Discuss The Impact Of The Proposed Devolution

For Scotland Essay, Research Paper

Discuss the Impact of the Proposed Devolution for Scotland

“Britain has never relished doses of constitutional reform, although they have accepted the drip-feed of frequent, unpalatable

and ill-fated local government changes. Ambivalence to reform was reinforced in recent decades. The 1974 Labour government

proposed an ambitious program of devolution for Scotland and Wales. It was a luckless policy, not least because of Labour?s

divisions? Now it is all different. The case for Scottish devolution is being argued with renewed vigour. Its consideration is

linked with proportional representation for a Scottish assembly.”

(Rt. Hon. Lord Biffen)

With Britain being so against constitutional reform in the past, the impact of such reform could be perpetuated by such reform coming at

the same time as many other policies on reform, such as devolution in Wales and Northern Ireland. These reforms have all come at the

same time and in a short span of time since Labour only became government in May 1997.

Devolution as described by Bogdanor is the delegation of power to local or regional administration, so power is dispersed from a

superior to an inferior political authority, or to be more precise it consists of a sub-ordinate elected body on a geographical basis of

functions at present exercised by Parliament.

Scotland is to have its own parliament, while still remaining part of the United Kingdom. A referendum held in September 1997

endorsed the Scottish parliament by a substantial majority; 78% voted for a separate assembly, although the turnout was only 62% of the

electorate. Now that the legislation has passed through Parliament, it will be introduced as soon as possible. Elections for 129 Members

will be held in early 1999. It is expected that the parliament, which will be situated in Edinburgh, will become fully operational in the

year 2000.

The responsibilities which will be transferred to the Scottish parliament will include: – health, education and training, local government,

housing, sports and the arts, economic development, law and home affairs and the environment. Among the areas of responsibility, which

will remain at Westminster, are – overseas affairs, defence, national security, economic and monetary policy, employment legislation and

social security.

Of the 62% of the electorate who turned out to the referendum, 68% agreed that the Scottish parliament should have some tax raising

powers, there is however a limit on the amount this tax can be raised which will be up to 3p in the pound.

Lord Biffen caries on to say: –

“? Clearly Scotland makes the strongest case for constitutional change. A tax-raising assembly is probably a necessary

development before the fundamental choice that has to be taken between independence or otherwise integration into the union?

the financial relationships between a Scottish Assembly and a suspicious England will win no votes. Possibly it might lead to

enduring resentment.”

This can show how the impact will be perpetuated just by giving tax raising powers to Scotland, however small, so the impact of

devolution is likely to be much greater than the “enduring resentment” caused by financial relationships between the two countries

through tax raising powers.

Scottish affairs are executed by the British Cabinet and are headed by the secretary of state for Scotland. Five main departments of equal

status: the Department of Agriculture and fisheries of Scotland, the Scottish Development Department, the Scottish Education Department,

the Scottish Home and Health Department, and the Industry Department for Scotland perform the statutory functions of the secretary of

state. As all of these departments, among others will have their responsibilities transferred to the devolved Scottish Parliament, the impact

of Scotland making these decisions will not be to great to either Scotland or Westminster as they have not all been performed solely by

the British Cabinet

Government will be closer to the people and would be more efficient both nationally and locally as power would be dispersed more

evenly leaving Westminster more time to discuss English legislation, such as a mayor for London etc. and the Scottish Parliament would

be able to spend time carefully debating purely Scottish legislature.

“Another layer of government may also produce greater confusion as to the responsibilities of the different layers. Who

should citizens complain to? Who should be held responsible?”

(Norton 1994)

The concept of localised law is likely to appeal to everyone, but there may be a problem for Parliament as Britain is likely to need a

written constitution to lay down exactly which responsibilities lie with Westminster and which have been transferred to Scotland and to

what extent. At present Britain has an unwritten constitution. The written constitution could include a Bill of Rights, which would lay

down the rights and freedoms of citizens of Britain. The impact of a Bill of Rights is that Britain is likely to become more democratic,

as citizens would know their rights and politicians would have to be more representative of the public as people would know that they

can take certain action under certain circumstances. So the actions of the government would be scrutinised more as Parliament and the

public will scrutinise all legislation passed and the politicians themselves.

This would also mean that the government and Parliament would be more accountable for their actions, which could lead to a decrease

in the likelihood of an “elective dictatorship” (Lord Hailsham), because politicians would be more accountable and scrutinised by the


Devolution creates an elected body, which is subordinate to Parliament, and so therefore devolution seeks to preserve ?intact? the

supremacy of Parliament, which is a principal feature of British politics. As devolution will not depreciate the supremacy of Parliament,

it will not cause a great impact on Westminster particularly the executive, and so will not have a great impact in this case on England.

Scotland however will have a degree of supremacy itself, as the power devolved will be exclusive to Scotland therefore making

Scotland?s parliament supreme. This will have a beneficial effect on Scotland?s parliament as they will have a degree of supremacy but at

the same time have Westminster to ?fall back on? if it has any problems.

Others, such as Norton argue that: –

“By interposing a new layer between central and local government, the potential for delay would be increased, as would the potential

for clashes between central and regional government.”

(Norton 1994)

So, in turn they argue that devolution will increase problems in both Westminster, Scotland and the people of Britain themselves, as the

clashes will effect the executive, both parliaments and so will have a great impact on the people of Britain as they will not know where

they stand, this could happen even if there was a written constitution.

