Andrew Burns Headshot

Research Topic

A Culture of Citizenship from Elitist Designs? The Creation of an Institution: The Case of the Scottish Parliament

Research Summary

My research focuses on constitutional reform for the United Kingdom: not the legal detail or actual content of constitutional reform, but the political process of such reform. My thesis will follow the three-paper model. The thesis aims to analyse the development, and partial implementation, of a range of democratic reforms throughout the United Kingdom in the latter half of the 20th century and the early years of the 21st century.

The thesis will engage with the following three theoretical questions:

  1. How Is a Strategic Action Field Created?
  2. How Does an Institution Develop and Change?
  3. What Role Have Key Actors Played in Creating the Scottish Parliament?

How Is a Strategic Action Field Created?

The thesis will examine the development of devolution arguments in the UK from the late 1970s through to the late 1990s. Building on the work of Fligstein and McAdam (2012), the thesis will explore the 'episode of contention' that led to the emergence of devolution as an issue which was subsequently delivered, all as part of a wider constitutional reform programme. These wider reforms include:

  • Devolution for Scotland, Wales, and for Northern Ireland
  • Incorporation of the European Convention of Human Rights into British law
  • A Freedom of Information Act
  • Partial reform of the House of Lords
  • The use of proportional representation (electoral reform) for a wide variety of subordinate elections
  • Implementation of elected mayors for Local Government

These first-order democratic reforms, now in place, mark a significant shift in the constitutional make-up of the United Kingdom. As well as Fligstein and McAdam (2012), further studies on Strategic Action Fields will be used to develop an understanding of the 'episode of contention' that led to such a wide-ranging programme of democratic reforms. The thesis will specifically examine how a consensus for devolution (the case of the Scottish Parliament) was created, analysing the role of different actors in creating the Strategic Action Field for devolution.

How Does an Institution Develop and Change?

This part of the thesis analyses devolution in Scotland over a 20-year period (1999–2019). The unit of analysis is the Scottish Parliament. This thesis examines the extent to which the initial plans for the Scottish Parliament were realised. It will explore the process of change—using the work of Tsoukas and Chia (2002), among other Organisational Change literature—and examine unintended consequences and paradoxes associated with creating and maintaining an institution.

What Role Have Key Actors Played in Creating the Scottish Parliament?

This part of the thesis will engage with identity work debates. In particular, it will explore the role played by the identities of key actors in shaping the Scottish Parliament. It will use the work of Brown (2015 and 2017) and others to assess the importance of organisational identities in forming the early bureaucratic structures of the new Scottish Parliament in the early years of devolution. This analysis includes the use of semi-structured interview data gathered in the mid 1990s from many of the original drafters of the democratic reforms that have now been enacted. This secondary material will provide a rich source of data.

The thesis then assesses the actual impact of the implemented democratic reforms through a combination of further semi-structured interviews with both reformers and politicians now administering the new institutions. Finally, there will be a thorough assessment, using documentary analysis, of the original (procedural) design-processes for the Scottish Parliament.


Research Area


I gained my first degree from the University of Ulster in 1984, and subsequently had a career in the private sector—both in retail and manufacturing—focused around Employee and Management Development. During the mid 1990s I did commence a PhD (in the Politics Department at the University of Edinburgh) but did not submit my thesis, as I was elected onto the City of Edinburgh Council in May 1999, at the start of Scottish devolution, and remained on the Council until May 2017.

At the end of those four full terms within Scottish Local Government, which culminated in a five-year tenure as the City of Edinburgh Council Leader, I positively made the decision not to contest the May 2017 Council Elections. I thus proactively chose to leave elected Public Office in order to focus my energies and skills on a wholly new set of challenges.

In January 2018, following an open competitive process via a selection panel, I was appointed as the Convenor (Chair) of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) Board of Trustees. The appointment is for a three-year term, with a maximum of two terms possible. Additionally, in August 2018, I was appointed as a Commission Member of the Accounts Commission for Scotland—again, following an open and competitive Scottish Government Public Appointment process. The appointment is for a four-year term, with a maximum of two terms possible.

Professional Affiliations

I am a Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (MCIPD) and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA). Over recent years, I have held a wide range of public roles:

  • Council Leader, with political responsibility for Scotland's capital city, 2012–2017
  • Chair of the Edinburgh Partnership (the community planning partnership for Edinburgh), 2012–2017
  • Chair of the Scottish Cities Alliance (SCA), 2015–2017
  • Chair of the Cooperative Council Innovation Network (CCIN), 2014–2016
  • Chair of the Electoral Reform Society (ERS), 2008–2011
  • Chair of 'Fairshare' (Scotland's Campaign for Local Democracy), 2001–2007.

All of this experience, and the subsequent knowledge gained, will hopefully be of significant assistance when researching my proposed topic.

Education and Qualifications

Institute Degree/Qualification Dates
University of Ulster Bachelor of Arts (Hons) 1981–1984

Professional and Voluntary Experience

Institute Role Dates
Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development Member 1989–Present
Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce Fellow 2010–Present