Since 1999, the way the United Kingdom is run has been transformed by devolution - a process designed to decentralise government and give more powers to the three nations which, together with England, make up the UK.
The United Kingdom is made up of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Devolution essentially means the transfer of powers from the UK parliament in London to assemblies in Cardiff and Belfast, and the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.
Devolution: The view from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
When did it begin?
Public votes were held in 1997 in Scotland and Wales, and a year later in both parts of Ireland.
This resulted in the creation of the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Devolution applied in different ways in each nation due to historical and administrative differences.
What powers are devolved?
The table below gives an overview of the main powers given to the Northern Irish and Welsh assemblies, and the Scottish Parliament.
|Agriculture, forestry & fishing||Agriculture, forestry & fishing||Agriculture|
|Health||Health & social welfare||Health|
|Housing||Housing||Enterprise, trade & investment|
|Justice, policing & courts*||Local government||Social services|
|Local government||Fire & rescue services||Justice & policing|
|Fire service||Highways & transport|
|Economic development||Economic development|
|*Scotland has always had its own legal system|
More on devolution from BBC Democracy Live
What powers are not devolved?
The UK government is responsible for national policy on all powers which have not been devolved.
These are known usually as "reserved powers" and include foreign affairs, defence, international relations and economic policy.
This table gives an overview of the main non-devolved powers.
|Constitution||Defence & national security||Defence & national security|
|Defence & national security||Economic policy||Foreign policy|
|Foreign policy||Foreign policy||Nationality|
|Immigration & nationality||Immigration & nationality|
|Trade & industry||[see footnote +]|
|** - specified as "nuclear energy & installations"|
|+ - Non-devolved powers in Wales are by implication all those not set out in the 2006 Government of Wales Act|
The Westminster Parliament is technically still able to pass laws for any part of the UK, but in practice only deals with devolved matters with the agreement of the devolved governments.
Devolution in Northern Ireland
The Northern Ireland Assembly sits at Stormont in Belfast
Devolution here is slightly different to Scotland and Wales, with government powers divided into three categories: transferred, reserved and excepted.
The power-sharing agreement between the Nationalist and Unionist communities in Northern Ireland is critical to the functioning of the assembly; devolution of powers has been suspended and reinstated several times since its inception in 1998.
In addition to the main devolved powers shown in the table, the assembly can also legislate on culture, arts and leisure, learning and employment and regional and social development.
In March 2010, an agreement was passed to transfer powers of justice and policing to Northern Ireland.
Reserved powers - which could be transferred in the future with cross-community consent - include prisons and civil defence.
A third category - excepted powers - includes matters such as parliamentary and assembly elections, international relations and defence.
These cannot be transferred without primary legislation from Westminster.
Devolution in Scotland
The Scottish parliament is based at Holyrood in Edinburgh
Scotland has a "parliament" as opposed to an "assembly" - the crucial difference being that Holyrood is a legislation-making body, passing bills in various areas of its many devolved responsibilities.
The Scottish parliament also has the power to raise or lower the basic rate of income tax by 3p in the pound - although this so-called "Tartan Tax" has never been used.
In addition to the main devolved powers shown in the table, the parliament can legislate on tourism, economic development, planning, natural and built heritage, sport and the arts, as well as statistics, public registers and records.
The primary powers retained by Westminster include foreign policy, defence and trade and industry.
Devolution in Wales
The Welsh Assembly building is in Cardiff
The Government of Wales Act of 2006 gives the Welsh assembly powers to make its own laws, but limits its scope to defined "fields"; a broad subject area such as education or health.
Within these fields, the assembly is able to enact its own laws, known as measures. The major areas in which the assembly can legislate are listed in the table above.
In addition, the assembly can make laws relating to ancient monuments and historic buildings, public administration, sport and recreation, tourism, town and country planning, flood defences, the assembly itself, and the Welsh language.
By omission, anything not contained in the current list of measures remains under the control of the Parliament in Westminster.
The assembly is split into executive and legislative branches: the Welsh assembly government controls day-to-day running of devolved policy areas within the country, while the National Assembly for Wales scrutinises and debates the assembly government's work.
The assembly could increase its powers in the future and may one day evolve into a body similar to the Scottish Parliament.
