Centralised Power and Decentralised Politics in the Devolved UK
Akash Paun and Robert Hazell, University College London
Summary of the paper
Formally, the system of devolution in the UK appears highly centralised. In practice,the devolved governments have quite extensive autonomy. The nationalistgovernments elected in 2007 are pushing for more decentralisation.
Westminster parliament retains full constitutional supremacy. Westminstercan rewrite any of the devolution settlements.
Westminster can suspend devolution – and has in Northern Ireland
Devolution extends to only 15% of the UK: England remains highlycentralised
All the funding for the devolved governments comes from central government:they raise no revenue of their own
There is a unified civil service, in Scotland and Wales and the UK
Whitehall has retained a centralised mindset. Central government lawyerscheck all devolved legislation for competence
Whitehall conducts intergovernmental relations on a bilateral basis, reducingthe possibility of coordinated action by the devolved governments.
There is a long tradition in British territorial politics that the centre is notstrongly interested in the periphery
The absence of a written constitution means there are no clear boundaries tothe powers and functions which might be devolved
Nor are there clear limits to where the process of devolution might end. Since1973 the UK government has formally recognised the right of Northern Irelandto leave the UK if a majority ever vote for that. By implication the same rightapplies in Scotland
Westminster has adopted a convention that it will not legislate on devolvedmatters save with the consent of the devolved parliaments
In practice Westminster cannot repeal or significantly amend the devolutionsettlements without similar consent. The initial referendums in 1997 haveproved a political means of entrenchment
Funding for the devolved governments comes as a single block grant, with noring fencing, tied grants or conditional grants
The asymmetry of devolution makes it easier for devolved governments toseek extra powers.
Nationalist parties are now in power in Scotland (SNP minority government),Wales (in coalition with Labour), N Ireland (coalition with unionists)
In all three devolved territories the trend is towards further decentralisation.
The SNP has launched a ‘national conversation’ in Scotland about futureconstitutional options, hoping to hold a referendum on independence in 2010.Unionist parties have responded by establishing commission on additionalpowers for the Scottish Parliament. The commission will focus mainly ongreater fiscal autonomy, not more legislative powers.