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Irish Nationalists have a united Ireland as their ultimate goal. Under the Northern Ireland Act this can only be achieved with the consent of the majority. By way of contrast, the unionists were keen to consolidate the area's connection with the remainder of the United Kingdom. As part of the same agreement, the British-Irish Council was established as a body to consider broader mutual interests with the U.

In seeking greater integration between nations and dependent territories it has features comparable with the Nordic Council, which also includes a combination of nations and autonomous regions. One should add that the British-Irish Council does not include distinct representation for England. Meetings are attended by ministers of the Northern Ireland executive, when matters concerning Northern Ireland are on the agenda.

The effect of this multiplicity of interwoven institutional contacts is to cement engagement and cooperation at a number of levels. Devolution in Northern Ireland was designed specifically to bring peace. Although based on the election of an Assembly with lawmaking powers and with competences similar to those of Scotland and Wales, the Northern Ireland system displays many unique characteristics, most notably: the method of election of the Northern Ireland Assembly; the degree of permanent power sharing at every level of government; the emphasis on peace and reconciliation through the recognition of human rights and the promotion of equality of opportunity; 75 and the dedicated national and supranational bodies discussed above set up to satisfy the respective aspirations of both communities.

The fact that devolution has been suspended on three occasions, before it was restored most recently in May , illustrates the fragility of these arrangements. Not only are there still some dissident republican groups in Northern Ireland which refuse to accept devolution but also the viability of the entire process may be threatened by outstanding issues, for example, those relating to security and policing, which were not fully resolved as part of the original agreement.

We next turn to England, by far the most populous part of the United Kingdom, 77 which was entirely omitted from the devolution equation in the sense that no equivalent nationwide layer of regional or devolved government was proposed to coincide with devolution elsewhere. Nevertheless, devolution has exerted a significant influence on the workings of the Westminster system as well as prompting calls for further constitutional reform.

The so-called West Lothian question has been recognized since the conception of devolution, and it will simply be referred to here as an important constitutional issue created by the introduction of asymmetrical devolution. In essence, establishing a Scottish Parliament and, to a lesser extent, a Northern Ireland Assembly and a Welsh Assembly plays havoc with the notion of representative government in the United Kingdom.

Westminster Members of Parliament MPs representing English, Northern Irish, and Welsh constituencies no longer vote on the devolved matters, which now become the responsibility of devolved bodies; however, the Scottish, Northern Irish, and Welsh MPs at Westminster retain the right to vote on all bills coming before the Westminster Parliament, including those concerning domestic policy for England.

Furthermore, as a result of the transfer of many domestic functions to the Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish executives, the Scottish, Northern Irish, and Welsh Westminster MPs have a greatly reduced role to play with regard to their own constituents. The obvious line of accountability for the devolved areas in domestic affairs is through their representatives in Edinburgh, Belfast, or Cardiff.


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The other related question is the lack of any equivalent level of representation for England. Voices of discontent at the lack of provision for England have been heard most loudly in the socially disadvantaged English regions bordering Scotland and Wales. This is where one finds the strongest perception of having missed out economically in comparison with the devolved parts of the U.

The introduction of an English Parliament would also bring the U. However, there are some obvious reasons why such a proposal has little chance of implementation. Third, a uniquely English Parliament would be yet another elected political body requiring a fresh cohort of politicians at a time when there is already evidence of voter fatigue with existing elected political institutions and politicians. Fourth, establishing an English Parliament would prompt a wider debate about the financial provisions on which devolution is based and, in so doing, open up fresh controversy over the allocation of resources within the U.

Vernon Bogdanor has recently argued that if English nationalism were to move from culture to politics it would seriously undermine the union. Although there is some evidence that English nationalism has been growing recently there has been little enthusiasm in England, as a whole, for an English Parliament or, indeed, for any equivalent kind of constitutional reform.

Another response to the asymmetry was the Labour government's flirtation with regional governance in England which exactly coincided with devolution. The new agencies were made responsible for formulating regeneration strategies to promote business efficiency, investment, and competitiveness within their areas 91 by forging links and formalizing relationships with the business sector at regional level.

The next step in Labour's exploration of regional governance was a proposal to introduce a directly elected regional government with very limited powers in regions where the proposals were supported by a referendum. An alternative approach to the problem of voting rights for Westminster MPs, which is much less radical than resorting to an English Parliament or to some form of regional government for England, would be to introduce a new political convention or to implement new procedures and rules within the U. The legislative procedures used by the devolved legislatures include some elements that appear very novel in contrast with those employed by the Westminster Parliament.

