never right, and we had to move away from that idea, and that’s why Welsh Labour became so important, so we could say to people you can be proudly Welsh, but it doesn’t mean that you have to vote for Plaid Cymru … we know that there’s a section of the Labour vote that will detach to Plaid Cymru, in Assembly elections … we wanted to make sure that those people felt very comfortable that they could vote for Welsh Labour and have a Welsh party.

The politicization of Welshness, therefore, results in the conflation of national identity and party political ideology, as parties project frames of Welshness onto the electorate. In so doing, the substance of Welshness (is arguably removed, diluting its potential cause for division. Questions around qualification for Welshness are not raised; instead, politicians present versions of Welshness based on political and social values, rather than ideas of ethnicity or language.

Politicizing Northern Irishness

Northern Ireland, acceptance of the devolutionary settlement has arguably been dependent on the articulation of nationalist and unionist identities being tied with power-sharing. The link between power-sharing and devolution, then, is a kind of double-bind: power-sharing depends on the recognition of ethno-national identities (including the aspirational ‘Other’) and devolved administration facilitates the reproduction of that logic. The idea of a Northern Irish identity has, within that lock, always been somewhat unstable. Yet, within Northern Ireland, this was a key element in the reporting of the 2011 census where it was shown that 45% of Catholics and 48% of Protestants prefer Northern Irish as an identity label (see, McNicholl, 2014 McNicholl, K. (2014), Why Northern Ireland is becoming less ‘Northern Irish’ and more divided, Slugger O’Toole, 16 January 2014. Available at http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/01/16/why-northern-ireland-is-becoming-less-northern-irish-and-more-divided/ (accessed 11 December 2015). ).

According to McNicholl (2017 McNicholl, K. (2017), What does it mean to be ‘Northern Irish’? Irish Times, 3 April. Available at http://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/what-exactly-does-it-mean-to-be-northern-irish-1.3033839 (accessed 9 April 2017). ), this media interest skewered the reality that a sense of Northern Irishness has not increased in ‘any substantial way’ in the twenty-first century. He argues that it remains electorally inconsequential with the middle-ground Alliance Party gaining only slightly higher support from individuals advocating a Northern Irish identity than from those identifying as either British or Irish. Northern Irishness, then, works as a kind of negative image to that of Welshness in that its politicization works contrary to overt political mobilization: As McNicholl (2017 McNicholl, K. (2017), What does it mean to be ‘Northern Irish’? Irish Times, 3 April. Available at http://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/what-exactly-does-it-mean-to-be-northern-irish-1.3033839 (accessed 9 April 2017). ) points out, for instance, the 2015 Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey ‘shows that those who are Northern Irish are still more likely to consider themselves nationalist and unionist than either’.

Aughey (2017 Aughey, A. (2017), Understanding national identity: a political reading, Nations and Nationalism, Vol.23, No.2, pp.448453.[Web of Science ®] [Google Scholar]: 449) has recently warned against reading too much into Northern Irishness, citing Richard Rose’s 1971 Governing Without Consensus, which reported a well-defined sense of provincial distinctiveness in Ulster. It was the impact of the IRA’s campaign, Aughey points out, ‘that made “British” (as the most un-Irish option) the overwhelming choice for Ulster Protestants’. Recent elections confirm the weakness of the narrative that Northern Irishness could somehow become a peace process identity category: the two main ethnic tribune parties, Sinn Fein and the DUP solidified their positions in the March 2017 Northern Ireland Assembly election (with 27 and 28 seats respectively, compared to the next highest party, the Ulster Unionist’s 12 seats) and again in the June 2017 general election where all but one of the province’s 18 seats went to both (and that one, North Down, to an Independent) (see http://www.ark.ac.uk/elections/).

The presence of ‘Northern Irish’ as a significant identity preference seems paradoxical within an ethnic bloc system, in which parties contest votes within rather than across the dominant communal divide. However, it is completely logical in a post-ceasefire environment where identity categories need not carry the weight of political, ideological or even violent commitment. As such it can work in subterranean and multidirectional ways to inform, constrain and colour identity framings by political elites. This seems intrinsic to the rather fluid nature of the identity category itself. For instance, as Garry and McNicholl (2014 Garry, J. and McNicholl, K. (2014), Understanding the ‘Northern Irish’ identity, knowledge exchange seminar series, 2014–15. Available at http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/globalassets/documents/raise/knowledge_exchange/briefing_papers/series4/northern_ireland_identity_garry_mcnicholl_policy_document.pdf (accessed 11 December 2015). ), point out: Northern Irishness may actually be used in ways that deliberately harness its ambiguity:

