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Last updated 22 Mar 2021
DEVOLUTION is where central government grants power to subordinate authorities while retaining sovereignty. Thus it is different from FEDERALISM, in which sovereignty is shared between central government and states, and the powers of the latter are guaranteed by the constitution.
In its widest sense, Devolution can refer to the powers of regional and local government. However, in the UK, it usually refers to powers granted to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, and the Northern Ireland Assembly. A-level politics concentrates far more on the first two.
Administrative devolution has been in place since 1964. Both Scottish and Welsh Offices ran services, allocated funds and administered their country (e.g. the Scottish Office controlled Education, Agriculture, Industry, Environment, Health and Home Affairs in Scotland).
Legislative devolution (i.e. the power to make, amend and repeal laws in areas predetermined by Parliament) has only existed since 1997.
Devolution in the UK is bound up with the idea of NATIONALISM. This is the desire of people with a common bond to unite, usually to have their own government. That bond may be one of language, race, religion, history or geography.
The basis of Scottish nationalism is partly geographical but mainly historical. Scotland had independence until 1707 and was never permanently conquered by the English. The 1707 Act of Union allowed it to retain its own legal and educational system. There is a strong sense of national identity and the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) argues for independence within the EU. However, the SNP view of independence is currently a very pragmatic one: it would retain the monarchy, share resources with the UK on defence and foreign policy, and rejoin the EU (but retain the £ unless a referendum approves joining the Euro).
The basis of Welsh nationalism is partly geographical but mainly linguistic (Welsh is widely spoken in rural North and West Wales). However, Wales has been ruled by England since Tudor times and is very anglicized, with a similar legal system. South Wales has better communications with England than with mountainous central and north Wales. Hence Welsh Nationalists are more cautious. Until recently the Welsh Nationalist Party (PLAID CYMRU) argued for self-government rather than full independence. It now argues for full independence within the EU in the long run.