Week 2: Devolution

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  • learning objectives Understand the process of political devolution in the UK. Explain the background and role of nationalism and the

    subsequent drive towards political devolution within the UK.

    Identify powers the devolved bodies have. Understand the impact devolution has had on the UK

    politics and political system.

  • the union

  • the united kingdom

    England wales scotland northern Ireland


  • wales Between 1536 and 1542, Wales became part of England, having previously only been subject to indirect control. After 1542, English law applied also in Wales, and English was established as the only permissible language for official purposes. Wales, in turn, gained representation in the Westminster Parliament.

  • Scotland Scotland was an independent state with its own parliament until the 1707 Act of Union, which formally united England and Scotland, creating the Kingdom of Great Britain. Under this, the English and the Scottish Parliaments were both abolished and replaced by a new Parliament at Westminster.

  • northern Ireland Under the Act of Union of 1800, the Kingdom of Great Britain merged with the Kingdom of Ireland to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. When the Irish Free State was established in 1922 (later to become the Republic of Ireland), the UK became the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

  • The unity of the UK is embodied in the principle of parliamentary

    sovereignty. This makes the UK a unitary state.

  • Parliamentary sovereignty Sovereignty, in its simplest sense, is the principle of absolute and unlimited power. parliament has absolute legal authority. It enjoys legislative supremacy: parliament may make law on any matter it chooses, its decisions may not be overturned by any higher authority.


  • Unitary state e

    A state in which sovereignty is concentrated in a single institution of central government; the centre therefore determines the powers and responsibilities of lower levels of government.

  • what is devolution?

  • Devolution is The transfer of political power from central to subnational government.

    westminster parliament scottish parliament

  • Multilevel governance is a process in which political authority is distributed horizontally and vertically between sub-national, national and supra-national levels of government.

  • types of devolution in the UK

  • devolution

    administrative legislative

    Political power is concentrated at the centre, but special arrangements are made to take account of distinctive regional interests and identities.

    This involves the creation of of separate parliaments with legislative powers.

  • Administrative devolution Before 1999, a number of special arrangements existed for the government of Scotland and Wales: Territorial ministers in UK central government Over-representation at Westminster. A preferential formula for public spending The Barnett


  • The Barnett formula translates changes in public spending in England into equivalent changes in block grants for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, calculated on the basis of population. Under the formula, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have higher public spending per person than England.

  • legislative devolution creation of devolved institutions has been the most significant change to the UKs constitutional arrangements since 1997. The first elections for the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales were held in May 1999, following successful referendums in May 1997

  • in the uk we have asymmetric devolution. this means that each devolved institution has different powers and distinctive features.

  • The issues upon which the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly can make laws are known as devolved powers.

  • The issues upon which only the UK Parliament can make laws are known as reserved powers.


  • The Scottish Parliament has 129 members (MSPs) elected by the additional member system.

  • It has primary legislative powers in a range of policy areas, including law and order, health, education, transport, the environment and economic development.

  • from 2016 under The Scotland Act (2012) the Scottish parliament will be able to set a Scottish rate of income tax higher or lower than that in the UK.

  • Funding comes from a Treasury block grant (27 billion in 2012) determined by the Barnett formula.

  • devolution options for Scotland Further devolution Full devolution (devo max) Independence


  • Legal referendum The UK government gave temporary powers to the Scottish Parliament, under section 30 of the Scotland Act (1998) to hold a referendum in 2014.

  • one question Should Scotland be an independent country?

  • Franchise 16- and 17-year-olds were able to vote for the first time

  • Scotland has voted against becoming an independent country by 55.3% to 44.7%. The turnout at the referendum was 84.6%.


  • The National Assembly for Wales, commonly known as the Welsh Assembly, has 60 members elected by the additional member system.

  • The Government of Wales Act (1998) specified the devolved policy areas. These include education, health, transport, the environment and economic development.

  • Funding comes from a Treasury block grant (15 billion in 2012) determined by the Barnett formula. The assembly decides how to allocate this money and can alter the basis of local taxation, but does not have tax varying powers.

  • further powers were devolved by the Westminster government when it passed the Wales Act (2014). these include policing, criminal justice and road safety.

  • the impact of devolution

  • new politics Hopes were high in Scotland and Wales that legislative devolution would usher in a different style of politics. Whereas Westminster politics was seen as adversarial and elitist, the hope was that post-devolution politics would be consensual and more democratic.

  • Multi-party politics the additional member system used in election for the scottish parliament and the wlsh assembly produces more proportional outcomes that are found at Westminster elections.

  • Minority and coalition governments Elections to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly have produced different types of government. Since the advent of devolution, both coalitions and long-lived minority governments have become part of the fabric of politics in Scotland and Wales.

  • Policy divergence Devolution has allowed governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to adopt policies which differ from those pursued by the UK government in England.

  • Funding The devolved administrations are funded by block grants from the UK. Treasury, the size of which is settled by the Barnett formula. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland receive more public spending per head of population than in England. For 2008/09, if the UK level was taken as 100, then government funding for England would be 97, for Wales 111, for Scotland 116, and for Northern Ireland 122.

  • Intergovernmental relations New mechanisms to handle relations between the UK government and the devolved bodies have been established to foster cooperation and resolve disputes.

  • The West Lothian Question Why should Scottish MPs be able to vote on English matters at Westminster when English MPs cannot vote on matters devolved to the Scottish Parliament?

  • the english question how England should be governed within the post-devolution Union? underpinning it is a sense that English interests and identity are not recognised explicitly.

  • Britishness Britishness is an umbrella identity that provides a common bond between the peoples of the UK, but which also enables them to retain their distinctive national (i.e. English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish) identities.