In February 2010, assembly members voted in favour of holding a referendum on devolving further powers from Westminster. This motion must now gain approval from both Houses of Parliament.
Why is there not an 'English parliament'?
The UK government is responsible for all matters in England which have been devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
However devolution has caused some tensions, particularly over public spending.
The new powers of the Scottish Parliament have allowed it to abolish university tuition fees and prescription charges. These services are not free in England.
However Scotland's public services are still paid for by all UK taxpayers under the terms of the Barnett formula, which allocates funding around different parts of the country.
Some in England are increasingly unhappy, seeing this as English taxpayers subsidising free services in Scotland.
A recent survey of 980 people by the left-leaning think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research suggested 40% of those questioned believe this situation unfair, compared with 22% in 2003.
Delivering the report, Professor John Curtice said if the trends continued, politicians "may no longer be able to safely assume that England can be ignored in the devolution debate".
Has Devolution worked?
rodrigo | February 9, 2017
WritePass - Essay Writing - Dissertation Topics [TOC]
The purpose of this essay will be to consider whether the process of devolution in the United Kingdom since 1999 has been successful and consider some of the points of convergence and divergence, which have occurred in terms of policy development in the region, as well the impact which the austerity measures introduced by the Coalition government have had on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The process of devolution is one that can be considered as a response to widespread processes of restructuring in the forms of governance in the Western world and also a part of a global phenomenon (Rodriguez-Pose and Gill, 2005; Williams and Mooney, 2008; Keating et al. 2009). In the context of the UK, the process of devolution should be understood as the process of granting semi-autonomous legislative powers to the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly of Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly on behalf of the UK parliament (Gov.uk, 2013).
Devolution in the UK specifically should be considered as a phenomenon of the political climate which existed in the second half of the 1990s. The process of devolution itself can be considered as an alternative to the policy adopted by successive Conservative governments in both Scotland and Wales (Trench, 2007). In addition, it was aimed to challenge the agenda set by more nationalist parties in the UK, whose political ideas and manifestos gained popularity at the time (ibid.). Even though the newly established governing institutions had their predecessors in the past, which exercised similar legislative functions, the fact that they were now recognised as autonomous and sovereign was a major historical precedent (Rose, 1982). As a result of referendums taking place in September 1997 in Scotland and Wales, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh National Assembly were established. In Northern Ireland, as a result of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and following a national referendum in May 1998, the Northern Ireland Assembly was established (Birrell, 2009). In line with these developments in UK governance, the following essay will examine the impact which the process of devolution has had in terms of successful policy implementation.
The impact of Devolution
In the UK specifically, there are four different models of devolution, all reflecting the asymmetrical nature of the process and the different politics which characterise the different regions (Hazell, 2000). The Scottish parliament, for example, has a responsibility of developing policy in tackling the majority of domestic affairs without interference on behalf of the UK parliament. The Northern Ireland Assembly, on the other hand, has the capacity of passing legislation related to a wide range of issues; and the Welsh National Assembly has an elected assembly, which has been granted legislative powers following a referendum in 2011 (Gov.uk, 2013). In the rest of England outside London, where an elected mayor and assembly were established, the changes in administration were quite marginal and were reflected in the creation of Regional Development Agencies and unelected Regional Assemblies which have subsequently been abolished by the Conservative–Liberal Democratic Coalition Government. As this indicates, UK devolution is a process rather than an event (Shaw and MacKinnon, 2011).
As a result of the implementation of UK devolution acts, the legislative competence over devolved matters and democratic representation and authority was transferred to the newly established devolved parliaments. Basing devolution on the functions previously exercised by the territorial departments served to reduce conflict over the distribution of powers and resources in the short-term, but at the expense of any long-term resolution of territorial imbalances and tensions (Jeffery, 2007). While Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own devolved institutions, England is governed centrally by the UK parliament, meaning that UK and English political institutions have effectively become fused. One of the unique features of UK devolution is reflected in the limited autonomy of the regions to raise their own taxes and be responsible for their re-investment (Gov.uk, 2013). This contrasts with many other devolved or federal states in which the national and sub-national tiers share responsibility for both the raising and distribution of revenue (MacKinnon, 2013). Arguably, this could have a negative impact on the overall performance of the devolved regions, as it puts them in a subordinate position to the UK parliament in terms of financing and self-sufficiency, a policy problem which in the occurrence of the global recession has affected all three of the devolved regions.
