British Politics 8(3) pp 333-356

This article examines the electoral discourse associated with state decentralisation. It offers an original perspective that complements existing studies by detailing the discourse-based dimension of policy agenda-setting associated with Scottish and Welsh devolution in UK state-wide parties’ general election manifestos 1945–2010. Innovative aspects include a combined quantitative (issue-salience) and qualitative (policy framing) methodological technique transferable to other (quasi-)federal jurisdictions. The present UK findings reveal policy on devolution to be part of a fluid and contested discursive process. Concerned to maintain the union-state, the principal parties present a ‘punctuated narrative’ as they shift policy positions on the exact nature of devolution for the two nations; only the Liberals/Liberal Democrats maintain a broadly consistent stance. With a trend of increasing salience that extends over seven decades, ‘identity’ and ‘autonomy’ are revealed as the most salient pro-devolution tropes. The ‘demise of the union-state’ and ‘promoting nationalism’ are foremost among oppositional frames. Following constitutional reform in 1999, analysis shows that the future trajectory (and end point) of devolution continues to be a vexed and salient electoral issue.