is the establishment
of autonomous government
in regions which consider themselves to have a national identity but without transferring legal sovereignty
Basically the region in question receives an elected assembly of some kind which has the power to lay down certain laws. Legal sovereignty (the ability to make laws) still resides with the institution that devolved the power in the first place. So that institution can remove the devolution and often has kept certain areas of law making under their command (such as defence, foriegn affairs).
In Britain Devolution has been introduced in several areas and there is still debate as to whether other areas will receive devolution as well (such as the North of England and a Northern Assembly).
History of Devolution in Britain
There was movement towards devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the 1970's and 1980's but due to the strong Conservative government that managed to prevail for so long, very little was done to bring in devolution. Also the Nationalist parties in the two regions of Scotland & Wales were not very vocal (if at all) and so few people ever really thought about it.
However the 1974 election brought about talk of devolution as Labour had a very weak position in Parliament. It had to concede to a referendum in Scotland for the 1st March, 1979. This referendum required 40% of the electorate to be in favour not just 40% of those who bother to vote. This meant that the referendum failed to bring in devolution, even though those who did vote were strongly in favour, because turnout was too low.
Support for devolution started to show its head in the 1987 election as well when the Conservatives lost a huge share of seats in Scotland. The Conservatives have never really recovered from this since their unionist policy rubbed against the grain of popular opinion in Scotland. Although not everyone was in favour of independence there were several reasons that increased the desire for autonomous government (see below).
In Northern Ireland, there was (and still is) some desire for complete seperation from the UK. Therefore devolution became a possible solution for the crisis that was still causing havoc on the country since it allowed the country to have governing powers as well as an elected assembly to represent the people. However, it still remains part of the UK so is not independent like Eire is. Because of the situation in Northern Ireland, the push towards devolution was faster than in other areas of the UK.
In the years between 1990-1997 there was more active movement towards devolution as the nationalist parties in Scotland (the SNP) and Wales (Plaid Cymru) became active in the public eye and so support for them started to grow. In Northern Ireland, devolution was being used as a tool in the peace process as the negotiators worked towards the Good Friday Agreement. In the end, there were a number of referendums (both in northern and southern Ireland) leading to the ratification of this agreement which meant that devolution was introduced in 1998.
Devolution wasn't going to follow for Scotland and Wales for a year or two yet. Elections for their respective Parliament and Assembly took place in 1999 and came into power in 2000.
Causes of Devolution In Scotland and Wales
The reasons for devolution can be split into two catergories:
- Recession in the 80's caused Scotland's economy to be hit hard. The inability to control aspects of their economy to minimise the damage caused dissent to increase (Scotland had the same tax rate etc. as England even though its economy was different). This lead to the introduction of tax varying powers when devolution finally occured.
- In Scotland during 1995 it was discovered that the standard of living (no idea how they work this out) was 3% less than the whole of the rest of the UK.
- Wales had similar problems with the economy but this was compounded by the closure of the coal mines.
- Dispute in Scotland over the use of North Sea oil.
Arguments for Devolution
Arguments against Devolution
- Dispersal of power to a more local level makes governing more efficient. Central government is not burdened with the work of these other regions and the regional government will have a better idea of how to implement laws to the local problems making decisions more quickly made and more efficiently carried out when made.
- Regional government will receive greater loyalty from the people. This shows both at elections where turnout should be better as well as the regional government having a better mandate from the people.
- Better at representing the people.
- Staves off nationalists who want seperation.