5 Governance beyond Westminster: the politics of devolution
5.1 The UK model of devolution
In its programme of devolution, the Labour government had to decide whether to adopt a symmetric decentralisation model, which would confer an equal degree of devolution to the UK's constituent nations, or to implement an asymmetric decentralisation model, which would grant differing degrees of autonomy to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They opted for the second model in an attempt to respond to different claims about self-determination and to react to different degrees of national identity emerging in Scotland and Wales. Asymmetry also weakened arguments for a UK 'federation' or federalism.
The UK model stands in sharp contrast with the symmetric decentralisation implemented in Germany after the Second World War, where all its Länder enjoy political autonomy, and in post-Francoist Spain, where its 17 autonomous communities are due to enjoy similar powers once the decentralisation process is completed. Devolution in the UK has been confined to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, omitting the 85 per cent of the population that lives in England.. Some argue that in the omission of English regions lies at the heart of inherent instability in the UK decentralisation model, quite apart from the different devolution ‘settlements’ already in place for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In what follows, I examine the post-1997 UK devolution process. At this point, it is worth considering that democratic-, economic- and identity-based arguments are combined and play a different part in each of the following cases.