Devolution, the decentralisation of responsibility away from the central state. Although it is seemingly fashionable to give the governments of ‘the nations’ power over all manner of policy areas, we should be much warier of the potentially devastating consequences of such actions.
When the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly were established in 1999 by the Blair government, a terrible precedent was set. Year after year, there have been requests for more and more power from these devolved administrations. As each new area of competence (from healthcare to social welfare to transport to schools) has been awarded to the aforementioned institutions, the power of Westminster over domestic policy in Scotland and Wales has continually diminished. The Scottish government in particular has removed control of enormous areas of policy from Westminster. The situation is now so extreme, that the Scottish government now has within just 17 years of its initial inception exclusive responsibility for essentially all imaginable responsibilities of government aside from defence and foreign policy. Similarly, in addition to its existing enormous portfolio of devolved competences; Cardiff Bay appears to be poised to soon gain control over policing, prisons, and possibly even taxation within Wales.
Although politicians of all hues regularly champion the merits of devolution to the nations, an inherent problem with this approach can easily be identified. In a time in which nationalism is rising across the globe, should we be devolving more and more power to the administrations of coherently identifiable nations within our United Kingdom? To appropriate the wise words of the great Edmund Burke, “the greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse”. With the fundamentalist separatists of the Scottish National Party (SNP) manipulating the levers of power in Edinburgh, we find ourselves in a situation in which government is being used to try and tear our country apart. Through giving a ‘Scottish government’ power over Scotland, we are legitimising the idea of an independent Scottish state. If we continue to sacrifice Westminster competences on the altar of devolution, it will be mainstream Westminster politicians (and not the Scottish nationalists) who will ultimately be responsible for dismantling the United Kingdom.
Crucially, in the case of Scotland at least, the obsession with using devolved government to pursue an independent state is causing the neglect of ordinary governmental responsibilities. Everything that Nicola Sturgeon talks about can be readily related to the independence debate in some way. With regular requests from the SNP for endless referendums until they get the answer they want, how much longer can the current situation persist for before Scotland splits from the union? On the subject of independence referenda, I am of the firm belief that the pragmatic option to prevent such a catastrophe should be employed. Just as the Spanish government firmly denies the referendum demands of Catalonian separatists, Westminster should maintain its constitutional superiority and just say ‘no’ to the demands of the SNP. If we want to avoid legitimising an independent Scottish state, one of the first things we must do is dismantle the perception that Sturgeon is some sort of Scottish Prime Minister. If the gravitas of being Scottish First Minister was reduced to something similar to the prestige of a glorified county council leader, great progress in the fight to keep Britain united would have been made.
Having been so critical of policies of devolution so far, I feel obliged to point out that they can do a lot of good when applied in the correct circumstances. As a local councillor, I can attest that when appropriate competences are devolved to non-national (and consequently non-separatist) levels like towns and traditional counties, policy can be formulated that best reflects local needs. It is imperative that such forms of devolution should continue to be encouraged. Thus it should come as no surprise that I am pleased to see that the May ministry is putting great effort into the delivery of such an agenda. In the coming years, I would like the government to focus on the propagation of a unifying British identity that could turn back the tide of toxic nationalism. Indeed, as Burke also said, “good order is the foundation of all things”. If we are to preserve its integrity, we should be ordering our country using the model of a unitary state. Although devolution of power to local units is laudable, we cannot continue to enshrine devolved structures which legitimate separatism and separatists.