De-centralization within a unitary incorporating Union: Administrative devolution, a viable alternative to legislative devolution – Stephen Bailey

By Stephen Bailey

Administrative devolution within an incorporating unitary union delivers control for its citizens over the affairs of their part of the UK whilst maintaining the Union: legislative devolution (Holyrood, the Welsh ‘parliament’ and Stormont, the type that exists now) is a centralization agenda that removes power from local people over their part of the UK and centralizes it in the hands of often far away institutions and individuals.

Administrative devolution is a mechanism that delivers power into the hands of local people. It disseminates powers relevant to the running of the parts of the UK into the hands of the residents in that area. It enables them to control their local conditions as they see fit (and local people know what’s best for their locale far better than distant centralized government). Furthermore, it has been proved to be effective in England, where a programme of local devolution was rolled out in the 1990s and proved to be very effective.

Legislative devolution, on the other hand, is a tool for the centralization of all power in the devolved executives and this has proved to be disastrous for the provision of services, which has been evidenced across the UK as the regional assemblies and parliament have completely failed to improve the living and working conditions for ordinary citizens of their part of the UK.

You only have to look at the example of the last twenty-six years of the real-world effects of legislative devolution in the various parts of the UK into which it has been introduced, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, to see that the centralization of power in these devolved legislatures has led to a massive failure by those executives to improve the living and working conditions for that particular part of the UK.

Scotland is a prime example of this. A parliament, Holyrood, was set up after a referendum in 1997, and was given the ability to legislate (legislative devolution) over matters that weren’t reserved for Westminster’s consideration and many more powers have been devolved to Holyrood on several occasions since. Devolution is an ongoing process. Click on the following link or a fuller discussion of this:

The SNP took over from Labour as the governing party in Scotland after the 2007 Holyrood election and began a steady process of gathering powers previously in the control of local authorities into the remit of the Scottish parliament and consequently brought them under the SNP’s control as they were in power at Holyrood.

Since they took over from Labour as the governing party in Scotland after the 2007 Holyrood elections, they have pursued a bizarrely hypocritical policy of centralizing as much power in Holyrood as they can. This is extremely hypocritical of them and very ironic as since their inception eighty-nine years ago, the SNP have complained about the evils of power being centralized in London and this is precisely what they are doing themselves when they get into power. They complained that this kind of centralization led to poor government as these central authorities knew nothing about the far away parts of the UK they were governing, yet this has been the exact result of SNP centralization of power in Holyrood on Scotland itself since it assumed control at Holyrood.

One act of centralization that has led to major ramifications for the ordinary citizens of Scotland has been the major merging of regional police and fire services.

Police Scotland was formed on 1st April 2013 by the merger of several local constabularies that had previously policed their own local areas. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service was formed by the merger of eight regional fire services, also on 1st April 2013. This led to decisions on policing and fire services being made in the central belt of Scotland rather than in the local communities that they served.

The results of this are plain to see. The Police Force is now in severe turmoil, with one disaster after another. Morale is low among the rank and file as well as the officers. There is now a pronounced problem with crime of various types in Scotland, especially in the Highlands. The resultant loss of local accountability that the creation of Police Scotland entailed and severely magnified has led to the severe curtailment of services across Scotland, with the closure of five police control rooms and sixty-one public counters (so far) at police stations.

Since the beginning, Police Scotland has been racked with one failure and scandal after another, including deaths in custody and corruption to add to the above-mentioned failure to provide an adequate service to the citizens of Scotland.

Finally called to account for this series of disasters, Police Scotland’s Chief Constable, Stephen House, resigned in disgrace on 30th November 2015. His successors have kept up the low standard, and Police Scotland continues to perform badly, with crime figures currently at an all-time high in many parts of Scotland across the different categories of crime. Added to this, Police Scotland has earned a reputation, backed up by copious (and increasing) amounts of evidence, as the ‘SNP’s Stasi’, who are the creature of the nationalists, created, controlled and directed by the SNP.

It has been a similar picture with the centralized Scottish Fire and Rescue service which has led to the closure of fire services, including five control rooms (so far) and poorly organized and lack of resources further seriously degrading efficiency and standards of service.

Whilst the same concerted programme of centralizing powers in the devolved executive hasn’t been quite so acute in Wales and Northern Ireland as it has in Scotland, it’s perfectly clear to any reasonable observer of the real-world effects that legislative devolution has had on services in these parts of the UK, that it has done little, if anything, to improve the living and working conditions for ordinary citizens.

