Civic borders and imagined communities: continuity and change in Scotland’s municipal boundaries, jurisdictions and structures - from nineteenth-century “General Police” to twenty first-century “Community Empowerment"

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The roles and status of Scotland’s municipalities are perennially contested and contingent, but contributed disproportionately to national identity in the “stateless nation” of 1707–1999 (McCrone, 1992; McGarvey, 2014). This article considers Scottish municipal development over time, using Benedict Anderson’s “imagined community”, “simultaneity”, and the approach of historical institutionalism (1983: passim). It traces the emergence of modern municipal structures in the nineteenth-century under successive “General Police” Acts, informed by the ethos of local self-government. It next examines the role of community identity versus community of interest in municipal consolidations and boundary disputes, as the ideological winds shifted towards municipal socialism, progressivism and economies of scale. The analysis turns to twentieth-century local government reorganisations, as UK governments of different political hues grappled with questions of subsidiarity, efficiency and democratic representation. The post-devolution and Scottish Referendum context of debates around “community empowerment” legislation are considered finally, in an historical context.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-49
Number of pages20
JournalEtudes écossaises
Publication statusPublished - 25 Apr 2016



  • municipal boundaries
  • municipal jurisdictions
  • local civic nationalism
  • simultaneity
  • imagined communities
  • invented tradition

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