Devolution has important repercussions for public policy (Greer, 2007; Greer, 2009; Jeffery 2007; Keating, 2002; Keating 2009). In effect, the process of devolution has allowed the newly established governments to design and implement policies which take into consideration the specific economic and social conditions of the regions, thereby presenting localised solution to localised problems (Jeffery 2002). Despite the differences which exist among the regions, some commonalities in policy development can also be observed, namely in the provision of health care and tackling public health problems. The common economic challenges, combined with a tight fiscal policy means that the convergence of healthcare politics in all the devolved regions are likely to the preserved for some time (Smith and Hellowell, 2012). With the ongoing debates of more financial independence of the regions, however, it appears more likely than not that in the near future a more pronounced divergence in healthcare policy could happen in the nearby future (ibid.). To summarise this section, the process of devolution can be considered a success, as it has enabled the devolved regions to take the initiative of developing and implementing tailored policy decisions which take into consideration the specific conditions and challenges which exist in every one of the regions, despite the austerity measures and the impact of the economic recession.
Devolution has also brought with itself a political reconsideration and reprioritization equality and human-rights in compulsory-phase education and how these are promoted, following the government’s commitment to mainstreaming (Chaney, 2011). With the different dimensions which devolution has in the UK, it appears plausible that the priorities of one government will not necessarily coincide with the priorities of another government. Moreover, within the different contextual settings, it is more than likely that different definitions of equality will be used (ibid.). Although there is still a long way to go in terms of promoting equality and human rights, devolution in the long-term could be the ground upon which more equal societies could be built. However, this is a fragile and slow process, and which, despite the progress achieved in the previous phase, largely associated with the policy of the New Labour, has come under threat by the politics of the Coalition Government, as the next few paragraphs will show.
The process of devolution can be characterised by two distinct phases (MacKinnon, 2013). The first phase of UK devolution between 1999 and 2007 was characterised by common Labour Party government at the devolved and UK levels, stable inter-government relations and substantial increases in public expenditure (ibid). Over the period, the budgets of the devolved governments rose substantially between 2001/2002 and 2009/2010, (61.5% in Scotland, 60% in Wales and 62.6% in Northern Ireland) as a result of spending decisions taken by the Labour Government in London (HM Treasury 2007; 2011, as cited in MacKinnon, 2013).
A new phase of devolution and constitutional politics has become apparent since 2007, defined by three distinguishing features (Danson et al., 2012). First, nationalist parties entered into government in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast in 2007 as either minority governments or coalition partners. Second, there is the changed context of UK politics following the defeat of Labour in 2010 and the formation of a Coalition Government between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Third, the economic context has changed radically following the financial crisis of 2007–2008 and the ensuing economic recession. In response, the Coalition Government adopted a programme for reducing public expenditure by £81 billion by 2015–16, thereby eliminating the UK’s structural deficit (Lowndes and Pratchett, 2012: 23). This has meant that the introduction of austerity measures designed to address the UK’s budget deficit by the Coalition Government since 2010 has also had significant implications for the devolved governments, reducing their budgets and requiring them to administer cuts locally, although they have been vocal in their opposition to austerity and support of alternative policy approaches such as increased capital expenditure (McEwen, 2013).
In this climate, the devolved governments have reaffirmed their commitment to social justice and solidarity (Scott and Mooney, 2009), with the Scottish Government, for instance, arguing that the UK Coalition Government’s welfare reform agenda threatens the social democratic values of ‘civic Scotland’ (McEwen, 2013). In summary, despite the fact that the process of devolution has been successful in several aspects, all associated with granting a certain level of autonomy to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, this could all prove in vain unless more revenue-raising responsibilities are given to the regions.