[S]omeone could say they are Northern Irish and mean they are Irish, but from the North and thus [express a preference to] delegitimise partition. Similarly, someone can say they are Northern Irish and mean they are from a state within the United Kingdom, and are in no way Irish. In this case it is British that is the overarching identity, encompassing Northern Irish, Scottish, Welsh and English. (2014 Garry, J. and McNicholl, K. (2014), Understanding the ‘Northern Irish’ identity, knowledge exchange seminar series, 2014–15. Available at http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/globalassets/documents/raise/knowledge_exchange/briefing_papers/series4/northern_ireland_identity_garry_mcnicholl_policy_document.pdf (accessed 11 December 2015). : 2)

Rather than conflation, the almost conscious avoidance by political elites to define the otherwise ambivalent concept of Northern Irishness is linked to devolution in numerous ways. The Ulster Unionist Party, for instance, links achievement by Northern Irish sportspeople to a sense of local identity that can be mobilized also through artistic or cultural practices. In this vision, the instrumental value of a de-ethnicized local identity is vague but, nonetheless, seemingly aspirational:

As a society, we should be celebrating the fact that the type of Northern Ireland we strive to get out already exists in many forms and supporting and nurturing that, not cutting the heart out of it … A society such as ours that in many ways is just beginning to flourish cannot afford to lose out on the economic and social benefits of embracing the value of the arts. (UUP, 2016 UUP [Ulster Unionist Party]. (2016), The arts, March 2016. Available at http://uup.org/our-vision/policies (accessed 6 October 2016). )

The largest party in Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), arguably stress Northern Irishness to an even greater degree. Perhaps partly a result of the party’s history of protest and distrust of Westminster, the idea of a localized identity runs through the party’s policy programme. Indeed, ‘Taking pride in Northern Ireland’ has been one of ten key strands of that programme and centres on the centenary of Northern Ireland:

2021 presents us all with the opportunity to build positively on the events of recent years and to develop a series of events and initiatives that will celebrate this historic milestone and build community pride. (DUP, N.D.)

The DUP’s eulogizing of the foundation of Northern Ireland stands at odds with Northern Irish nationalists’ credo that partition was and remains an injustice (Todd, 1990 Todd, J. (1990), Northern Irish nationalist political culture, Irish Political Studies, Vol.5, pp.3144. doi: 10.1080/07907189008406472[Taylor & Francis Online] [Google Scholar]). Throughout the conflict, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) had tried to circumvent the border by espousing a post-nationalist vision of Irishness; however, its current leadership has opted for a pragmatic approach that recognizes partition and, implicitly reinforces the border. Contending that the SDLP has a ‘selfish and strategic interest in making Northern Ireland work’, its leader, Colum Eastwood, has argued that ‘[a]lthough many have been slow to grasp the significance of that statement, people should understand that this is a major departure for northern nationalism: Whilst working to build a new north, we are also strategically building our broader nationalist vision’ (Manley, 2016 Manley, J. (2016), SDLP leader Colum Eastwood spells out red line issues ahead of May’s Stormont election, Irish News, 14 March 2016. Available at http://www.irishnews.com/news/politicalnews/2016/03/14/news/sdlp-leader-colum-eastwood-spells-out-red-line-issues-ahead-of-may-s-stormont-election-448772/ (accessed 6 October 2016). ). Quite what this means practically is unclear. However, it is possible to see that the espousal of regional issues and the articulation of regional difference is not quite the normalization of Northern Ireland for nationalists that it perhaps once was.

Indeed, there is evidence of thawing within even the more hard-line nationalist party, Sinn Féin. This goes beyond the realpolitik involved in espousing an anti-austerity line in the Irish Republic while overseeing cuts to public services in Northern Ireland (Sheahan and Downing, 2014 Sheahan, F. and Downing, J. (2014), Sinn Féin ‘backs austerity in North and rejects it in South’, Irish Independent, 8 February 2014. Available at http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/politics/sinn-fein-backs-austerity-in-north-and-rejects-it-in-south-29990949.html (accessed 6 October 2016). ), to a realization that the promotion of ‘Irishness’ itself is limiting the party’s potential in the South (Boland, 2016 Boland, V. (2016), Sinn Féin: escaping from the past, Financial Times, 21 February 2016. Available at https://www.ft.com/content/7252b436-d3c2-11e5-8887-98e7feb46f27 (accessed 6 October 2016). ). It is also discernible in marginal events like the republican newspaper, An Phoblacht, hosting articles that assert the possibility of Irish republicans recognizing ‘Northern Ireland’:

