Interim Findings of the Devolution and Constitutional Change Programme
'Devolution: What Difference Has it Made?' (March 2004)
Key Points of the Interim Findings report
• Devolution has led to substantial policy innovation in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and opened up real alternatives to policies decided at Westminster
• Devolution opens up scope for a widening of economic disparities among the UK's nations and regions
• If the narrowing of economic disparities is an important policy goal - or equally if common standards of public services in other fields are desirable - then UK central government needs to reinvent itself as guarantor of UK-wide minimum standards
• The UK's system of territorial finance is at best intransparent. There is an urgent need for better data and easier comparability of socio-economic conditions ('needs') and public expenditures across all the UK's nations and regions
• Devolution has been implemented remarkably smoothly because of: continuities of procedure and personnel from the pre-devolution era; pragmatic responses by UK and devolved authorities to new challenges of coordination in policy-making; and Labour's electoral pre-eminence since 1997 in Great Britain
• These are conditions unlikely to last. The UK's governments should flesh out the institutional arrangements for intergovernmental relations now so that future conflicts- which will become inevitable when different parties are in power in different places - can be effectively managed
• The government of England and the English regions has become more complex since devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Whitehall has not yet got to grips with its new territorial roles and needs to 'mainstream' England-wide and English regional issues more systematically
• Though devolution has led to significant new policies, public opinion in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland feels that it has not yet made much difference to the way they are governed. This perception does not mean that the public has turned against devolution, but rather that it is still felt that Westminster is too powerful. Reaction against an over-powerful centre also appears to be driving (rather lower) levels of support for regional devolution in England.
• Devolution is the most popular constitutional preference in Scotland and Wales, and even in Northern Ireland, despite the marked polarisation of views around the Unionist-Nationalist divide that was confirmed when Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists and Sinn Féin made significant gains in the 2003 Northern Ireland election
• The 2003 election results in Scotland and Wales were marked by the sense that devolution in practice has so far made little difference. This sense of disappointment helped produce a low turnout and, in Scotland, a shift in support from 'establishment' parties like Labour and the Scottish Nationalists to a series of minor parties and independents
• Devolution has not strengthened adherence to Britishness and seems to have sharpened national identities in England, Scotland and Wales. But at the same time citizens continue to profess multiple identities such as English and British, Scottish and British, and with those multiple identities suggest that there is no threat as yet to cohesion of the UK union.