BY STEWART CONNELL
In 1997 there was no legislative devolution on the mainland of the United Kingdom. All government and administration took place through national government channels and for some delegated matters local council channels. This system is called administrative devolution.
This system remains in place in England.
Administrative devolution provided accountable and effective local government and administration of the public realm.
With administrative devolution there was: no devolved legislative powers, no third tier of government, no additional layer of devolved politicians (today 279 of them exist on three sites with a vast apparatus of political staff and substantial political budgets paid for by the British taxpayer), no territorial institution’s to aggregate powers to themselves and increasingly claim a status as a proto or embryonic state and of course no political personality to challenge the British Parliament for authority.
Administrative devolution worked well, very well.
It built the entire physical infrastructure of the United Kingdom that we know today.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the anti-devolutionists in both the Conservative and Labour parties warned that the introduction of legislative devolution into the United Kingdom, an integral and unitary parliamentary nation would lead to its disintegration.
20 years after its introduction, we can now see the evidence in front of us that the anti-devolutionist’ were right.
Legislative devolution has introduced a territorial, electoral, and institutional conflict into the United Kingdom and in the space of just 17 years, the United Kingdom was taken from being a “strong and stable” nation to the edge of complete destruction by the political forces unleashed by legislative devolution.
The referendum on the Union in 2014, initiated by the Conservative party, not the SNP, is only the first direct challenge between the British Parliament and the devolved institutions.
Unless and until legislative devolution is repealed the next referendum on the Union is not that far away.
On the 1st of May 1997, the Labour Party was elected to government on a manifesto which included the introduction of legislative devolution in mainland United Kingdom.
On the 11th of September 1997, the Labour government held referendums (state-sponsored opinion polls) on devolution in Scotland and Wales.
While neither referendum result contained a majority of the electorate, (devolution was not a burning issue for most electors in Scotland or Wales or in any part of the UK, who were more concerned about jobs, poverty and housing rather than some newfangled governmental arrangements for more politicians and another tier of government) but encouraged and comforted by the entire political establishment cheerleading for devolution, out of those that did vote, a majority supported the introduction of legislative devolution.
It may have been expected that faced with such a radical and dangerous constitutional alteration to the unitary fabric of the Nation, the Conservative Party would provide opposition and rally forces against it, however, the opposite was the case.
As the result of the referendum was announced and broadcast, the Conservative Party (which had been wiped out in Scotland in the general election that May) which had previously opposed legislative devolution (although increasingly it did not know why it did) immediately surrendered centuries of unionism and reversed its policy and embraced devolution with the zeal of the new convert.
(Since the 11th of September 1997 no principal party in the United Kingdom now supports the actual existing constitutional and legal form of the United Kingdom as an integral and unitary parliamentary nation).
The referendum result provided a convenient political cover for the Conservative Party to retreat from having to go through the motions of even having to think seriously about the Union never-mind having to defend it.
For decades the Conservative Party had regarded the Union as a distraction, a nuisance, a troublesome relic from the past just like the other heavy responsibilities of nationhood that it had no interest in.
It could now finally cast-off unionism and concentrate on its prime concern and interest: money.
Devolution would also provide the Scottish Conservative Party with elected representation and public money to run its organisation. Devolution’s gerrymandered proportional representation system of 129 MSP’s (73 constituencies and 56 “list” MSP’s) and generous financial support for political parties had arrived at just the right time for the Scottish Conservative Party.
No wonder there were so many happy Scottish Conservatives at the Conservative Conference in Blackpool in 1997.
Stewart Connell Copyright © 2017