For example, draft bills have been used routinely in Scotland to allow for greater consultation and to provide scope for more participation, with the relevant subject committees of the Scottish Parliament taking detailed evidence from interested parties during a period of scrutiny before the legislation goes through its parliamentary stages. It is interesting that the procedure at Westminster has since been modified to allow for the much more frequent publication of draft bills in order to facilitate greater consultation before the legislation goes through its parliamentary stages.

On the other hand, the subject committees, which operate in all the devolved legislatures, have been designed to combine the specialist executive oversight function of House of Commons departmental select committees with the scrutinizing function of the House of Commons public bill committees, which are responsible for examining legislation during its committee stage in the Commons.

Another interesting dynamic relating to the legislative activity of the Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly concerns a practice that has developed to determine whether the devolved legislatures always need to legislate when a matter falls within their competence. As already explained, in theory at least, devolution has left intact Albert Venn Dicey's core principle of U.

Parliamentary sovereignty. Westminster is still able to legislate for any part of the U. It should also be remembered that the distinctive status of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland was previously recognized through special procedures that were in place in the Westminster Parliament prior to devolution in order to oversee the passage of legislation directed at these parts of the United Kingdom. Parliament would not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters, and that Westminster legislation applying to Scotland and Northern Ireland would be an unusual occurrence and would take place only with the agreement of the relevant devolved legislature.

Since devolution, the so-called Sewel convention has emerged, the idea behind it being to recognize that the Westminster Parliament retains given its legal sovereignty full legal power to legislate on devolved matters while also recognizing that the spirit of devolution implies that political power rests with the Scottish Parliament or the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The government thus undertook not to support relevant legislation in the Westminster Parliament without the prior consent of the Scottish Parliament or Northern Ireland Assembly. Before a motion is put, the matters are discussed first by the relevant subject committee of the Scottish Parliament. Since the Scottish election in , consent motions were passed by the Scottish Parliament with respect to fifteen pieces of legislation.

By way of contrast, in Northern Ireland the legislative consent motions not referred to in Northern Ireland as Sewel motions were little used, initially, during the period between and when the Assembly was frequently suspended. Until the — session, there were only guidance notes outlining the process which the U. To some degree, the use of Sewel motions could be accounted for by the fact that the same party was in power both in Westminster and Scotland and shared a commitment to common policy objectives during the initial phase of devolution. Moreover, there is a need to comply with international obligations on a nationwide basis and for Scottish participation in particular initiatives involving the whole of the U.

For example, seeing legislation enacted on a U. Another reason for the popularity of Sewel motions has been to avoid the prospect of legal challenge to the competency of Scottish legislation in politically controversial areas. This is because Westminster legislation, unlike Scottish legislation, is not open to direct challenge in the courts.

Supreme Court. The Sewel convention, according to Page and Batey, allows Scotland to have the best of both legislative worlds. The evidence also suggests that, although there has been marked policy divergence in certain fields, there has also been, as a result of Sewel motions, a continuing drift toward uniformity, which pervades the devolved system of government. Devolution is now accepted by all the main national political parties as well as the nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales and the main parties in Northern Ireland as an important part of the constitutional landscape.

However, it has been argued in this article that the introduction of devolution, as part of the U.

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It has many diverse implications, though it is without any overtly general or overarching objective for the United Kingdom. Instead, the aim has been to provide specifically tailored institutional responses for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Despite the fact that devolution was introduced to deflect nationalist trends, nationalists are either in power or share power in all the devolved bodies.

Moreover, the Scottish Nationalist Party is keen to press for a referendum on independence. In practice, the attempt to fix the dissatisfaction felt in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland has posed a whole new set of questions. Most obviously, devolution draws attention to disparities in the Westminster Parliament and the lack of an equivalent level of government for England.

The imposition of any restrictions on the voting rights of MPs from Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland would certainly have a major impact on the functioning of the Westminster Parliament. Turning to another dimension, the financial parameters of the entire system have been increasingly criticized and it has already been noted that a Scotland Bill making fundamental changes to the present method of financing in Scotland has been introduced during the current legislative session.


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For example, the conferral of full legislative powers on the Welsh Assembly is a further change in prospect following approval at the referendum held in March for The dynamics of devolution do not simply concern modifications to the complex structure of the institutions, the financial parameters, and the allocation of powers and functions.

It should be remembered that, for many advocates, the main rationale for this project was to allow the respective parts of the U. From this standpoint, then, devolution can be regarded as a substantial step toward granting local autonomy through the operation of the new institutions established in Edinburgh, Cardiff, and Belfast. In other words, where a devolved administration decides to pursue a policy, which differs from that followed or approved by Westminster, they cannot be financially constrained from doing so. There are, however, added complications when it comes to divergence in the provision of social policies.

