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Devolution differences: the Welsh smacking ban

Mike McCartney

7th October 2021

Wales is set to be the second country in the UK to make it illegal to smack children

This can be seen as a consequence of devolution.

As a recap we can look at the pros and cons of devolution.

What has been the positive impact of devolution?

  • Democracy has been enhanced within the UK since government is much more region sensitive:, e.g. the congestion charge in London
  • On a separate but related note, the new legislatures act as policy laboratories - e.g. the Scottish first smoking ban
  • The electorates within the devolved regions accept devolution and express the view that it is the preferred system of government.
  • Despite increases in support for the nationalists in Scotland support for independence has never been a sustained majority
  • Within England the vast majority want Scotland and Wales to remain in the Union, thus there has been no English ‘backlash’.
  • The use of proportional electoral systems in the new assemblies has resulted in UK politics becoming much more pluralistic.
  • Devolution has boosted the representation of women in comparison with Westminster.

What has been the negative impact of devolution?

  • Devolution is an expensive luxury in terms of the costs of setting up and running the devolved bodies:
  • The raft of different policy measures that have emanated from the devolved assemblies in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have been made possible simply as the result of the unequal distribution of public funds within the UK as allocated by the complex Barnett formula
  • Far from reinvigorating democracy, voters appear to be ‘underwhelmed’ (Curtice) by devolution.
  • Questions still remain about whether devolution will lead to the break up of Britain.
  • Participation in elections to the new arenas has been a disappointment.
  • There is tension and confusion regarding the roles of the elected representatives for different tiers of government
  • That Labour’s devolution plans did not appear to be fully thought through has become evident.
  • Devolution has not resulted, as proponents had hoped, in a new form of politics, free from the tales of corruption which are so often associated with Westminster life.

As reported in the paper earlier this autumn:

"An advertising campaign has been launched to make parents and carers aware that it will be illegal to smack children in Wales within months, with a package of almost £3m announced to help keep people who do use physical punishment out of the courts.

From March it will be illegal for anybody in Wales, including visitors, to use any type of physical punishment such as smacking, hitting, slapping and shaking on children.

The government says the law will give children the same protection from assault as adults by removing an archaic 160-year-old legal defence. To help raise awareness of the legislation, a nationwide multimedia advertising campaign called The Sound of Change is being launched."

This means that Scotland is not ploughing a lone tartan furrow, and illustrates how policy change in one constituent part of the UK can be copied elsewhere. What the American Justice Louis Brandeis meant when talking about US states within the federal system acting as laboratories of democracy. But not everyone in Wales is happy about becoming another in 60 country longlist to outlaw smacking. As was the case in Scotland, a majority of voters in the region were opposed to the change.

For example,it was reported that:

Simon Calvert, a spokesperson for the Be Reasonable campaign, said: “Only now, when we are just months away from implementing the ban, do they finally drop any pretence that this ban will not criminalise loving parents. They are criminalising smacking by removing the reasonable chastisement defence from parents. Removing the reasonable chastisement defence doesn’t criminalise beating children. That’s already against the law. It criminalises reasonable chastisement.”

Source: Welsh government launches smacking ban ad campaign before law change | Wales | The Guardian

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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