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Devolution

From the Representation of the People Act 1918 until the election of the New Labour Government in 1997 constitutional change was limited. Dissatisfaction with the constitution had developed by the 1980s but Mrs Thatcher showed no interest in constitutional change. 

To a considerable degree Blair inherited different commitments that Labour had taken on as a result of this debate.  The early years of Blair’s government showed a remarkable degree of constitutional change. 

The Back-story of Devolution

The Conservatives had no MPs left in Scotland in 1997 and Labour was committed to devolution after participation in the Scottish Constitutional Convention with the Liberal Democrats and civic groups. 

After a referendum gave 74% support, Scotland was given a Parliament with devolved powers to make legislation on most domestic areas of policy such as health, education and agriculture and the ability to raise income tax by 3p in the £ in the Scotland Act, 1998.  

Wales was more or less dragged along by the enthusiasm for Scottish devolution but a referendum produced a tiny majority for a Welsh Assembly. 

The Government of Wales Act, 1998 created a rather weaker Welsh Assembly which still controlled most domestic policies but had to get agreement from Westminster for legislation. 

Northern Ireland had been given a Parliament at Stormont in 1922 but with the intensification of the IRA campaign and Catholic/Protestant conflict it had been suspended. 

Blair’s negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement with the two Catholic parties and the Ulster Unionist Party led to the Northern Ireland Act, 1998 which created a New Stormont Parliament which was designed to have ministers from both communities and also created some joint institutions with the Irish Republic.

Devolution for Scotland and Wales is not only established but has led to further pressures for devolution and these have been carried out in the Government of Wales Act, 2006, and the Scotland Act, 2012.  

Despite hostility from London about the use of the term the First Ministers in Edinburgh and Cardiff are seen as the Prime Ministers of their countries.  

The existence of a Scottish Parliament allowed the SNP to form the Government of Scotland and to push for the referendum on independence in September 2014. 

Post-referendum, devolution has intensified the issue that has been called the West Lothian Question, which is whether Scottish and Welsh MPs should be able to vote on English issues when English MPs can not vote on Scottish and Welsh issues.



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