Devolution, and the arguments for and against it, was a major issue during the 1997 election campaign and devolving power to the regions remains a major issue within British politics with John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, claiming that he wants to devolve a lot more power to geographical areas within England. With this as a potential development of the government’s devolution plans, the arguments for and against will rage just as they did in 1997.
Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own distinctive cultures which are not shared elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Therefore, to expect the people who live in these regions to accept laws, decisions, rules etc made in London is wrong and irrational. The dispersion of power out of London to the regions would be democratic and fair. As the governments/assemblies in the regions would decide on policies purely for the people of those regions, those decisions would be seen as fair and enforceable. Government would become more efficient and effective as, for example, the Scottish Parliament would only have to deal with Scottish issues and could concentrate its work accordingly. This would have an positive impact on central government as it would not be burdened with so much work and could concentrate on the ‘bigger picture’ of national decision making rather than having its time taken up with decisions that only affected a particular region of the UK.
|“By being closer to the people and being seen to be closer….the assemblies would engage the attention and loyalties of citizens; they would be “their” assemblies.” Norton (“The Constitution in Question”) Politics Review April 1994.
Norton also argued that the politics of Westminster would not be seen in devolved parliaments/assemblies as the different parties there would be happier to work towards the common goal of advancing the well-being of their region so that traditional party clashes as seen at Westminster would be kept to the minimum.
Arguments Against Devolution
The following arguments were put forward in the mid-1990’s and through the 1997 election campaign as to why devolution should not be introduced. Some remain convinced that the arguments have value today and have already been used to counter Prescott’s apparent desire to devolve more power to English regions.
One of the main arguments against devolution was that the sheer cost of establishing something that is already done in London would be too much for what you got at the end.
The lack of any experience of decision-making at the level of regional self-government could also lead to delays in the making and implementation of decisions – central government has decades of decision-making experience and could do a much better job for the regions without any delay.
Another layer of government could also cause problems with decisions that are wanted by the regions but are not supported by central government. If there is a problem, who do the people in that particular region complain to? If it is central authority, why have regional governments in the first place?
One of the major arguments against devolution is that it will be the start of the break-up of the United Kingdom; that from small beginnings (if devolution can be seen as ‘small’) the ultimate fate of this country will be regional authorities with more devolved power in the counties – this may appeal to those who want more authority in counties like Cornwall, but many see this as the start of the break up of the United Kingdom with a massive loss of central authority.
The 1992 Conservative Manifesto under the leadership of John Major specifically rejected devolution for that reason. Many Tories to this day believe that devolution has further fed the desire for more regional authority rather that satisfied it and that this country is in a greater stage of break-up than at any time before.
A constant theme among the Tories is that there is no support for devolution in the areas where it has been introduced. The referendums held in Wales, Scotland and to a lesser extent, Northern Ireland would tend to bear this out as voter turnout was so low for what would have appeared to have been such a vital issue. The same happened in London with only a 34% turnout of those who could have turned out for the extension of London’s power at the expense of central government.
An argument put forward is that the creation of devolved governments is a blow to democracy as the support for devolved governments as seen in the referendums held for devolution was such that a minority asserted its will over the majority.