The time has come for republicans to find a place within the United Ireland narrative for the perpetually contested entity that is Northern Ireland … The north is now, and will continue into perpetuity to be, a contested entity, a hybrid state peopled by stoutly and proudly Irish and British communities whose identities may overlap but may also continue to remain completely separate. (Donnelly, 2016 Donnelly, C. (2016), Time for republicans to write Northern Ireland into a United Ireland vision, Slugger O’Toole, 14 September 2016. Available at https://sluggerotoole.com/2016/09/14/time-for-republicans-to-write-northern-ireland-into-a-united-ireland-vision/ (accessed 6 October 2016). )

The articulation of a sense of Northern Irishness is also logical from the standpoint of party politics. Although an imperative undoubtedly does exist to become the dominant grouping within each religio-nationalist bloc, by radicalizing or ethicizing policy and rhetoric to circumvent outbidding, that process must at some point be tempered by the near equality of the Protestant and Catholic demographics. In other words, for political elites there is still a need to de-mobilize or de-escalate inter-bloc tension in order to maintain intra-bloc stability (and perhaps suggest to the voters of their erstwhile antagonists that ‘their’ policy vision (reunification/constitutional status quo) is really nothing to be feared). This dynamic remained unaffected in the ‘Brexit’ referendum debate: whereas 86% and 92% of SDLP and Sinn Féin supporters, respectively, voted to ‘remain’, only 46% and 30% of UUP and DUP supporters did (McBride, 2016 McBride, S. (2016), Just 15% of Catholic voters in NI backed Brexit, says major study, Newsletter, 15 October 2016, p. 6. ). The motivations of the 15% of ‘Catholic voters’ who backed ‘Brexit’ remain open to speculation. However, we would suggest that the figures complement rather than contradict our thesis concerning the multidirectional politics of contentment and constraint that devolution has cultivated.

The impact of devolution on identity is also related to generational cohort in ways that remain under-researched and under-appreciated, but that, nonetheless, suggest that a linear process whereby devolution creates expanding or contracting political opportunities is unfeasible. As the journalist Newton Emerson has recently argued:

The Troubles generation was marked by an almost total collapse in the unionist sense of Irishness, which is usually explained as a reaction to republican violence. However, I do not believe this alone can account for the extent to which I do not feel Irish in the slightest. I think it is because I grew up in Co Finchley. (Emerson, 2016 Emerson, N. (2016), I do not feel Irish in the slightest, Irish Times, 13 September 2016. Available at http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/newton-emerson-i-do-not-feel-irish-in-the-slightest-1.2788939 (accessed 6 October 2016). )

The often-ironizing Emerson’s allusion to an (in)famous Margaret Thatcher quote (that Northern Ireland was as British as her constituency of Finchley) is serious: his point is that a sense of Britishness was ever-present in the political culture of Northern Ireland during the conflict at a time where ‘for most people in Northern Ireland, even the Troubles were mainly something they saw on TV … I quite clearly recall the view that a bombing was not serious unless it made the national news’ (Emerson, 2016 Emerson, N. (2016), I do not feel Irish in the slightest, Irish Times, 13 September 2016. Available at http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/newton-emerson-i-do-not-feel-irish-in-the-slightest-1.2788939 (accessed 6 October 2016). ). Devolution might, in this perspective, be seen to fold history back over on itself – it has created a new template for articulating identity and looking at the world distinct from the Troubles’ generation(s), but perhaps closer to those socialized before the descent into violence and assumption of direct rule in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Conclusions

This article has explored how Northern Irishness and Welshness are constrained and coloured by devolution. We have suggested that while the operation of devolution has not radically changed in the years since its introduction to Northern Ireland and Wales, it has created space for alternative and composite understandings of everyday nationality in both devolved regions. Thus, Northern Irishness and Welshness may be framed in ways that emphasize specific understandings of what it means to live and share identity in contemporary Northern Ireland and Wales; they may also incorporate distinctive and contradictory readings of that reality by deferring aspects that may be troublesome.

