AN expert has warned the future of devolution in Scotland could come under threat if efforts are not made to bridge gaps between Edinburgh and the rest of the nation.

Davide Vampa, senior lecturer in territorial politics at the University of Edinburgh, conducted a survey with Deltapoll which revealed while Scottish and Welsh people regard devolution as generally beneficial for their respective nations, a much smaller share see it as a good thing for their local communities.

Additionally, the study found “overwhelming” majorities of both Scottish and Welsh respondents view Edinburgh and Cardiff as the “main winners of devolution”.

Vampa – who is a co-director of the university’s Centre on Constitutional Change – said his findings suggest if action is not taken to sort this, devolution may be exposed “to future challenges to its legitimacy and, possibly, its very existence”.

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He told The National it is not impossible to imagine devolution being reversed when we saw during the EU referendum what can happen when communities feel brushed aside.

Vampa (below) said: “I think in the long term that [the future of devolution] could become a political issue.

“Ten years ago we might have said it was impossible for the UK to leave the EU and then that has happened.

“In theory, nothing prevents Westminster from abolishing devolved institutions and if there is a big movement of people in the peripheries of Scotland and Wales who think increasingly the government in Edinburgh or Cardiff doesn’t address their needs or doesn’t bring any benefits to local communities, then it might be something that could happen [the end of devolution].

The National:

“If people perceive their local communities are not getting benefits, plus they perceive others are benefitting more, that can trigger some dynamics we saw in the EU referendum against London.

“I’m not saying these tensions alone led to Brexit, but we all know there was a lot of anti-London, anti-establishment feeling there. It really depends on how parties use this issue.”

The survey – conducted in December – found 57% of Scottish respondents agree or strongly agree devolution has benefitted their respective nations, while 65% perceive Edinburgh as benefitting significantly.

However, when participants were asked whether devolution had benefitted their local communities, the share of positive views in Scotland shrunk to just 43%.

Vampa said in a blog on his work: “Clearly, there is a diffuse feeling that devolution, aimed at addressing territorial disparities in the UK, may have contributed to creating new territorial divisions.

“After the EU referendum, it became apparent that diffuse perceptions of being ‘left-behind’ or disadvantaged compared to other places may produce a backlash capable of subverting established institutional and constitutional equilibria."

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The perception that local communities benefit less from devolution than Edinburgh does was present among supporters of different political parties.

According to the study, SNP voters see devolution as almost equally beneficial for Scotland as a whole (81%) and for Edinburgh (79%), but only 66% of them regard the existence of a Scottish Parliament and Government as positive for their local communities.

For Labour voters, 54% of them believe devolution has been good for Scotland overall, but they still see a significant gap between how it has benefitted the capital (64%) and local communities (37%).

For Conservative voters, the survey suggested just over a fifth believe devolution has been positive for the nation, but only 11% think it has benefitted their local area.

Vampa said this should serve as a warning to politicians and policymakers that devolution could easily be used as a political weapon in the future.

He added: “The Conservative Party and their voters, for example, are quite sceptical of devolution so they could use it as an issue in more rural areas of Scotland against the SNP.

“The Labour Party are not in government at the moment but they could use it not [as a way] to abolish devolution but as a political weapon against the SNP, because they are the party representing Scotland now, but it’s a divided nation.”

Vampa said he is planning to look more deeply into the data in the coming weeks and produce more analysis but did say from initial findings, it’s clear that even those living in Scotland’s largest city of Glasgow feel disadvantaged compared to those in Edinburgh.

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Among those living in Edinburgh, 57% agree devolution has brought benefits to their local communities. However, this figure drops to 42% for those living outside Edinburgh.

And Vampa said economic data he has looked at has shown Edinburgh has benefitted more from devolution than other places.

He said: “From my preliminary data, it seems there is a similar feeling from Glasgow, a feeling of being disadvantaged.

“I also looked at economic data over time in Scotland and what you see is that economically Edinburgh – relative to the economic development of the rest of Scotland - has benefitted more and that gap has increased. Edinburgh has been the big winner of devolution.”

He added in his blog: “While addressing or channelling tensions between Westminster and more ‘peripheral’ parts of the UK, devolved institutions risk (re-)creating new (real or perceived) gaps at lower territorial levels.

“A challenge for the political class of the two devolved nations [Scotland and Wales] is to bridge these gaps or, at the very least, to prevent them from expanding or being politicised. Failure to do so might strengthen calls for a reversal of the entire devolution process."