Presentation on theme: "Unit 8: Constitutional Reform and Devolution Readings: Norton CH 11 Dunleavy CH 7 and 8."— Presentation transcript:
Unit 8: Constitutional Reform and Devolution Readings: Norton CH 11 Dunleavy CH 7 and 8
Guiding Questions Why did the Blair government embark on constitutional reform? What is the political basis for devolution? How does it work in practice? What is the relationship between the central government and devolved institutions? Have these reforms altered the traditional Westminster system?
Constitutional Reform Blair government elected on a manifesto of constitutional reform session: Devolution and House of Lords reform session: Constitutional Reform Bill. Flinders: Labour reforms “far reaching, but they have not been radical” But reform process is ongoing; institutions remain in a state of flux.
Blair and Reform Introduced over 20 bills after 1997 election. ◦ Unique for governments; opposition parties generally push for reform and are then unable (or unwilling) to enact it once in office. Why was the Blair government different? 1) Electorally speaking, early reforms (devolution) made sense. 2) Government agreed not to spend more than Conservatives. ◦ Constitutional reform could fill the policy void.
Blair and Reform Commitment to carry out reform weakened throughout the term of government. 1 st term: reform was not resonating within the populace; feared reform would tie the government’s hands. 2 nd term: improving the efficiency of services, not reform, seen as a critical policy goal. Reform put on the backburner: 1) Belief that a strong executive was necessary to provide adequate services (i.e. NHS). 2) Post 9/11 world required a strong executive response.
Reform Patterns Blair government relatively unwilling to consult relevant actors in this process. ◦ Coordination across issue areas weak. Grand announcements often made with little in terms of concrete proposals. ◦ Made reform proposals appear flimsy and politically motivated. 3 rd term: Little movement in terms of completing reform. ◦ Economic situation and questions over Brown’s leadership dominate the agenda.
Devolution The Blair Government was elected on a manifesto seeking to devolve authority to the regions. ◦ Devolution: granting/shifting authority from the central government to a lower level of government (i.e. regional, local, state, etc.) Contained provisions for devolution to the Welsh and Scottish regions as well as regions in England where there was “demand” for it. ◦ Referendums passed in Scotland and Wales ◦ Referendums in Northeast England failed.
Devolution While Blair’s reforms in the area of devolution appear more settled than in the area of Lords reform or judicial reform, questions over the lasting consequences of devolution remain. Jeffery: “where devolution has transformed politics beyond Westminster, it has done so asymmetrically” ◦ Devolved institutions vary greatly in terms of institutional authority and autonomy. The Scottish Parliament and Northern Irish Assembly have been given a wide berth; the Greater London Authority and Welsh Assembly are more constrained. Jeffery: “Lopsided” nature of devolution is really nothing new; democratizing this process is.
Devolution in Scotland/Wales: Basis 1997: Referendums held in Wales and Scotland on this issue. ◦ Passed in Scotland with 74.3% of the vote; passed in Wales with 50.1%. 1998: Parliament passed legislation to create a Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly. Not the first instance of devolution in the UK ◦ First adopted in Northern Ireland.
Devolution in Scotland/Wales: Basis SCOTLAND Scottish nationalist movement strong. ◦ SNP leader of the movement. Drew on separate legal and religious systems as a basis for autonomy. Support for Labour pushed movement forward during Thatcher and Major governments. WALES Welsh movement comparatively weaker. Drew on the need to protect Welsh culture and language as a basis of autonomy. ◦ Particularly pronounced in northern Wales. PC argued that any shift towards devolving authority to Scotland should be associated with a similar push in Wales.
Devolution in Scotland/Wales: Powers SCOTLAND Parliament has authority in all areas not specifically allocated to Westminster. ◦ Reserve clause Can shift Scottish tax rates within a +/-3% margin of the UK rate. Building Holyrood (Parliament building) disillusioned many. WALES No reserve clause; cannot enact primary legislation. Can enact secondary legislation. ◦ That is, they can affect how legislation is implemented. ◦ Although the boundaries here are unclear. Cannot shift the tax rate within Wales.
