As devolution has progressed the centre has failed to imagine a new rationale for the union


In 1999 The Constitution Unit produced a book which set out to forecast what the UK’s constitution would look like in ten years’ time. Sixteen years on, Charlie Jeffery tests the predictions and uses them to assess the direction of devolution in the UK today.

This is the fourth of a series of posts adapted from presentations at the Unit’s 20th anniversary conference, held on 23 June 2015.

Constitutional Futures: A History of the Next Ten Years, a book edited by Robert Hazell, was published in 1999. It set out to predict how events would unfold following the initial stages of Labour’s constitutional reform programme. The question is, how fares that history sixteen years on? On page seven of the book there is a table which outlines ‘mini’ and ‘maxi’ versions of constitutional change, which I will draw on in order to assess where we stand now with respect to devolution.

Turning first to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the mini version predicts that the devolved institutions will stay as they were founded. The maxi option is a move towards legislative and tax raising powers everywhere and the possibility of an independent Scotland. We are headed towards the maxi version in Scotland certainly, in Wales increasingly and in Northern Ireland less so.

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Scotland’s constitutional future – from both sides in the debate


Charlie Jeffery discusses how both sides in the debate see Scotland’s constitutional future in different ways.

It is striking how insular Scotland’s constitutional debate is. Both sides in the debate see Scotland’s constitutional future in different ways as bound up firmly in relationships with the rest of the UK.

The Yes side envisages a form of independence which involves continuing partnership with the rest of the UK, sharing institutions from the Queen and the pound through to the DVLA. The No side is now developing a more or less shared vision of the division of powers between the UK and the Scottish Parliament if Scotland votes no which would give new powers to the Scottish Parliament in the fields of tax and welfare.

Neither side has given much thought as to how the rest of the UK might view its proposed recalibration of the Scottish-UK relationship. Each has pretty much assumed the rest of the UK will be happy with what they propose. We have seen the problem that might arise in such blithe assumptions in the dismissal by UK Government and Opposition of the post-Yes currency union envisaged by the Scottish Government and the question marks the UK Government has raised about other areas of proposed post-independence partnership like the BBC, energy markets or university research funding.

We have also seen it in the contortions the Labour Party went through in producing its proposals for more devolution, which had to back-track sharply from a more radical form of income tax devolution once the UK-level party (and especially the shadow Treasury team) woke up to what was being discussed in Scotland. [It may be the Conservative Party is yet to have the same controversy if and when English MPs realise how much tax devolution the Conservatives’ Strathclyde Commission has recommended and/or set in prospect]. There have been rumblings too from devolved Wales that additional privileges for Scotland will not be welcomed if Wales does not get progress on its own concerns, notably around devolution funding.

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