The politics of devolution
The politics of devolution

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The politics of devolution

5.6 Summary of Section 5

  • In 1997, the newly elected Labour government set in motion the asymmetric decentralisation of the UK by granting differing degrees of political autonomy to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

  • In 1997 referendums on devolution where held in Scotland and Wales. Their affirmative outcome in favour of devolution cannot of itself deliver constitutional entrenchment, but might reinforce its moral and political legitimacy.

  • The Belfast Agreement, signed 10 April 1998, represented a major breakthrough in conflict resolution strategies. It stood for ‘the total and absolute commitment to exclusively democratic and peaceful means of resolving differences on political issues’ (The Belfast Agreement, 1998, p. 1) and endorsed consent as a principle on the basis of which the people of Northern Ireland should decide on their future.

SAQ 4

Do you think it is still true that the experience of devolution 'has not encouraged further demands for increased power for the devolved institutions, nor prompted talk of Scottish or Welsh secession from the UK'?

Answer

As ever, Northern Ireland is a special case. But there certainly exists some feeling in Wales that the powers of the Assembly are too restrictive, not least because they are able to compare their room for manoeuvre in the past few years with what has been achieved in Scotland. And in Scotland there were some interesting polls in 2005 and 2006 in which citizens were asked for their preferences; the choices were:

  1. to scrap the Parliament;

  2. to keep the current devolution settlement;

  3. to increase the powers of the Parliament;

  4. to go for independence.

The results, with minor variations, were consistent. The least popular option was to scrap the new Parliament; maintaining the status quo attracted more support, but not as much as going for independence; and the largest preference by some way was to increase the powers of the parliament. This would seem to be evidence for the proposition that devolution strengthens the political confidence and sense of identity of regions or 'sub-state nationalisms.’.

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