Has devolution been a success?

It has allowed regional political differences to be recognised. For example, Scotland is traditionally more left-leaning. The Scottish Parliament therefore has increased the income tax rate for the highest earners to 46p in the pound for those earning over £150,000 pa compared to 45p in the rest of the UK.

It has strengthened the union between the regions by creating a ‘best of both worlds’ scenario, whereby the devolved regions are autonomous in many domestic policy areas, but benefit from being part of a much larger nation in the areas of defence and international trade etc.

It has proved popular with voters. This has been particularly true for Wales when comparing the referendum results of 1997 and 2011.

It has been vital to enabling the peace process in Northern Ireland (the peace dividend) and enabling cross-community cooperation.

It has enabled a variety of electoral systems to be used, and shown that minority or cross-party government can work.

It has encouraged innovation in policy-making and enabled devolved assemblies to function as ‘legislative laboratories’. Administrations can learn from policies launched elsewhere and then replicate them if they think they will be effective. For example, the Scottish government’s 2006 decision to ban smoking in enclosed public spaces was then extended to Wales, Northern Ireland and England.

The popularity of the SNP  has declined. Yet polls show that support for independence was unaffected, at just under 50%, slightly higher than in the referendum on independence in 2014. 

Overall support for independence was 8% in 1979, rose to 23% in 1992, and then fluctuated around 30% between 1997 and as late as 2013. During the summer leading to the 2014 referendum in September, it sharply rose to 45%, where it has mostly remained since, though it was also consistently above 50% in the 2020-21 Covid period. For most of this time, support was a few percentage points higher amongst men than women, but that gender difference vanished around the time of the referendum.

The first key point in explaining this trajectory of growing overall support is that support for independence has always been stronger in younger cohorts than in older.

 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey. 

It has led to inequalities in the provision and cost of public services within the UK. For example, university tuition is free in Scotland but costs over £9,000 pa in England. Prescriptions are free in Wales and Scotland but not in England.

Devolution has encouraged demands for greater separation and full independence, and therefore weakened the unity of the UK. The result of the Scottish referendum was quite close (55%-45%) and devolution has given many the confidence that they can run their own affairs better without Westminster involvement. Brexit highlighted some of the divisions within the UK, as both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted heavily to Remain but played no direct role in subsequent negotiations.

The SNP has called for a second independence referendum, suggesting devolution had not muted demands by many for full independence. Its position as the dominant party in Scotland also suggests many Scots want to go further than just devolved government.

Community relations and devolution itself remain fragile, as evidenced by the prolonged suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly from 2017 to 2020. Devolution in N Ireland 

It has not led to any additional momentum for replacement of first-past-the-post (FTPT) for general elections.

Cross-party working in Northern Ireland has also proved problematic at times and led to gridlock.

Policy ideas, including the banning of smoking in enclosed public places or a 5p charge on plastic bags first brought in by the Welsh Assembly, would have happened anyhow via Westminster. Wales' 20mph speed limits was controversial