The Barnett Formula Determines the budget of devolved institutions. Government funds devolved institutions via block grants. ◦ Institutions have autonomy in spending based on their institutional authority. Barnett formula provides a basis for funding but is based on per capita spending in England. ◦ Baseline spending set in early 1980’s when per capita expenditures were higher in the regions than in England. Spending is converging to English levels; causes concern in the regions. ◦ “Barnett Squeeze” Questions regarding funding disparities have led to critiques of the formula. ◦ Can be changed at any time; no interest by Labour governments to do so.
Devolution in Scotland/Wales: Current Issues/Reform Proposals SCOTLAND 1) Increasing reliance on Sewel motions ◦ Delegate authority on some issues back to Westminster. PRO: delegation to Westminster improves efficiency. CON: legislation shifts outside of oversight of Holyrood. 2) Dependent on Westminster for financing. ◦ Barnett formula remains key to funding. ◦ Little accountability to taxpayers outside of Scotland. WALES 1) “Top up” AM’s viewed with less legitimacy then constituency AM’s. ◦ Replace AMS with STV. 2) Institutional ambiguity with Westminster. ◦ Give Assembly reserve authority commensurate with the Scottish Parliament. 3) Increased workload. ◦ Increase size of the Assembly from 60 to 80. 4) Prefer a less “corporate” organization. ◦ Make distinction between legislature and executive clear
Devolution in Northern Ireland Northern Irish Assembly housed at Stormont. Stormont originally modeled on the Westminster system; bicameral. Stormont had authority to pass primary legislation; foreign affairs, taxation, currency controlled by Westminster. Rioting in Belfast made governing difficult; a shift to SMD favored Unionists. 1968: Londonderry March ends in violence; often considered the start of the “Troubles”
Devolution in Northern Ireland 1972: “Bloody Sunday” leads PM Heath to shut down Stormont; Westminster directly governs Northern Ireland. 1996: Nationalists and Unionists agree to work towards building a communal peace. 1998: Good Friday Agreement signed; would return devolved rule to Northern Ireland. Stormont: large membership and unicameral; authority over primary and secondary legislation. Collective executive would allow for power sharing.
Devolution in Northern Ireland Early release of IRA and Nationalist prisoners created strains. ◦ Questions arose over whether or not the IRA really demilitarized. The IRA claimed it would abide by its agreements but the assembly was reconstituted and shut down several times in Delayed elections occur in 2003; extreme parties win Northern Bank raid weakens IRA/Sinn Fein. ◦ Aging Loyalist leadership also creates incentives to deal. Stormont suspended until 2007; new elections privilege SF and DUP. So far, power sharing appears to be working.
Devolution in England Issue appears to be of more concern to political elites than the British voter. 2004: referendums to turn RDA’s into devolved institutions fail in the northeast. ◦ But Blair’s unpopularity and the weak authority which would be granted to these institutions was part of the problem. Several parliamentary debates centered on how devolution affects voting at Westminster ◦ West Lothian question: ability of Scottish MP’s to vote on legislation concerning Wales and England while Welsh and English MP’s are barred from voting on Scottish issues. ◦ Various proposals to deal with this issue but no real consensus.
Conclusions: Consequences of Devolution Curbs on English expenditures would by definition decrease budgetary resources in the regions; problematic for regional politics. ◦ Policy similarities across Westminster and devolved institutions under Labour unlikely to continue. Devolution has created new patterns of political competition within the regions. ◦ Policy disputes may energize latent cleavages (i.e. West Lothian question). New interest groups have formed which speak directly to regional concerns; some of these groups interact not only with Westminster but also with Brussels. Debate over the Supreme Court suggests a recognition that disagreements between the regions and the center need to be addressed.
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