The conflictual politics of Brexit – characterized by entrenched divisions between Leavers and Remainers – can be traced back to long-standing and more recent features of the British constitution that encourage discord over dialogue; tribal loyalty rather than broad consensus.
This is the case both of the traditional system of ‘strong’ party government through parliamentary executive, and of the recent turn to binary-choice plebiscites – in referendums on Scottish independence and membership of the European Union. This kind of divisiveness has also contributed to the turn to populism – to claims by those with very particular agendas to represent ‘the People’ as a whole, with no allowance made to the views of those others, often castigated as ‘elites’, who do not share their particular agenda.
Given the state of the British constitution today, and of the political culture which it has helped to produce, how do we face up to the problems posed by the growth of populism?
Professor Neil Walker is Regius Professor of Public Law and the Law of Nature and Nations at the University of Edinburgh. His main area of expertise is constitutional theory, and he has published extensively on the constitutional dimension of legal order at substate, state, supranational, and international levels. In December 2008, Professor Walker was asked by the Scottish Government to conduct an independent review to assess the potential impact of the UK Supreme Court on the Scottish legal system.