Accepted for publication, forthcoming in Oxford Journal of Legal Studies
Date Written: October 29, 2021
Abstract: There have been several important formal changes to the United Kingdom’s constitution over the past few decades, including devolution to Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales; the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights in domestic law; and the creation of a new Supreme Court. This article is about the informal semantic changes that may have accompanied these formal changes. It focuses on several central concepts: parliamentary sovereignty, the rule of law, the separation of powers, devolution, and human rights. Using a recently developed machine learning method to analyse a massive corpus of parliamentary debate, the article gauges the extent to which these concepts have become more (or less) related to the meaning of the United Kingdom’s constitution in parliamentary discourse. Ultimately, the analysis supports some important theoretical expectations about the changing nature of the constitution, including the claim that parliamentary sovereignty is now a less significant concept for the meaning of the constitution than it once was.