Dr Zachary Greene

Project Title: Ideological Disagreement, Issue Competition and Voter Perceptions: the case of Scotland

Leaders of the major political parties in the United Kingdom face the challenge of building and maintaining support from politicians and activists from each of the UK countries. This has become a much more difficult challenge with the rise of strong independence and devolution movements in Scotland and Wales. This project has sought to examine the causes and consequences of these movements for the way that the Labour and Conservative parties run their election campaigns. With the generous support from the Carnegie Trust, I was able to investigate this and a set of related questions by collecting and analysing a new dataset on the internal debates and disagreements within the major UK parties and furthermore to run a set of experiments through nationally representative surveys of the UK public. Results from the analysis of internal debates indicate that internal divisions often become more prominent during years with elections and that they may benefit individual candidates within the devolved nations, but come at the cost of reducing the overall coherence of the party’s campaign message. The experimental evidence adds that survey respondents are very critical of reforms to party rules that are perceived as increasing internal disagreements over prominent issues. Ultimately, the project not only contributes to understanding the role of major issues such as Scottish independence in politics across the UK, but also provides preliminary findings for a broader project on the impact of the politics within parties and the role of national and regional identities.

Although the project was able to meet many of the original goals, the pandemic posed a challenge to the project’s completion due to the inability to visit specific archives and to meet in person with both practitioners and experts in the related fields. The project was able to adapt to these challenges, however, by working to find more of the information necessary in online settings. Furthermore, the additional funds available by not travelling allowed the project to do a second survey experiment that was more closely connected to the issues and debates related to the then ongoing pandemic. Both the experimental data and the data on internal debates have become central elements of papers developed from the project and support the PhD research of two students at the University of Strathclyde.

Ultimately, the project provided the preliminary evidence and outputs that have helped to develop a larger project comparing the politics within parties across countries in Europe. Working with an interdisciplinary team of researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands and the University of Würzburg in Germany, we secured funding from the Norface Network for research on “Democratic Governance in a Turbulent Age”. As part of this research, the EU-in-Action project (euination.eu) is collecting and analysing data from 28 countries, including a focus on distinct regional preferences and the challenges this creates for political leaders at both national and European levels of governance. As a consequence, the findings from the Carnegie Trust project will have provided the foundation for a substantially larger data collection, support for a set of methodological advancements and finally, evidence to better understand the challenges that face modern democratic governance across Europe.


Awarded: Research Incentive Grant

Field: Politics and International Relations

University: University of Strathclyde

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