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Debate: Devolution in Scotland and Wales

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Is devolution in Scotland and Wales a good idea?

Background and context

After the British general election of 1997, the Labour government arranged for a referendum on its proposals, which were set out in a White Paper of July 1997, ‘Scotland’s Parliament’. The Scottish referendum, held on 11 September 1997, produced clear majorities for the two propositions about the creation of a Scottish Parliament and its having certain tax-varying powers. Following this result, the Scotland Bill was introduced in Parliament in January 1998 and became law as the Scotland Act in November that year. The Parliament took on it’s full powers and functions on 1 July 1999.In July 1997, the Government published also its White Paper, ‘A Voice for Wales’, which outlined its proposals for devolution in Wales. These proposals were endorsed in the Welsh referendum of 18 September 1997. Subsequently, Parliament passed the Government of Wales Act 1998, which established the National Assembly for Wales.Since devolution was passed the debate surrounding whether Scotland and Wales should have devolved Parliaments has continued to evoke controversy. Four years on the issues are still pertinent and debate over the success of the schemes or even whether the situation should be changed is very interesting. In the arguments below, the proposition side are arguing that devolution has been a mistake.

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Democratic: Was devolution in Wales and Scotland achieved undemocratically?

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Yes

  • Devolution in Scotland and Wales was achieved democratically. The simple fact is that in a free and fair referendum in 1997 a majority of the Scottish and Welsh electorate voted "yes". Democracy decrees that the popular will of the people in such a case should not be ignored. Despite the fact that voter turnout was poor, voter turnout at elections/by-elections e.g. 30%, doesn’t mean that we ignore the results and refuse to recognise the elected MP, thus the referendum results should stand.


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No

  • Votes give insufficient mandate to devolution in Scotland and Wales. In the Devolution referendum of 1997 the voter apathy of the Scottish and Welsh electorate was such that there was insufficient democratic mandate for devolution. In Scotland, of a 64% turnout, 74% voted "yes" i.e. only an overall 44% of the entire population actually voted "yes". In Wales, the figures are even lower with 50% turnout, and 50% voted "yes" thus resulting in an overall 25% of the Welsh population voting "yes". This is clearly not a resounding approval for Scottish and Welsh devolution, and this important constitutional matter was not supported by the true majority.


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Argument #2

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Yes

On the contrary, it is ignoring the will of the people and fostering hostility and resentment that will ultimately fracture the UK. The Scottish and Welsh people only want self-governance, not complete independence e.g. in a poll in the Glasgow Herald, Dec. 1998, 61% Scots supported devolution but only 34% supported independence. Furthermore, we have not seen this precedent in Catalonia in Spain or in the "Laider" system in Germany. Devolution is a balanced compromise on independence. Without devolution, the nationalists would gain more support and would be more likely to call for independence through harnessing this ill-feeling in those deprived of devolution.

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No

Devolution will fracture the UK and could be the first step towards independence. In Scotland, for example, support for the Scottish Nationalist Party is already growing. In the future, the independent parliaments may demand the residual powers left to Westminster. In addition, there may be a blurring of the boundaries between the jurisdictions of each parliament, creating a potential for aspects of government duties to be neglected due to confusion over who holds the responsibility.


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Argument #3

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Yes

The Scottish Parliament and the Welsh assembly do not have the same powers as Westminster, therefore all MPs have an equal say in the highest governing power in the UK. A further way to possibly resolve this issue is to devolve and English Parliament, as suggested by the Kilbrandon Committee.

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No

Devolution has led to the absurd situation whereby Scottish Mps are allowed to vote in Westminster on matters concerning England, but English MPs have no say over matters relating to Scotland. This means that Scottish and Welsh representatives have in theory twice as much power as English representatives: this is clearly undemocratic.


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Argument #4

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Yes

It makes for a far better democratic and representative system for decisions to taken at different levels. Smaller regional matters are best dealt with by regional powers and the culmination of larger regional interests, such as in Scotland, (e.g farming, agriculture) are better served by a Scottish governing body. Similarly national interests such as economics and foreign affairs are suited to a national government such as Westminster. In fact government is far more effective for this extra tier of bureaucracy, and this money spent will in theory improve the efficiency of public services.


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No

The creation of another level of bureaucracy is a drain on the finances of the whole country. The cost of setting up the Welsh and Scottish parliaments was ?60 million and the running costs and salaries for elected officials and civil servants adds an extra burden to the economy - could the money not be better spent on health, education, etc. which would have a more obvious direct benefit for the taxpayer?


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Argument #5

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Yes

Although Westminster retains monopoly over macro-economic policy, the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly is able to change micro-economic policy. For example, it has limited tax-levying powers, and can attract foreign investment to boost local economies, and improve the regions financial situation. Furthermore, the representation from MPs of a Scottish parliament in Westminster can attract more attention to the particular interests of Scotland and Wales in deciding on macro-economic policy.

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No

There is no reason to expect the Scottish and Welsh economies will benefit from devolution, and thus far devolution has not brought tangible economic benefits. The UK Parliament still retains the power over macro-economic policy and interest rates. The Welsh Assembly has no powers of taxation and cannot practically implement any economics. The David Hume Institute argues that devolution did not improve Scotland’s economic prospects due to their restricted budgetary powers.


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Argument #6

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Yes

In actuality, examples in other countries embody success. In Switzerland’s semi-autonomous cantons for example and Germany and Spain, there is effective co-operation between local and national governments. Development and economic growth has also been a feature of these regions.

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No

If we examine similar situations in other countries e.g. the German "Laider" system or Catalonia in Spain, the precedent does not favour regionalism. Both incidences showed a decrease in national unity and massive regional budgetary cuts. Furthermore, as we witness greater unity in Europe it is contrary to the general international trend to separate powers and regions whilst drawing closer together on a macro-geographical scale.


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Pro/con resources

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Yes

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No

See also

External links and resources:

Books:

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