Before the union of Scotland and England in 1707, Scotland had developed its own system of law, which is based on civil law; this

carried on after the union although England practices a form of common law. The devolved parliament will control this and so, the

devolved parliament can carefully debate law specifically with Scotland in mind, as they do not have to worry about any English laws

being ?loop holes? for Scottish law. This would make Scotland?s parliament more democratic because the people who it will be enforced

against decide the law.

There was a reorganisation of local government in Scotland in 1975, when the counties and burghs were abolished and replaced by nine

regions and three island areas. The nine regions were divided into districts, and a council administers these units. The council members

are elected on a fixed term membership of four years. This was changed again in 1996 when council borders were changed. This was a

form of devolution within Scotland itself and it?s local government and proved to have a good impact on Scotland, as people felt that

law was being made closer to them and so were happier with the system.

“Since the Act of Union? there has evolved a framework for the governance of Scotland which is basically sound and which

has shown itself adaptable to change.”

(Cons. 1992)

This shows that the Conservatives were finally coming around to accepting Scotland as needing devolved power. They explain that

Scotland is adaptable to change and so imply that devolution will not have any major impact that Scotland will not be able to cope with

or find a way in which to adapt.

The Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) is devoted to independence for Scotland and is happy to do this through devolution and pushes for

Scotland to have greater European Union (EU) involvement, this view must be representative of the Scottish population as the SNP are

now second to Labour in Scotland and hold over 27% of the vote. Scotland if they wanted to could pull out of the union at any time: –

“The union with England which was considered so advantageous at the time, could be broken if it ceases to work to Scotland?s



So why if people want independence, do they not take it? Perhaps they are afraid of the impact of independence in one blow and would

rather ease into a position of independence. This can be seen to show that Scotland are afraid of the impact that devolution will have

and are even more afraid of the independence they want.

Others in Scotland particularly those in or those supporting the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) think that anything which allows

Scotland to make more decisions is a step in the right direction in favour of independence. They embrace the day when Scotland returns

to an independent state. However, they do realise that independence will be an issue for the people to decide and the SNP feel that “If

we want it (independence) all we have to do is vote for it?” In a recent BBC opinion poll 71% of Scots said that they thought a devolved

Parliament would be a step towards Scotland becoming independent. However there is the question about ?What if the Tories get in??

and if Scotland is coming close to choosing between independence and keeping the devolved assembly, can the devolution be taken

away so that independence is harder to achieve for the Scottish. Although this is unlikely considering the political position of the

Conservatives at the moment and the problems they would face if the Conservatives did follow a policy such as this, it is not impossible

in the future and it may well lead to a massive impact on both Britain and Scotland if this were to happen due to the outcry there is

likely to be. This then leads us to believe that the Scottish Parliament cannot survive without a written constitution with clauses strictly

concerning devolution within each country.

The Scottish parliament is likely to be more representative than Westminster as there is an electoral agreement between Labour and the

Lib Dems to achieve a 50:50 male: female representation in the assembly. This is likely to have a good impact on Scotland, as a group

will make the decisions, which is more representative of the population than Westminster. With this 50/50 representation, will the

politicians in the Scottish assembly be representative as people may not want a man or woman in certain constituencies and the

politicians may not be of high standards. To achieve this level of representation would mean single sex constituency elections, which

would be deemed as sexist by the people, and so not having the effect that Blair wanted when he announced it, in the hope of the

impact of his speech would lead to people thinking the Labour and Liberal Democrats want women to be politically equal to men. He

may have also been trying to prove that Labour and the Liberal Democrats are fairer than the Conservatives, hopefully securing more seats

for the present government in the next general election and in the Scottish assembly. The chances of a Conservative majority in either

the next general election or the Scottish Parliament are not very high, and so the repercussions of Labour?s actions could prove to be a

large disadvantage to Labour if they do not endeavour to keep as close to a 50/50 representation as possible, as the Labour public opinion

will fall.

This leads to the ?Westlothian Question? introduced by Labour MP Tam Dalyell, where Westminster MP?s will not be able to vote on

Scottish legislature, but Scottish MP?s will be able to vote on legislature passing through Westminster. This means that Scottish MP?s will

represent people from Britain who did not actually vote for them this can have a good or bad impact on Britain, depending on the

legislature going through Parliament.

Devolution for Scotland will have negative and positive impacts on both Britain and Scotland. The impact may be short term or long

term but will still effect people, their views and their future. Overall, the impact of any kind of large-scale change in the British political

system will take time. Any type of reform especially devolution, which effects many people, is likely to prove problematic until things

?settle down?. The reform will need some kind of written constitution to settle arrangements and responsibilities and to make these

problems as minimal as possible.

?Negative? impacts could have a positive effect on some people, but not on the majority, the same goes for ?positive? impacts. A

?positive? impact can have different effects on both Britain and Scotland; a positive impact on Scotland could have a very negative

effect on Britain.

Overall, the effect of devolution will have a positive effect on Scotland in many ways, but it may take time for the effects can be

noticed and time will be needed for legislation to go through the assembly. The effect on Britain will be more of a mixture of good and

bad impacts, but the effect of devolution will make Britain as a whole more democratic, and so would be classed as a good impact.

Eithne Whaley.


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