The Impact of Devolution

The British Constitution has changed from a unitary framework to one that has been termed ‘quasi- federal’. This means that it combines elements of both a unitary state and a federal state. The UK remains unitary since ultimate sovereignty still lies with Westminster — in theory, the UK parliament could repeal all the devolution Acts and abolish the regional assemblies.  However, the UK does have characteristics  of a federal state, since policy in many key domestic areas is now decided in the devolved bodies outside of Westminster, unless it concerns England.

Case study The Gender Recognition Bill and Devolution 

 Also, it would be very difficult and unlikely for the parliamentary Acts enabling devolution to be repealed. Parliamentary sovereignty, of the Westminster variety at least, has been significantly reduced outside England. The Scotland Act 2016 established that Westminster cannot legislate in devolved matters without consent, therefore effectively acknowledging that the devolved institutions are permanent not temporary political fixtures.

Laboratories of policy: Devolution has led to policy variation, which inevitably means inequality, across the UK. It has considerably reduced the control Westminster has on domestic policy beyond England. University tuition fees, hospital car parking, parental use of corporal punishment (banned in Scotland in October 2019) or income tax rates, there are now considerable differences  across the UK. A significant example of variations within the four constituent parts of the UK can be seen in how the four parts of the UK handled lockdown during the COVID-19 crisis 

Devolution and the Pandemic 

Devolution meant that alternative voting systems besides FPTP are now used in the UK. This has usually resulted in minority or coalition governments. This means  more stalemate as well as greater cross-party cooperation.  What cannot be disputed is the impact it has had on the balance of power in the devolved assemblies — multiparty governance is now the norm not the exception in the regions.

Different Voting Systems used in the UK 

Devolution has had consequences for how and where pressure groups operate, for example when the Scottish Parliament debated and subsequently passed the law banning the smacking of children north of the border. The consultation document was sent out to 12 charities, seven equality organisations, 12 police, legal and human rights bodies, and 20 medical and care profession organisations. Most of these responded and contributed their views. Children’s charities such as Children 1st (previously known as the Royal Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) were particularly involved in lobbying for the passing of the law. Pressure groups will focus their energies on where policy is made, and so they increasingly lobby the devolved bodies and not just Westminster.

Are pressure groups becoming more significant?