Devolution in the United Kingdom |
In the United Kingdom, devolution is the statutory granting of powers from the Parliament of the United Kingdom to the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the London Assembly and to their associated executive bodies the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and in England, the Greater London Authority and combined authorities.
Earlier in the 19th century, Irish politicians like Daniel O'Connell had demanded a repeal of the Act of Union 1800 and a return to two separate kingdoms and parliaments, united only in the personal union of the monarch of Great Britain and Ireland. In contrast to this, demands for home rule called for autonomy for Ireland within the United Kingdom, with a subsidiary Irish parliament subject to the authority of the parliament at Westminster. This issue was first introduced by the Irish Parliamentary Party led by Isaac Butt, William Shaw and Charles Stewart Parnell.
The Northern Ireland Parliament was abolished by the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, which received royal assent on 19 July 1973. A Northern Ireland Assembly was elected on 28 June 1973 and following the Sunningdale Agreement, a power-sharing Northern Ireland Executive was formed on 1 January 1974. This collapsed on 28 May 1974, due to the Ulster Workers' Council strike. The Troubles continued.
The 1998 Belfast Agreement (also known as the Good Friday Agreement), resulted in the creation of a new Northern Ireland Assembly, intended to bring together the two communities (nationalist and unionist) to govern Northern Ireland. Additionally, renewed devolution in Northern Ireland was conditional on co-operation between the newly established Northern Ireland Executive and the Government of Ireland through a new all-Ireland body, the North/South Ministerial Council. A British-Irish Council covering the whole British Isles and a British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference (between the British and Irish Governments) were also established.
The demands for political change in the way in which Scotland was run changed dramatically in the 1920s when Scottish nationalists started to form various organisations. The Scots National League was formed in 1920 in favour of Scottish independence, and this movement was superseded in 1928 by the formation of the National Party of Scotland, which became the Scottish National Party (SNP) in 1934. At first the SNP sought only the establishment of a devolved Scottish assembly, but in 1942 they changed this to support all-out independence. This caused the resignation of John MacCormick from the SNP and he formed the Scottish Covenant Association. This body proved to be the biggest mover in favour of the formation of a Scottish assembly, collecting over two million signatures in the late 1940s and early 1950s and attracting support from across the political spectrum. However, without formal links to any of the political parties it withered, devolution and the establishment of an assembly were put on the political back burner.
In May 1997, the Labour government of Tony Blair was elected with a promise of creating devolved institutions in Scotland. In late 1997, a referendum was held which resulted in a "yes" vote. The newly created Scottish Parliament (as a result of the Scotland Act 1998) has powers to make primary legislation in all areas of policy which are not expressly 'reserved' for the UK Government and parliament such as national defence and international affairs.
Labour's incremental embrace of a distinctive Welsh polity was arguably catalysed in 1966 when Plaid Cymru president Gwynfor Evans won the Carmarthen by-election. In response to the emergence of Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party (SNP) Harold Wilson's Labour Government set up the Royal Commission on the Constitution (the Kilbrandon Commission) to investigate the UK's constitutional arrangements in 1969. The 1974–1979 Labour government proposed a Welsh Assembly in parallel to its proposals for Scotland. These were rejected by voters in the 1979 referendum, with 956,330 votes against, compared with 243,048 for.
A Commission on Devolution in Wales was set up in October 2011 to consider further devolution of powers from London. The commission issued a report on the devolution of fiscal powers in November 2012 and a report on the devolution of legislative powers in March 2014. The fiscal recommendations formed the basis of the Wales Act 2014, while majority of the legislative recommendations were put into law by the Wales Act 2017.
The division of England into provinces or regions was explored by several post-Second World War royal commissions. The Redcliffe-Maud Report of 1969 proposed devolving power from central government to eight provinces in England. In 1973 the Royal Commission on the Constitution (United Kingdom) proposed the creation of eight English appointed regional assemblies with an advisory role; although the report stopped short of recommending legislative devolution to England, a minority of signatories wrote a memorandum of dissent which put forward proposals for devolving power to elected assemblies for Scotland, Wales and five Regional Assemblies in England.