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In the News

Devolution in the UK: success or failure?

Mike McCartney

2nd September 2021

A couple of examples from the same newspaper this week to add to a typical A Level question

The arguments for and against devolution have been trotted out serval times on this blog site. And they go something like this:

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.

So, if we look at the second to last argument in the case for, we can point as an extra example to the historic announcement that the Greens would form a coalition with the SNP at Holyrood.

As reported in the Guardian on Monday:

"The Scottish Greens’ co-leaders, Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater, are to become ministers in the Holyrood government – the first time representatives of the party have been appointed to government in the UK.

The Scottish government and Scottish Green party announced a power-sharing deal last month.

Harvie will be the minister for zero-carbon buildings, active travel and tenants’ rights, while Slater will take on the role of minister for green skills, circular economy and biodiversity.

Among Harvie’s responsibilities will be driving the move away from high-carbon transport and heating, while ensuring fairness during the transition. Slater’s role will include Scotland’s green industrial strategy and dealing with national parks."

See here for the full story:

But, against this, we have the following story about a former First Minister - as I've said, reported in the paper on the same day (an interesting juxtaposition, you might say):

"A Scottish government inquiry upheld five complaints of sexual harassment against Alex Salmond, sparking the police investigation that led to his eventual prosecution."

Read more here:

So this ties in with the final argument listed above in the car against. Yes, sadly, it seems sleaze is always with us.

To end on a lighter note, given I am writing about Scottish matters. See below for a video of Michael Gove busting some moves in an Aberdeen nightclub. No, words I never thought I'd write.

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