What is devolution and how does it work across the UK?

What is devolution and how does it work across the UK?

Boris Johnson has come under fire for reportedly telling Conservative MPs devolution had been a “disaster” in Scotland.

But what is devolution, and how does it work?

For many years England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were run by the UK government, based in Westminster, in London.

But the way the UK is run was changed by devolution, which meant some powers were passed from Westminster to elected bodies in Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh.

Public votes about devolution were held in 1997 in Scotland and Wales, and in both parts of Ireland in 1998, as part of the Good Friday Agreement.

This led to the creation of new elected institutions: the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The UK government remains responsible for policy for England, and national policy in a number of areas.

These include defence and national security, foreign policy, immigration, citizenship and tax – though Scotland has its own powers to raise income tax.

The way it shares power with the institutions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland varies.

The Scottish Parliament sits at Holyrood in Edinburgh. There are 129 elected Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs).

Scotland already had its own legal and education system. After devolution, it has become responsible for all areas not reserved by Westminster, including:

Its powers were extended in 2012, and again after the 2014 referendum on whether Scotland should become independent.

The Scottish National Party (SNP), which has formed the Scottish government at Holyrood since 2007, continues to argue for full independence.

Since May 2020, the National Assembly of Wales has been known as the Senedd Cymru (Welsh Parliament). It meets in Cardiff Bay, and is made up of 60 elected Members of the Senedd (MS).

The Senedd has power over everything not “reserved” by the Westminster government. Its powers were extended in 2006, 2014 and 2016.

Its responsibilities include:

The Northern Ireland Assembly sits at Stormont in Belfast. There are 90 elected Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs).

Devolution in Northern Ireland is different to Scotland and Wales, with government powers divided into three categories:

The main powers of Stormont are:

In addition, the power-sharing agreement between the nationalist and unionist communities in Northern Ireland is vital.

The First Minister and Deputy First Minister jointly lead the government – one representing each of the two largest parties in power, in a mandatory coalition. Despite different job titles, they have the same powers.

Northern Ireland’s government was dissolved for three years after relations broke down between the governing parties – the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin.

But in January 2020, the two parties re-entered the devolved government after agreeing to work together again, alongside three smaller parties – the Ulster Unionists, SDLP and Alliance.

Over the past 20 years, more powers have been given to local and regional mayors, in areas like transport and housing.

There are now 24 directly-elected mayors across England.

The first was the mayor of London. The position was created, alongside the London Assembly, after a referendum in 1998.

The mayor of London has the most powers – and a budget of more than £18bn.

The London mayor, currently Sadiq Khan, oversees Transport for London, policing and the fire brigade. The position has previously been held by Boris Johnson.

Most of the other mayors were added following referendums held in 2002 and 2012.

Some are in charge of a single local authority, as in Doncaster, Bristol and Middlesbrough. Others control an authority made up of several local councils.

The powers the mayors have differ.

In Liverpool City Region, for example, the mayor, Steve Rotherham, controls planning and strategy for transport, regional economic development and skills training.

In Greater Manchester, the mayor Andy Burham’s powers extend to social care, children’s services and housing.

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