A visit to my home nation of Scotland this summer yet again highlighted how the two countries of Scotland and England are becoming ever more different.
We have had more long standing differences, such as the minimum price for alcohol, and on a related note, the fact that Scottish licensing laws on alcohol mean you can’t legally buy the stuff in shops between 10pm and 10am.
But covid has also brought into sharp relief, how different parts of the country are going it in their own way. Not least the fact that I would have been able to visit my mum had she lived in England, as a result of policy differences between the two nations.
The arguments for and against devolution are well known. And the go something like this:
What has been the positive impact of devolution?
What has been the negative impact of devolution?
But when we return to the covid dimension, there have been stories in the news (press and TV) about how the different approaches taken by the four governments of the UK (i.e. the ‘UK government’ covering England, the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland - so excluding here the London Mayor and assembly) are heaping confusion on the public with different measures to control the virus.
But a piece on the Herald (a Scottish publication based in Glasgow) contains this piece recently.
Opinion: Rebecca McQuillan: If Covid has taught Britain one thing, it’s how devolution works
“After 20 years of devolution, different messaging from the devolved administrations is something that the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are used to.
The ban on smoking in public places came in here first, the drink-drive limit was lowered in Scotland before the rest of the UK and Scotland brought in a law on the minimum unit pricing of alcohol before other nations of the UK, to name but three examples. Those measures were evidence of devolution in action; so are the current lockdown restrictions. There’s little sign that Scots are struggling to accept the differences.”
And with direct reference to covid (see the full article for more argument):
“The former health secretary Jeremy Hunt raised concerns in an interview with Emily Maitlis about the divergent messages given to the public by the devolved administrations and the Government in London.
Should the devolved nations not go their own way then? asked Maitlis.
“They have the legal right to go their own way but I don’t think it’s helpful for people on the basis of the same evidence to be coming up with different decisions, because I think it just confuses the public,” said Hunt.”
The article goes on to say:
“With Covid restrictions, where Scotland and Northern Ireland have led, the UK Government is likely to follow. The Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty, is said to agree with his Scottish counterpart Gregor Smith that banning household visits is necessary. Indeed, England might already have taken this step had Boris Johnson not faced opposition on his own backbenches.”
I suppose time will tell?
And notice that Germany, where there is a federal system (with different approaches, therefore, in its own landers), there has been widespread praise for its success in tackling the virus. And in fact there is even an argument in that country that the response has not been even more specifically targeted, supporting the argument that government should in fact be driven down to the lowest possible level (a policy long-supported by the UK Greens, for example).
Questions for discussion
Explain what is meant by devolution
Outline the different powers of the various devolved arenas in the UK
Does the response to the covid pandemic by governments in the UK support or weaken the case for further devolution throughout the regions?
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