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Whilst a ‘yes’ vote in the referendum on 18 September would radically alter the political geography of the United Kingdom, geographers believe that radical, widespread policy changes are unlikely.

Dr Ben Clifford of University College London edited this special online issue of the The Geographical Journal. He says: “There is more similarity than difference among the different territories of the British Isles. Policymakers from England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and even Ireland actively share notes. So, despite the political rhetoric, it is unlikely that Scottish independence would actually make much of a difference to public policy except in a small number of high profile areas.”

This referendum is part of an ongoing process of devolution in the UK, Dr Clifford says, which began in began in the late 1990s. This is reflects a global trend in which decision-making powers are being devolved to smaller territories.

“This trend towards devolution is all about recognising the unique identities and needs of different territories. There is certainly a desire to do things differently in such territories, but these ambitions are often kept in check by economics, supra-national politics and long-existing traditions.”

Civil servants often have well-established ways of working and will look to colleagues across the border for advice and ideas, Dr Clifford’s research finds. “Whilst politicians will draw attention to the headline differences in policy, there will be a lot of continuation in the inner workings of government,” he says.

The Geographical Journal has been the journal of the Royal Geographical Society, under the terms of the Royal Charter, since 1893. This new online issue of is free to read for a limited period.


Notes to editors:

1. The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) is the learned society and professional body for geography. Formed in 1830, our Royal Charter of 1859 is for 'the advancement of geographical science'. Today, we deliver this objective through developing, supporting and promoting geographical research, expeditions and fieldwork, education, public engagement, and geography input to policy. We aim to foster an understanding and informed enjoyment of our world. We hold the world's largest private geographical collection and provide public access to it. We have a thriving Fellowship and membership and offer the professional accreditation 'Chartered Geographer’. More details from

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