In Wales, under Welsh assembly/ ‘parliament’ management, the economy has nosedived, and Wales constantly comes bottom of world economic performance tables, compared to the other parts of the UK. The health service has been so badly mismanaged that Welsh patients have been forced to travel to England to receive lifesaving medical treatment that they couldn’t receive in Wales. New exam reforms introduced by the Labour led Welsh ‘parliament’ have seen Welsh schools plummet down the world’s educational achievement tables, and G.C.S.E. pass rates have also dropped precipitately, compared to the other parts of the UK and world nations. From this, it’s clear that the centralization of power in the Welsh ‘parliament’ has simply not worked.

It’s a similar story in Northern Ireland. With the centralization of power in Stormont, the administration of NI, has suffered enormously, with legislative devolution failing to even provide an actual administration for that part of the UK.

It’s clear that the centralizing tendency of legislative devolution (especially in Scotland and Wales) has led to a massive failure to provide good governance and better living and working conditions for the citizens of the devolved parts of the UK.

The evidence is all around and overwhelming. It has led to top-heavy administration that has completely failed to work well for the citizens of the devolved parts of the UK.

Administrative devolution within an incorporating union offers a viable alternative to this. It poses no threat to the integrity of a unitary (single nation) United Kingdom. It does not devolve any legislative power (i.e. legislative authority) to the constituent parts of the United Kingdom or need the setting up of elected political structures such as parliaments or assemblies.

Furthermore, it delegates decision-making (i.e. administrative) authority to official organizations (like the Scottish, Welsh, and NI Offices) local government (such as councils) or individuals (such as the Secretaries of State for Scotland, Wales, and NI). Moreover, it is fair, organizationally efficient, and generally tends to cost less than the legislative variant. Thus, in this way, administrative devolution has the great advantage over the current legislative variety that it spreads decision-making out to the local parts of the UK and away from the centre. It enables local people, who know what’s best for their locale, to make decisions rather than the centralizing tendency of legislative devolution that tends to take power and decision-making away from local people, thus putting it in the hands of faraway central government, like Holyrood.

In an incorporating union, like the UK, all parts of a country, which may have been separate independent nations previously, agree to pool their legislative sovereignty and resources into one joint authority that becomes a single (unitary) state. This joint authority holds complete and supreme national legislative sovereignty and has the power to make national laws that hold force in all parts of that country.

However, it is also within the power of such a country (the UK, for example) to devolve power to any constituent part of itself whilst still completely retaining ultimate legislative sovereignty. Any devolved executive or body can be granted power over its part of the UK (its devolved remit) and nothing else, but the granting authority, which as previously stated, fully retains legislative sovereignty, can withdraw these devolved powers by abolishing the parliamentary acts that set them up in the first place after receiving consent from the electorate in those parts of the UK to do so by winning a general election on a manifesto commitment or a referendum on the matter. Remember that Tony Blair began this whole process of constitutional crisis that exists in the UK today in the late 1990s with New Labour’s introduction of legislative devolution in Scotland, Wales, and NI based on a manifesto pledge to hold referenda on the matter in these parts of the UK, so a pledge to abolish it in a future general election (or a referendum) is a perfectly valid way of achieving its end.

If a future UK Government wins a general election on a manifesto promise to abolish legislative devolution or to hold a referendum on abolishing Holyrood, the Welsh ‘parliament’ and Stormont and those referenda were won, it would have a cast-iron democratic mandate for abolition.

Some who want to maintain the Union dislike the model of Union described above, as they fear that it is over-centralized and that their part of the country will simply be submerged in a monolithic bloc in which they lose their individuality and control over local matters. However, this is not the case and with a few tweaks, an incorporating union can be made to serve both national unity and local democracy, whilst respecting the unique characteristics of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. It doesn’t have to be an overcentralized monolith that obliterates local culture and control at all if modified with administrative devolution in the way described above.

There has been nearly three decades of legislative devolution and in that time, there has also been an unmistakable trend of devolved executives centralizing vast amounts of power in themselves and this trend looks set to continue into the future. This has been most pronounced in Scotland under the SNP since 2007, but is also true to a significant but lesser degree in Wales and Northern Ireland. The results are plain to see all around. This has translated into a massive failure to deliver both good administration and services for the devolved region’s citizens. Administrative devolution is the antidote to this.

NB: The article does not represent the views of Scotland Matters.

Want to see Scotland under the SNP?

Sign up to receive our weekly newsletter and join the fightback against Scottish Nationalism.