The aim of this essay was to review the impact which the process of devolution has had in the UK. As it was noted, the nature of UK devolution should be considered as a long-term evolving process, rather than a single even. Economic and political conditions have changed markedly since the establishment of the institutions in 1999, particularly in terms of changes of government at devolved and Westminster levels, the onset of recession from 2008 and the introduction of a new politics of austerity. The underlying asymmetries of UK devolution have become more pronounced with the tendency towards greater autonomy for Scotland and Wales contrasting with greater centralisation and the abolition of regional institutions in England. These contradictions raise some fundamental questions about the territorial integrity of the state and the possible dissolution of Britain (Nairn, 2003) in the context of the Scottish independence referendum which is to be held in September 2014. As this essay has demonstrated, the process of devolution has achieved some notable successes in terms of public health, education policy and promoting equality, though it is impossible to predict what the future might hold in terms of further developments.
Birrell, D. (2009). The impact of devolution on social policy. The Policy Press.
Chaney, P. (2011). Education, equality and human rights: Exploring the impact of devolution in the UK. Critical Social Policy, 31(3), 431-453.
Danson, M., MacLeod, G., & Mooney, G. (2012). Devolution and the shifting political economic geographies of the United Kingdom. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, 30(1), 1-9.
Greer, S. (2007) ‘The fragile divergence machine: citizenship, policy divergence, and intergovernmental relations’ (pp. 136-159), in Trench, A. (ed.), Devolution and power in the United Kingdom. Manchester University Press.
Greer, S. (ed.) (2009). Devolution and Social Citizenship in the UK. The Policy Press.
Gov.uk (2013) Devolution of powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/devolution-of-powers-to-scotland-wales-and-northern-ireland
Hazell, R. (Ed.). (2000). The state and the nations: the first year of devolution in the United Kingdom. Imprint Academic.
HM Treasury (2007) Public expenditure statistical analyses 2007, Cm 7091. London: The Stationery Office.
HM Treasury (2011) Public expenditure statistical analyses 2007, Cm 8104. London: The Stationery Office.
Jeffery, C. (2002). Devolution: Challenging local government. Joseph Rowntree.
Jeffery, C. (2007). The Unfinished Business of Devolution Seven Open Questions. Public policy and administration, 22(1), 92-108.
Keating, M. (2002) ‘Devolution and public policy in the United Kingdom: Divergence or convergence’ (pp.3-21), in Adams, J., & Robinson, P. (eds.), Devolution in practice: public policy differences within the UK. Institute for Public Policy Research.
Keating, M. (2009) The independence of Scotland: Self-government and the shifting politics of union. Oxford University Press.
Keating, M., Cairney, P., & Hepburn, E. (2009) Territorial policy communities and devolution in the UK. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 2(1), 51-66.
Lowndes, V., & Pratchett, L. (2012). Local governance under the Coalition government: austerity, localism and the ‘Big Society’. Local government studies, 38(1), 21-40.
MacKinnon, D. (2013). Devolution, state restructuring and policy divergence in the UK. The Geographical Journal. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12057
McEwen, N. (2013) Independence and the territorial politics of welfare The David Hume Institute Research Paper No. 4/2013. Edinburgh: The David Hume Institute. Available at: http://www.scotlandfutureforum.org/assets/library/files/application/Research_Paper_4-McEwen.pdf
Nairn, T. (2003). The break-up of Britain: crisis and neo-nationalism. Common Ground.
Rodríguez‐Pose, A., & Gill, N. (2005). On the ‘economic dividend’of devolution. Regional Studies, 39(4), 405-420.
Rose, R. (1982). The Territorial Dimension in Government: Understanding the United Kingdom. Chatham House.
Scott, G., & Mooney, G. (2009). Poverty and social justice in the devolved Scotland: neoliberalism meets social democracy. Social Policy and Society, 3(4), 379-389.
Shaw, J., & MacKinnon, D. (2011). Moving on with ‘filling in’? Some thoughts on state restructuring after devolution. Area, 43(1), 23-30.
Smith, K., & Hellowell, M. (2012). Beyond Rhetorical Differences: A Cohesive Account of Post‐devolution Developments in UK Health Policy. Social Policy & Administration, 46(2), 178-198.
Trench, A. (ed.). (2007). Devolution and power in the United Kingdom. Manchester University Press.
Williams, C., & Mooney, G. (2008) Decentring social policy? Devolution and the discipline of social policy: A commentary. Journal of social policy, 37(3), 489.
Tags: Devolution, essay, United Kingdom
Category: Essay & Dissertation Samples, Political Science, Social Science