Limited prospects for devolution

Despite the solemn ‘vow’ to devolve further powers, David Cameron has argued that the issue of greater powers for Scotland has to be taken together with the devolution of power in the rest of the UK.  That might sound plausible initially, but the problems aren’t capable of being resolved in those terms.  By any test, devolution in the UK is going to be imbalanced, or ‘assymetric’.  The crux of the problem is that Scotland has an entirely distinct system of law, Northern Ireland has legislative authority, and Wales does not.  If England is legislated for as a unit, there will be a permanent imbalance of power, status and responsibility.  If power is devolved to the English regions, they will still not have the same range of powers that Scotland does.

This is not about federalism.  Federalism reserves power to the states.  Devolution distributes power from the centre.  What we’re talking about currently is devolution, and that in limited terms.   The current discussion seems to be focusing on the devolution of powers relating to income tax (not to tax overall), ‘welfare’ (by which the government seems to mean Housing Benefit, but not JSA or ESA) and some economic development.  It doesn’t seem to include other vitally important issues, such as public spending, issuing bonds and job creation.  It doesn’t seem even to extend to transport: the Scottish Government can’t change the air passenger  duty or  stop people parking on pavements.  London really must relax its grip.

One comment

  1. Gareth Morgan

    Unless the UK government intends to be sneaky, by devolving HB and then abolishing it when Universal Credit rolls out, welfare devolution has a lot more consequences. Any attempt to take housing, and consequential elements, out of Universal Credit changes it fundamentally. Running a separate system of housing support, with consideration for the needs of children, disability etc. would need a serious amount of redesign of tapers, earnings disregards, non-dependants’ consideration and many other factors. Enough to make the resultant benefit unrecognisable. A good excuse to be ‘forced’ to abandon Universal Credit though.

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