It means more than decentralisation in that it is meant to allow formore independence and exercise of discretion by local politicians. Butit is not federalism, where the distribution of powers is enshrined constitutionallyrather than being under the ultimate control and direction of the centralstate. Devolution can be of powers which are administrative/executive (suchas of governmental departments or agencies) or legislative (such as a localassembly) or judicial (such as local courts) or any combination of them.
The notion of devolution to Scotland and Wales has a long history withinthe United Kingdom. This is especially true in Scotland. Wales has hadless of a distinct identity - it was conquered by England and annexed bythe Acts of 1284, 1536 and 1543. As for Scotland, it was an independentcountry until 1707, though there was a union of the English and ScottishCrowns in 1603 and increasing trading links. Ever since 1707, when unionof governments and Parliaments occurred to form "Great Britain", therehas been legal devolution to Scotland. This is set out in the Act of Unionof 1707 (fora Scottish account, click on this link). Here are some of the relevantprovisions of the Act of Union of 1707. Note especially the retention ofdistinct courts under Article 18 and distinct laws under Article 19:
|Article I - "That the two kingdoms of England and Scotland... shall be ... for ever after be united into one kingdom by the nameof Great Britain ..." |
Article III - "That the United Kingdom of Great Britain be representedby one and the same Parliament to be stilled the Parliament of Great Britain."
Article IV - "...all the subjects of the United Kingdom of Great Britainshall...have full freedom...of trade...And that there be a communicationof all other rights, privileges and advantages which do or may belong tothe subjects of either Kingdom..."
Article XVIII - "That ... no alternation be made in laws which concernprivate right except for evident utility of the subjects within Scotland."
Article XIX - "That the Court of Session ... And that the Court of Justiciarydo ... remain in all time coming ..."
Article XXII (and section 6) - "That ... of the peers of Scotland ...sixteen shall be the number to sit and vote in the House of Lords and fortyfive the number of the representatives of Scotland in the House of Commonsof the Parliament of Great Britain ..."
Section 2 - " ... that the ... true Protestant religion ... with theform and purity of worship presently in use within ... its PresbyterianChurch ... shall remain and continue unalterable ..."
During the twentieth century, a large measure of administrative devolutionhas developed with the establishment of Scottish and Welsh Offices whichhave their own budgets which can be spent according to priorities whichmay differ from national targets. A Secretary of State for Scotland wasappointed in 1885 (the last one before this had been in 1746) and a ScottishOffice in 1928 (with many of the civil servants in the Scottish Officeactually being based in Edinburgh after 1939). Welsh Departments beganin 1907, but there was no Welsh Secretary of State or Welsh Office until1964. There were also some special legislative arrangements developed inthe UK House of Commons, whereby Scottish legislation could be referredto a Scottish Grand Committee and two Scottish standing Committees. Therewas also a Welsh Grand Committee. Later, in 1979, there were scrutinisingScottishand WelshSelect Committees. But this administrative and legislative devolution waslimited in its scope and certainly did not satisfy the aspirations of nationalistwhose parties, the Scottish NationalistParty and Plaid Cymrugrew significantly in the 1960s, since when they have always had representativesin Parliament. The Liberal Party has also long supported devolution, thoughon a federal basis. There were various reasons why this form of nationalismgrew at this time in political terms. Some included the discovery of oilin Scotland and the feeling that Scottish resources were being wasted,and the imposition of unpopular Conservative Party policies between 1979and 1997 which had little support in these regions. More generally, thesemovements reflect a fragmentation of political movements, as agendas otherthan class conflict have come to the fore.
The story of constitutional change in the light of the growth of nationalismmight begin with the Royal Commission on the Constitution (the KilbrandonCommission - Royal Commission on the Constitution, Cmnd.5460, 1973) setup in 1969 to consider not only nationalism but also local and regionalgovernment in general. It reported in 1973 and recommended legislativeand executive devolution to Scotland and Wales but also a minority wantedadvisory Regional Councils for England. This plan was rejected as too bureaucraticand potentially irresponsible in economic terms. After further consultation,new plans were suggested in 1975 and 1976 (see White Papers, Devolutionwithin the UK (Cmnd. 5460, 1974), Democracy and Devolution (Cmnd.5732,1975), Our Changing Democracy (Cmnd.6348, 1975), Devolution to Scotlandand Wales (Cmnd.6585, 1976)), by which devolution would be confined toScotland and Wales. These plans were eventually passed as the ScotlandAct 1978 and the Wales Act 1978. These schemes were in many ways similarto the 1997 versions (with legislative and executive devolution to Scotland- with an assembly in the Old Grammar School building in Edinburgh - seethe picture below, and executive devolution in Wales) but did not comeinto force.