But the Welfare State was founded on the principle that the needs of the citizen should be determined not locally, but by central government, which alone could balance the requirements of different parts of the Kingdom, and the needs of those living in different parts of the Kingdom. The impact of the egregious asymmetry that devolution has brought to policy formation and public administration in the United Kingdom has to some extent been masked by more than a decade of prosperity. However, the onset of a period of cutbacks in levels of public expenditure and budget allocation is likely to mean that devolution will face renewed examination.

Perhaps, it might also be linked to a constitutional duty to maintain a base level of social welfare. A new federal constitution would ensure that the devolved systems would be protected from infringement by the Parliament of the United Kingdom…. Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide.

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Brexit and implications for Scottish Devolution

Sign In. Advanced Search. Article Navigation. Close mobile search navigation Article Navigation. Volume 9. Article Contents. Comparing devolution to federalism. Reviewing the national dynamics. Devolution and legislation. The multifaceted constitutional dynamics of U. Oxford Academic. Google Scholar.

Cite Citation. Permissions Icon Permissions. Abstract When it was introduced in , devolution for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland was recognized as a constitutional change of pivotal importance. For an overview of U. Brexit and implications for Scottish Devolution. Nicola McEwen 1 March Powers bonanza or power grab? Towards Collaborative Governance? Share on Facebook. Share on Twitter. Share on LinkedIn.

You can download the whole book for free, and individual chapters, including a fully revised version of this article. The core institutions are a Scottish parliament of MSPs, elected by a broadly proportional representation system the additional member system. A Scottish Executive was set up to run all the devolved policy areas, using a directorate structure instead of the separate departments found in Whitehall.

Most domestic spending on education, health, transport, housing, local government, the economy etc is devolved. She has a small cabinet 12 members , plus another 13 ministers, all drawn from the Parliament.

Will the Scottish government have more power after Brexit?

Despite electing MSPs via proportional representation , which tends to stabilise political alignments, Scottish politics has undergone a period of significant political and constitutional upheaval over the past half-decade. This was a high water mark and in the May Scottish Parliament election the SNP won 63 seats, falling two shy of the 65 required for a majority, but retaining government office.

What does democracy require of Scotland’s devolved Parliament and government?

The Scottish independence referendum also began critical changes in the fortunes of Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives. Labour was first ousted from control of the Scottish executive in , and its subsequent history has been nothing short of catastrophic. Since then the party has had nine different leaders three of those in a caretaker role and its previous dominance of Scottish politics has rapidly leached away.

A key stage was reform of the electoral system for Scottish local government, often Labour-dominated, with the single transferable vote introduced by the SNP with Liberal Democrat and Green support in And Figure 1 shows how suddenly and completely their Westminster predominance was completely terminated in , with the party losing all but one of the 41 seats it held in As a result of the proportional electoral system that they had continually opposed, the Conservatives have moved sharply back from the electoral decline of the s, largely because their clearer and complete opposition to independence suddenly projected them as the safer option in defending the UK union.

But the issue has become so polarised that there are now few voters in the middle ground. Parties in the Scottish Parliament operate strict party discipline, like the House of Commons. MSPs rarely rebel on whipped votes. During the majority SNP government, many critics complained that rigorous SNP discipline reduced the Parliament to a residual role akin to the stunted functions of the Westminster Parliament —subject to the dominance of the executive.

The committee system of the Scottish Parliament, established to fulfil the function of both Westminster subject and select committees, has proved ineffectual in scrutinising legislation and holding government ministers to account.


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Members are assigned to committees based just on party strength in the wider parliament. The establishment of family friendly hours — parliamentary business takes place from Tuesday to Thursday, 9am-6pm, with infrequent exceptions — means that members have a clearly established working pattern, allowing for better work-life balance, the ability to spend more time with family or other outside interests one MSP is a qualified referee and regularly features at Scottish and European games.

But it does not clearly fulfil objectives of enhancing scrutiny or accountability. Questions and answers frequently revert to partisan bickering, especially on the unresolved constitutional questions around independence.

The Scottish Political System Since Devolution : Paul Cairney :

Electronic voting allows for decisions to be made quickly and records to be announced without the need for physical divisions that operate in the House of Commons. The Parliament also has modern IT built into all its operations. Potentially then, their regional constituents elsewhere might not be as well represented as those in the target constituency.

The operation of the Additional Member System has created a closed party system in Scotland.