We now have what looks like a full roster of appointments to the UK Government departments dealing with devolution. The government has already, of course, made the decision to keep all three territorial offices. Alongside the three Secretaries of State (two Tory, one Lib Dem), three Conservative MPs have become junior ministers: David Mundell at the Scotland Office, David Jones at the Wales/Welsh Office and Hugo Swire at Northern Ireland Office. Given the legislative arrangements and a looming referendum, there’s clearly quite a lot of business to be done at the Wales/Welsh Office. It’s harder to see what’s going to keep the other Cabinet ministers busy, particularly now that justice and policing are devolved in Northern Ireland. Danny Alexander, of course, has a role developing policy for Nick Clegg as Deputy PM as well as being Secretary of State for Scotland.
The most intriguing appointment is that of Lord Wallace of Tankerness (Jim Wallace QC, in civilian life) as Advocate General for Scotland – the UK Government’s Scottish law officer. Lord Wallace has had a distinguished career as an Advocate at the Scottish Bar, and his professional qualifications for this role are impeccable. The interesting question is whether his role will be limited to being a law officer. One of his predecessors (Lynda Clarke QC MP) ended up, unusually, doing a lot of courtroom advocacy – the demands on her time for advisory work were clearly limited. Lord Wallace was both a deputy First Minister in Scotland, and a member of the Calman Commission. (This means he is the first person to have held a ministerial role in devolved government and move to one at UK level.) Given the political problems the coalition poses for the Lib Dems in Scotland, the new government’s commitment to implementing Calman, and his own role in formulating those recommendations, one wonders if he might take on a broader role in delivering a revised devolution settlement.