This was because a referendum in 1978 failed to secure sufficient support.Both Acts contained a requirement for a referendum and further requiredthat a majority of the electorate supports the scheme but that the totalin favour be at least 40% of the whole potential electorate. The argumentwas that any constitutional change of such magnitude should have overwhelmingendorsement. In the event, there was a small majority in favour in Scotland(1,230,937 for, 1,153,502 against), but those in favour amounted to only32.5% of the total electorate. The majority voted against the scheme forWales (956,330 against, 243,048 for). The Acts were repealed in 1979 bythe new Conservative Government, and for almost 20 years, successive Conservativegovernments opposed further experiments of this kind. In their view:
So they were prepared to contemplate devolution in so far as it could achievemanagerial efficiency but not otherwise. See Scotland in the Union (Cm.2225,1993) which expressed view that territorial integrity yielded enormousbenefits
- there was insufficient support
- it was dangerous to tinker with a traditionalist constitution in this way
- and the result would be costly, inefficient and divisive government
The origins of the current devolution schemes relate owe more to pressurefrom Scotland than from Wales, where support has always been less strong.Many in Scotland felt isolated and badly treated by a predominantly Englishgovernment between 1979 and 1997 which had relatively few MPs in Scotland.The opposition came together in a ScottishConstitutional Convention which met first in 1989 and produced schemesfor devolution with much cross-party support. Its final report, in 1995,was called Scotland'sParliament, Scotland's Right.There was a fragile coalition forthese plans in the sense that:
The Conservatives did not participate at all and rejected the plans, asdid the SNP.
- the Labour and Liberal Parties saw it as devolution and as satisfying Scottishaspirations
- but the SNP viewed it as merely a step on the path to independence andwhich would create momentum for independence
After winning the May 1997 General Election, the Labour Party has wastedlittle time in putting its plans (many of which reflected ideas from theScottish Constitutional Convention) plans into force. White Papers wereproduced in July 1997, and the schemes were put to a referendum in September1997. Legislation was passed through in Parliamentary session 97-98 withimplementation in 1999. The plans could be seen in more positive termsthan in 1978 - part of a strong government's programme of the modernisationof the constitution (which also includes refrom of the House of Lords andchanges to the electroal system) rather than a weak government's attemptto stave off the destabilising threat of fringe parties. A good historyis given by the GlasgowHerald newspaper.
The most ambitious scheme is for Scotland.
For original full details, see ScottishOffice, Scotlandís Parliament (Cm.3658, 1997)
- there will be a Scottish Executive drawn from MSPs (= Members of theScottish Parliament)
- it will be able to vary income tax by 3p up or down (=£450m)and will also be able to change the format (though not the overall level)of local council tax
- MSPs will be elected according to two systems. 73 are to be electedby first past the post in constituencies (which are to be the same as forUK Parliament elections plus one MSP each for Orkney and Shetland). Butalso there will be 56 additional members from party lists - 8 additionalMSPs from each of 8 European Union constituencies. All will be electedfor a fixed four year term
- the running of the Scottish Parliament will involve a large role forparliamentary committees
- there will be a a Scottish Executive headed by a First Minister (equivalentto the Prime Minister) and then the First Minister will recommends otherMinisters to be appointed
- the first elections will occur in 1999; the system will be in operationin 2000.
A referendum on this scheme took place in September 1997. 74.3% werein favour of the Parliament (45% of whole electorate were in favour - i.e.it would have passed on the 1978 rules); 63.5% were in favour of tax raisingpowers.
For full details:Welsh Office, A Voice for Wales (Cm.3718, 1997)
- the government pledges a directly elected assembly to deal with the£7bn budget now dispensed by the Secretary of State. The Assemblywill be able to set policies and pass secondary legislation and also redesignthe non-departmental governmental bodies ("quangos") within Wales
- it will have 60 members elected every 4 years - 40 from constituenciesand 5 from each of 4 European Union constituencies
- it will be headed by an Executive Committee and a Leader who willchair it
A referendum in September 1997 showed far less support for such ideasthan in Scotland. 50.3% voted yes, 49.7% no (a total of just 6721 votesdifference, and a total which did not reach 40% of total electorate). Electionsto the Assembly will take place in 1999.
Last updated 1 October 2002