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DEVOLUTION TO SCOTLAND AND WALES


 
 

To consider any wider impacts which devolution might have

Will Scottish and Welsh nationalism encourage English nationalism? It may be recalled the the Kilbrandon Committee did put forward the idea of regional assemblies. But the pressure for such assemblies does not seemuniversally strong - there is no clear campaign for an English Parliament(but see the paper by Charter88). But there are some pockets of the country where regionalism iswell-defined and where this idea is attractive e.g. Devon and Cornwall;the North East. Nevertheless, the government has no immediate blue-print for a monolithic system of regional government;. Devolution is thereforesaid to be assymetrical - it is uneven between Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England and all have been treated differently. One might even say it is incoherent. So, at one level, there is no compelling logic indevolution for England. But the precedent of Scotland and Wales might well prove attractive for England and not only as a co-ordination solution butalso as an agency to interact with external agencies such as the EuropeanUnion or to attract industrial investment. But there is little evidenceof an English Nationalist Party - that form of nationalism has been expressed negatively in terms of opposition to European Union (as in the Referendum Party - see now the Democracy Movement) or to immigrants (such as the British NationalistParty) but not so much as a force for regionalism. The lukewarm supportfor devolution in Wales will probably put the clock back for serious thinking about English devolution (though it is still before a Cabinet Committee).But there will probably have to be a period in which devolution is shownto be practically advantageous and attractive before the idea is extended.

Some Labour policy documents before the 1997 election talked about unelectedregional chambers of local authority representatives who would handle strategic coordination. This was developed by Building Partnerships for Prosperity(Cm.3814, 1997) and took shape as the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998, but the agencies are as yet wholly appointed bodies (appointed bythe government) and have made little impact on the electorate. For example,the first leader (Sir John Harman, former Labour leader of Kirkless MDC) of the Regional Assembly for Yorkshire and Humberside (consisting of 67appointed councillors and with a budget under £1m) resigned in January2000 - the news appeared on page 17 of the Yorkshire Post (21 January2000). A new Campaign for English Regionswas launched in March 2000. See also the paper from CitizensConnection.net.

The government has now proposed regional assemblies for England in a White Paper (Cm.5511, 2002), Your Region, Your Choice: Revitalising the English Regions, though the details are vague and the application may vary according to local wishes.

The exception to this inaction has been London. It has been decided to giveLondon an Assembly (of 25 - 14 representing constituencies and 11 addedmembers) and a Mayor (see New Leadership for London: The Government'sproposals for a Greater London Authority, Cm 3724, 1997; A Mayorand Assembly for London, Cm.3897, 1998). However, this developmentof a Greater London Authority reflects more the particular situation ofa total absence of a unitary local government authority for London (eversince the abolition of the Greater London Council in 1985) rather thana national desire for regional government. The scheme was approved pursuantto a referendum under the Greater London Authority (Referendum) Act 1998,and the details were then set out in the Greater London Authority Act 1999.The Act establishes the Greater London Authority (GLA), and provides forelections for the Mayor of London and a Greater London Assembly. The bodywill begin work in 2000 and will handle economic development, environmentalpolicy, planning, transport, and oversight of some executive bodies suchas the fire and police services as well as overseeing the work of the Mayor.It will have a budget of £3bn.

The elections duly took place in May 2000, and Ken Livingstone took office as Mayor. The Assembly consists of 25 members, 14 elected by constituencyand 11 by the list system.

See Sector, G., "What the Mayor will mean for London" (2000) New Law Journal 548

See London Government web site

It has been suggested that the office of mayor could also be usefully adopted by other large cities in England. These mayors would become local leaders who could be vested with powers, allowing them to act more decisivelyand efficiently than local authorities. The idea has not yet spread fromLondon.

Devolution will require some reforms of the United Kingdom Parliament.Scotland and Wales will be overrepresented in terms of UK MPs, so a reviewis to be undertaken of the number of Scottish MPs (Scotland Act 1998 s.86- there is no equivalent for Wales because the number of Welsh MPs is muchsmaller and the degree of devolution is much less). This will reduce thenumber of Labour MPs. And English MPs will probably want a system to excludeothers from discussion of purely English matters -referred to as "theWest Lothian question" (settled in 1978 by agreeing to a Parliamentaryrule that if an English bill were passed with support of Scottish MPs,there would have to be a second vote when they would abstain). All thiswill increase the influence of the Conservative and Liberal parties inEngland. It may be that proportional representation will become an importantfurther constitutional reform by the Labour Government to stop an in-builtmajority arising against it.

Devolution almost certainly will prompt interest in electoral reform.MSPs are to be elected in part according to additional member systems, a form of proportional representation in contrast to the traditional "first past the post" system. A form of regional proportional voting wasalso adopted in European elections in 1999 (see European ParliamentaryElections Act 1999) and an additional list system is also proposed by theJenkins Committee (Report of the Independent Commission on the Voting System, Cm 4090-I, 1999).

Another contentious area is the distribution of public finances. Underthe "Barnett Formula" public spending is in the ratios of England85: Scotland 10: Wales 5 (Treasury Select Committee, The Barnett Formula1997-98 HC 341, 619). This results in spending around 30% higher in Scotland/Wales than in England. But Scotland is overall wealthier than six out of eight English regions.

Will devolution prompt interest in wider constititional reform? It iscertainly part of a wider package designed to "modernise" theconstitution. And the setting up of devolved bodies with considerable powers requires some degree of constitution writing, seting out the roles of differenttiers of government. Some think that the package amounts to an incipientform of federalism. But the reforms are somewhat piecemeal. So, the legislationto date has been a response to specific political problems rather than a vision of a new constitutional future for all.

See Hazell, R., "The English Question" [2000] Public Law 268


Last updated 1 October 2002


 

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