Devolution became one of the key issues in the build up to the 1997 election when the Labour Party promised devolution as one of its manifesto pledges and to introduce a devolved form of government for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (though Stormont had already provided Northern Ireland with a degree of self-rule).
Devolution is where power is transferred from a superior governmental body (such as central power) to an inferior one (such as at regional level). In his book "Devolution", V. Bogador claims that devolution has three parts to it:
1. The transfer of power to a subordinate elected body
2. The transfer of power on a geographical basis
3. The transfer of functions at present exercised by Parliament
True to its word, the elected Labour Party did hold referendums in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. To an extent, the creation of a mayor of London can also be viewed as part of the devolutionary process as the power that Ken Livingstone has acquired as mayor, could have been held onto by the central government. The three requirements of Bogador are nearly met in full when London is considered – though the transfer of power on a geographical basis is difficult to sustain as Parliament is based in London and the electoral contest took place in London.
Devolution essentially involves the setting up of an elected regional assembly whose powers are carefully and clearly defined by national government. These powers do not usually include major financial powers such as tax collection, the raising of taxes etc (though the Scottish Parliament has minor tax raising powers), the control of the armed forces or an input into foreign policy decisions. Such issues are controlled by a central government. Invariably the sheer financial clout of a central government will give it a huge amount of power over a regional one should a clash between authority occur.
In this sense, some have seen devolution as a fraud or part-fraud as the main power that a central government can bestow onto a regional assembly/parliament is the right to raise revenue in totality. This power has not been given to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies. The three regional governments remain the lesser partners in their relationship with London with their powers unique to the region they represent.