A longer articulation of Holyrood and Westminster’s views of social citizenship and refugee rights has been published in Mulvey’s latest article in the Journal of Social Policy. Access the article here: Social Citizenship, Social Policy and Refugee Integration: a Case of Policy Divergence in Scotland?

Social citizenship matters for everyone, but is perhaps even more important for those denied full citizenship rights, such as refugees. Diverging views of welfare and social citizenship between Holyrood and Westminster have been apparent in a number of areas of policy. Much of this divergence is Westminster moving away from a post 1945 welfare consensus (Beland and Lecours 2008, Keating 2009) towards more means testing and stratified rights, with Holyrood maintaining a form of constrained universalism. What is more, these government perspectives largely extend to various migrant populations and is evident in asylum and refugee policy, stratification at Westminster and some degree of universalism at Holyrood. Within the UK/Scottish context, immigration policy, who is allowed into the country, is reserved to the UK Government but immigrant or integration policy, what happens once they arrive, is largely devolved to the Scottish Government. Thus integration in the UK covers a multitude of both reserved and devolved policy areas such as immigration policy, employment and welfare, national security, citizenship and naturalisation and foreign affairs (all reserved); housing, education, health, community planning, neighbourhood policy, policing, and social work (all devolved); and justice which in terms of the asylum system in Britain is both. At the UK level, Government has largely withdrawn from refugee integration, leaving integration to individuals to traverse, but in the Scottish context an integration strategy is in the process of being renewed in a context where there is some notional acceptance that integration is not solely about individual agency.

The role of Social Policy

Social policy therefore matters for integration and in this case intersects with constitutional developments. Many areas of social policy and many factors that are important for social citizenship are devolved. Housing for asylum seekers in Scotland, for example, is provided by the UK Government under contract to agencies, but must also meet minimum housing standards set by the Scottish Government. On being recognised as a refugee responsibility for housing effectively becomes fully devolved and moves to the Scottish Government where, for example, different rules on the need for a ‘local connection’ to access social housing impacts upon access to accommodation and to broader mobility. That is, those not choosing their location do not have to show a local connection to access social housing in Scotland. This covers populations such as those leaving prison, and in the Scottish case includes refugees.

The asylum process is reserved, and with it decisions on the right to work. However, the opening up of limited educational opportunities and some investment in the recognition of skills and qualifications, as well as some re-skilling, suggests that the experiences of asylum seekers in that process also have elements of devolved policy. That said there is nothing in the devolved settlement that prevents the Scottish Government from increasing access to education. Thus it is a constrained form of universalism that is evident.

The UK and Scottish Government Views

The UK and Scottish governments see the purpose of migration differently, with the UK Government seeing migration as a means of filling short-term labour market gaps and/or as a potential threat and the Scottish Government looking for population and economic growth (Kyambi 2009). One suggests temporary or circular migration and the other settlement, leading to quite different approaches. That said, the competitive nationalism of the SNP that Law and Mooney (2012) refer to is also evident, whereby migrants in Scotland are viewed as more or less productive units of labour and social policy operates within strict neoliberal parameters.

Nevertheless, a different approach with regard to refugee matters is evident in Scotland and when allied to UK Government withdrawal from refugee integration, left a vacuum that the Scottish Government stepped into. Together with further devolution, and with Scottish independence back on the agenda because of Brexit, the political incentive for both governments’ would appear to point to further divergence. That is, it seems unlikely that differences in the framing of migration or in terms of the philosophies of welfare between the two governments will coalesce. In terms of migration the outcome of the Brexit vote and government responses to it suggest a likely widening of differences. Alongside a ‘competitive nationalism’ with regard to viewing migration in relation to economic growth is a more humanitarian approach to refugees, evident in the Scottish Government’s narrative around the Syrian refugee ‘crisis’ and the existence and recent renewal of a refugee integration strategy.

Concluding thoughts

If immigrants can make claims to a sense of the right to belong in Scotland, then the implication is that they can also make claims in terms of the right to access social goods. Or to view it the other way around, having the right, and importantly being seen to have the right to social rights can aid any claims to belonging. This nascent situation in Scotland diverges from the Westminster case where immigrant access to social goods is increasingly stratified. Indeed it is arguably reflected in different approaches to the welfare state more generally.

While this case is about the nature of devolution in the UK, it also links to work elsewhere. There are examples of regional governments having different and diverging integration policies from ‘national’ governments, (see Hepburn and Zapata-Barrero 2014) although what constitutes the national in the Scottish case is contested. Some of these divergences are based on pragmatism, some on differing views of social citizenship and some on vacuums created by the lack of central policy. Arguably the Scottish case exhibits elements of each.

For these differences in approach to happen, however, requires political will on the part of the sub-state authority and some level of willingness on the part of the central state to allow, or at least not actively prevent such developments. There are some examples of this is the Scottish case which is to be welcomed. However, they are constrained by a social policy conservatism that does not want to make too much fundamental change outside of constitutional issues.


Beland, Daniel and Lecours, Andre (2008) Nationalism and Social Policy: The Politics of Territorial Solidarity Oxford University Press UK

Hepburn, Eve and Zapata-Barrero, Ricard (eds) (2014) The politics of immigration in multi-level states; governance and political parties Basingstoke Palgrave Macmillan

Keating, M. (2009). ‘Social Citizenship, Solidarity and Welfare in Regionalized and Plurinational States’. Citizenship Studies 13:5 501-513.

Kyambi, Sarah (2009) Room for manoeuvre? The options for addressing immigration-policy divergence between Holyrood and Westminster Equality and Human Rights Commission Glasgow

Law, Alex and Mooney, Gerry (2012) Competitive Nationalism: State, Class, and the Forms of Capital in Devolved Scotland Environment and Planning C 30:1 62-77

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