Professor Michael Keating

Professor Michael Keating

Emeritus Professor of Politics

Leverhulme Emeritus Fellow
University of Aberdeen

Biography and CV

Michael Keating is Emeritus Professor of Politics at the University of Aberdeen and Honorary Professor at the University of Edinburgh. He graduated from the University of Oxford in 1971 and in 1975 was the first PhD graduate from what is now Glasgow Caledonian University. He specialises in comparative European politics, territorial politics and nationalism and UK devolution and speaks English, French, Spanish and Italian. Michael is a fellow of the British Academy, Royal Society of Edinburgh, Academy of Social Sciences and European Academy and has taught in universities in Scotland, England, Canada, the USA, France and Spain and at the European University Institute in Italy.
He is author of 20 books, 100 articles in peer-reviewed journals and 130 chapters in edited books, and has edited 21 books. Among his publications are Plurinational Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2001); The Independence of Scotland (Oxford University Press, 2009); Rescaling the European State (Oxford University Press, 2013); (edited) Debating Scotland. Issues of Independence and Union in the 2014 Referendum (Oxford University Press, 2017), State and Nation in the United Kingdom: The Fractured Union (Oxford University Press, 2021). Approaches and Methodologies in the Social Sciences. A Pluralist Perspective, (Cambridge University Press, 2008) edited with Donatella della Porta, is widely used in doctoral training programmes in social sciences.
Michael was founding Director of the Centre on Constitutional Change in Edinburgh 2013-21) and is currently General Secretary of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Latest News

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Recent Publications

Michael Keating, ‘Brexit and the Nations’, in John Erik Fossum and Christopher Lord (eds.), Handbook on the European Union and Brexit, Edward Elgar 2023.

Michael Keating, ‘Scotland’s Constitutional Odyssey’, in: J. Cremades, and C. Hermida, (eds) Encyclopedia of Contemporary Constitutionalism, Springer, Cham. (2023).

Michael Keating, ‘Nationalism’’, in Peter Cane and K. Humarasingham (eds), The Cambridge Constitutional History of the United Kingdom, vol. 1, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2023: 540-60.

Michael Keating, State and Nation in the United Kingdom: The Fractured Union, Oxford University Press, 2021.

This book argues that the United Kingdom should be understood as a union in which demos (the people), telos (purpose) ethos (values) and sovereignty may be contested. Unionism has historically accepted this and the union has operated without foundational consensus. In this it resembles the European Union. EU membership therefore provided an important external support system for the UK union and devolution. Brexit has destabilised the settlement and efforts by neo-unionists to reassert a unitary model of the union are further undermining it.

David McCrone and Michael Keating, ‘, ‘Exploring Sovereignty in Scotland’, The Political Quarterly 2023.

