April 29, 2021

DEBATE: Was devolution destined to fail?

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A debate piece I did for the website 1828: DEBATE: Was devolution destined to fail? - 1828 - Championing Freedom

Henry Hill, the News Editor of ConservativeHome, argues YES

Fewer and fewer people today can deny that devolution has been a disaster for the United Kingdom. Even its primary architects, such as Tony Blair, are having to root around for explanations.

Devolution creates a class of rent-seekers, for whom I coined the term ‘devocrats’, who derive salaries, sinecures, and status from the institutions. It is always in the interests of this class to shift the blame for their failures onto the UK and insist the solution is the further expansion of their own power and prestige.

School results may fall again and again. NHS trusts might languish in special measures for years on end. Nationalist politicians will squeeze local government and actively prohibit cross-border solutions in favour of less effective ‘national’ alternatives. The bonds that tie Britain together may be pushed to breaking point.

But the interests of this class will always push them to demand ‘more powers’.

To its defenders, such as Tony Blair, devolution seems not an evidence-based conclusion but an article of faith. They cling to the unfalsifiable belief that things would be even worse if it hadn’t been delivered, and some peddle ‘solutions’, such as an English Parliament, which work only if you’re reasoning backwards from a belief that the basic logic of devolution is sound.

But after two decades of experiencing the alternative, that comforting fantasy gets harder and harder to believe.

Saving the Union means tackling the structural forces tearing it apart – and that means accepting the evidence that New Labour’s ill-conceived project was always going to end this way.

Gary Hynds, community activist, commentator and former Parliamentary and local election candidate in Lisburn, Northern Ireland, argues NO

Surely the idea of giving more and more powers over their own life to a collective of people elected within their local community is the very idea of democracy in action? The problem as I see it is with the “Parliaments” that have been created in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and how they work (or don’t). It could still be turned around, however.

Certainly in Northern Ireland, how it seems to work is that UK taxpayer money is passed out by the Westminster Government (with devolved regions coming out very well indeed compared to England), civil servants and advisors take it and make most of the decisions, the politicians line up to take credit for using the money, slapping their name and logo all over it, while giving basically no credit to the UK Government or the UK as a whole for this being possible.

Nationalism grows because while the credit is fully claimed by locally elected parties for the good that can take place (some making themselves out to be world leaders at the same time), the blame for any bad news or decisions not made gets put on the UK Government every time. More often than not it isn’t even about money not being there for things people want, but rather the devolved administrations don’t do it and blame for that is simply diverted collectively.

Yet all hope is not lost. My own personal idea of devolution would be ditching the idea of pretend Parliaments and instead giving local councils (or “super councils” as we call them in Northern Ireland) more power and responsibilities for things within their communities, while leaving the over-arching larger decisions impacting the entire UK equally at the only real and true Parliament in the United Kingdom, Westminster.

© 2021, Gary Hynds