This conceptualization of identity formation and articulation depends upon a methodology that begins with the effects of devolution rather than identity, per se. Our argument has been that the tendency to focus on institutions and identity leads to an unfocused and non-elucidatable attention to the direction of devolution and identity. We have suggested that this concern with what might be termed the directionality of devolution is an underpinning assumption of much of the literature of the first decade and a half of devolution studies, found not only in Bogdanor’s (1999 Bogdanor, V. (1999), Devolution: decentralisation or disintegration? The Political Quarterly, Vol.70, No.2, pp.185194. doi: 10.1111/1467-923X.00220[CrossRef], [Web of Science ®] [Google Scholar]) interest in whether devolution inspires nationalism (or separatism) but in the rather linear versions of regional identity found in the work of Colley (2014 Colley, L. (2014), Acts of Union and Disunion: What has Held the UK Together and What is Dividing It? London: Profile. [Google Scholar]), Craig (2016 Craig, Cairns. (2016), Unsettled will: cultural engagement and Scottish independence, Observatoire de la Société Britannique, Vol.18, pp.1536. doi: 10.4000/osb.1800[CrossRef] [Google Scholar]) Curtice (2006 Curtice, J. (2006), A stronger or weaker union? Public reactions to asymmetric devolution in the United Kingdom, Publius: The Journal of Federalism, Vol.36, No.1, pp.95113. doi: 10.1093/publius/pjj006[CrossRef], [Web of Science ®] [Google Scholar]), and Mitchell (2009 Mitchell, J. (2009), Devolution in the UK. Manchester: Manchester University Press.[CrossRef] [Google Scholar], 2014 Mitchell, J. (2014), The Scottish Question. Oxford: Oxford University Press.[CrossRef] [Google Scholar]). We have suggested instead that devolution opens space for alternative articulations of identity meaning that Welshness and Northern Irishness can be harnessed to different readings. This is not to conceive of these identity categories as being akin to being floating signifiers. Instead, we suggested that devolution has created similar affects at the level of identity articulation by creating opportunities for new ways of thinking about regionality.

Northern Ireland and Wales are important in this regard because they seemingly contrast with the politicization of Scottishness by the Scottish nationalists which, arguably, speaks to an older paradigm and comparably outdated with the types of discourses revealed in the Wales-Northern Ireland comparison. The multidirectional nature of identity articulation nevertheless implies a kind of folding over of history in which older conceptualizations of each region may regain salience – outmoded, of course, does not mean extinct, and our thesis of contentment with devolution implies that that may end.

The politicizations of Northern Irishness and Welshness, then, work to embed devolution itself ever more deeply into the everyday political life of both devolved nations. The multidirectionality of this process undercuts the argument relating to transactionalism as articulated by Daniel Defoe – namely, that a ‘union of policy’ can be distinguished from one of ‘affection’ (see Lloyd, 2017 Lloyd, J. (2017), The ties of affection that bind Scotland to the Union. Financial Times, 25/26 March, p. 12. ). Multidirectionality, in other words, accommodates both. Whereas in Wales, the notion of Welshness has not gained greater currency, Northern Irishness has become a more significant aspect of politics under devolution. That significance, however, relates largely to the effacement of the constitutional question as a core element of people’s identification. The significance of Welshness operates in a similar fashion and throws light on to what is going on in Northern Ireland: Welshness straddles alternative understandings and facilitates differing and distinctive readings that displace friction and factionalism.

The Brexit referendum has worked to unsettle nationalists North and South of the Irish border, ushering in a new readiness to question the constitutional settlement. For instance, one commentator and historian of republicanism has opined that ‘the recent outburst of united Ireland sentiment is remarkable for the fact that so much of it is emanating from sought of the border’ (Moloney, 2017 Moloney, E. (2017), Adams cuts a lonely figure, Sunday Business Post, 26 March, p. 25. ). Yet, what we have traced as a multidirectional character to Northern Irishness and Welshness may harness and incorporate such dynamics, accommodating their tendency to frame the UK on transactional terms by evoking alternative visions. Thus, rather than reactions to the British state, these representations of Welshness and Northern Irishness are fostered by the gradual drift of devolution policy – as devolution becomes part of everyday political life in both Northern Ireland and Wales, these composite and paradoxical framings work in an accommodative fashion offsetting contention and diverting difference.

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.

Notes

1 In 2015, only 32% of respondents believed that the Northern Ireland Assembly would act in the best long-term interests of the region ‘just about always’ or ‘most of the time’ (http://www.ark.ac.uk/nilt/2015/Political_Attitudes/NIAINTNI.html). Polls on devolution and identity in Northern Ireland have typically linked these to the peace process.

2 For example, in 2013/14 regarding the Agricultural Wages Board https://ukconstitutionallaw.org/2014/07/30/ann-sherlock-supreme-court-ruling-on-welsh-legislation/.