The Putney Debates 2021: The Unity of a Nation

The subject for 2021 is The Unity of a Nation. How disparate regions come together to form a unified whole. To unite a group of regions to create a nation is a daunting task under any circumstances. It becomes more difficult when regional identity has a long history, often associated with independence and ethnicity, language and religion. The United Kingdom is an old union of four proud, distinct, and very different parts and peoples. Unity is under strain and the future is precarious; loyalty and support for the constitutional structure is on the wane.

The purposes of the Putney Debates this year are:  

  1. to construct models of unity from the experience of a selection of nations;
  2. to analyse the case of United Kingdom, identify the points of tension and instability; and
  3. drawing on the models of unity to propose an approach suited to the United Kingdom. 


1. A course of lectures on the constitutional structure of a selection of nations, each showing how unity is achieved and its relative success. Each displays a particular arrangement of regions and a distinct model of unity.

  • United States - Richard CLARY, Harvard University
  • China - Qianfan ZHANG, Beijing University
  • Spain - Roberto Galan VIOQUE, Universidad de Sevilla
  • Italy - Francesco BILANCIA, Chieti-Pescara University

Each lecture is to address the following:

  • The regional composition of the country
  • The matters to be resolved to achieve national unity
  • The form of unity adopted, the character and features
  • An assessment of how successful the form of unity has been.  


2. The United Kingdom  This aim of this lecture is:  

  • To give a brief history of the form of unity of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland
  • To identify the problems of the present form of unity and the reasons
  • To consider alternative forms, drawing on the models of unity developed in previous lectures, and to draw from them guidance for the future.

Lecturer: Sionaidh DOUGLAS-SCOTT, Queen Mary College London


3. Debate and discussion: after the lectures, a panel drawn from within the UK and outside will debate the models of unity and attempt to formulate a fresh approach for the United Kingdom.

One member of the panel will address the UK as a whole, each of the other four will consider the matter from the point of view of one of the four nations, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and England.

4. Membership of the panel:

  • United Kingdom: Michael Gordon, Liverpool University
  • Northern Ireland: Christopher McCrudden, Queens University Belfast
  • Scotland: Nicola McEwen, Edinburgh University
  • Wales:Sarah Nason, Bangor University
  • England: Alison Young, Cambridge University


5. Administration and Timetables

  • The lectures on the USA, China, Italy, and Spain have been recorded and are available on the website.
  • The lecture on the UK will be pre-recorded by end of November 2021
  • Brief report of the lectures will be prepared for the website.
  • The debate held digitally on Wednesday 8th December 2021
    • Morning session 12.00 – 1.30: panel composed of the 5 lecturers; each to present a short synopsis of each lecture (5 minutes), followed by discussion among the lecturers, then contributions from the audience
    • Afternoon session 3.00 – 4.30: panel of 5 to discuss the proposals for the UK, 10 minutes each.
  • A final report of the lectures and the debate will be prepared and available on the website.


Advisory Group

The planning and conduct of the Putney Debates benefit from the counsel and wisdom of an Advisory Group of the following:

  • Nick Barber,   Oxford University
  • Catherine Barnard, Cambridge University
  • Richard Clary,   Harvard University
  • Sionaidh Douglas-Scott, Queen Mary London
  • John Howell, Oxford University
  • Geraldine van Bueren,  Institute of International and Comparative Law University of London
  • Denis Galligan,   Oxford University (Chair)