Scotland appears to be polarised over the issue of sovereignty. Using an original survey with the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey on sovereignty vis a vis the United Kingdom and the European Union, we identified two groups: ‘Scottish sovereigntists’ and ‘UK unionists’. Further questions, however, reveal that many in the former group would accept shared institutions with the United Kingdom while many in the latter group defend the rights of the Scottish Parliament. This points to continuing scepticism about rival versions of sovereignty and support for ‘middle way’ solutions. Brexit, however, has rendered both ‘devolution-max’ and ‘independence-lite’ much more difficult.
There is a broad consensus across European states and the EU that social and economic inequality is a problem that needs to be addressed. Yet inequality policy is notoriously complex and contested. This book approaches the issue from two linked perspectives. First, a focus on functional requirements highlights what policymakers think they need to deliver policy successfully, and the gap between their requirements and reality. Second, a focus on territorial politics highlights how the problem is interpreted at different scales, subject to competing demands to take responsibility. This contestation and spread of responsibilities contributes to different policy approaches across spatial scales. We conclude that governments promote many separate equity initiatives, across territories and sectors, without knowing if they are complementary or contradictory. This outcome could reflect the fact that ambiguous policy problems and complex policymaking processes are beyond the full knowledge or control of governments.
Brexit aimed to restore sovereignty to the United Kingdom. That rested on an interpretation of the UK as an internally integrated and externally bordered sovereign state. Another interpretation is that the UK is a plurinational union, in which the issue of sovereignty is contested. Devolution in 1999 left this issue in abeyance, while membership of the EU provided an external support system. Brexit removed this external support and resulting territorial tensions are exacerbated by the fact that majorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland opposed it. There have been three responses: to reconstitute the United Kingdom as a unitary state; to fragment it into its constituent parts; and to seek a differentiated Brexit. Only Northern Ireland has been granted such an exception, at the insistence of another member state.
Social science long identified modernization with territorial integration and functional differentiation, but within territorially-bounded state. Globalization theories at the end of the Cold War projected to the world level, with the ‘borderless world’. This is better conceptualized as a rescaling and selective rebounding of social systems at multiple levels, above, below and across the state system. This has posed again an old question about the relationship of function, community and territory. It is an essentially contested matter and can only be appreciated if we accept that all three elements are constructed and mutually constituted. There can be no neutral and uncontested spatial fix, since the definition of territory and the drawing of boundaries has huge implications for the distribution of wealth and power. Rescaling is above all a political matter.
While the United Kingdom was a member of the EU, a number of regulatory competences were shared between the EU and devolved authorities. There has been political contention about where these should go after Brexit. Attempts to centralise them at UK level have been rebuffed but tensions remain. Policy Frameworks to deal with them are inconsistent and work best with technical matters. The treatment of international trade agreements, the EU Internal Market Act and legislation of subsidy control undermine the regulatory autonomy of Scotland and Wales. The real test will come if the UK diverges radically from EU regulations while the devolved governments resist.

Current Research Projects

Celticism in Politics.

The Celtic myth is a recurrent theme across the peripheral nations of the United Kingdom, Britanny, Galicia and other parts of Spain, and beyond. In its current form, it is the product of the national revivals of the nineteenth century and has been highly contested. This project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, examines the emergence of the Celtic theme, the various characteristics and values attached to Celticism and the practice of pan-Celticism in the past and present. Myth is used here not to mean falsity but to refer to a set of beliefs and practices whose importance is not defined by their empirical truth of falsity. In this sense, myth is by no means peculiar to the phenomenon of Celticism.

British and Irish Institutional Links (BIIL)

Nationalism and its accommodation across Britain and Ireland have often been seen through the lens of centre-periphery analysis, with London at the centre. The constitutional impasses concerning Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and even England, can no longer be understood purely in this way or as a crisis of the UK state. This project, including scholars from Scotland, Wales, England and both parts of Ireland, starts from the ‘islands’ approach pioneered by historians in the 1970s, focusing on the complexity of identities, horizontal as well as vertical links among sovereign and non-sovereign entities and constitutional visions in the wake of Brexit. The leaders are Paul Gillespie, Michael Keating and Nicola McEwen. An edited book is forthcoming.
InDivEU is a Horizon 2020 funded research project aimed at contributing concretely to the current debate on the Future of Europe by assessing, developing and testing a range of models and scenarios for different levels of integration among EU member states. It is based at the European University Institute and concluded its research stage in 2021. Michael Keating led a strand on external differentiation, comparing non-Member States with formal relations with the EU (the UK, Turkey, Switzerland and the EFTA countries; and examining differentiated responses to Brexit across the nations of the United Kingdom.

Recent Blogs

Are Unionists the Biggest Threat to the Union?  Constitution Unit, July 2022

A battle of sovereignties? Centre on Constitutional Change, December 2022
Unhelpful Clarifications: The UK Supreme Court Judgement on Scottish Independence Brexit Institute
Regulation after Brexit: Scotland and Wales UK Regulation after Brexit
How Brexit has Europeanised the United Kingdom. Royal Society of Edinburgh 2023