The ippr’s latest book on devolution, Devolution in Practice 2010, is formally launched today (though it won’t actually be available until 7 June!). As a consequence of the launch, I was on Newsnight Scotland last night, with my colleague Charlie Jeffery (another of the contributors), and
on BBC Radio Wales’s Good Morning Wales this morning. General details of the book are here; the press release is here; and a sample chapter (by Charlie Jeffery, Guy Lodge and Katie Schmuecker) is available from here.
This is the end of quite a long-running and substantial project, emerging from seminars in 2009 surveying the impact of devolution on a wide range of issues on such areas as health, housing, public opinion or the civil service. It follows two previous volumes in the Devolution in Practice series, which charted the already extensive extent of policy divergence and the issues arising from that during the ‘first phase’ of devolution before 2007, when Labour largely dominated the landscape.
My chapter is about intergovernmental relations and finance, and tries to explain how Labour missed the opportunities that situation presented to address a variety of issues and put in place approaches and systems that would be hard to unpick by subsequent governments. This applies to ‘practical’ aspects of IGR – the preference for informal ways of working when it could, and its slow and reluctant move to a more routinised and formal approach after the SNP entered government in 2007. It also applies particularly to finance, and the longer-term consequences of not tackling the short comings of the block grant and formula system, and the Barnett formula, in the early 2000s when times were good. ( I was saying this then, and events have only proved how right I was.)
The issues for the new UK Government are very different. As I’ve pointed out in previous posts on this blog (see HERE, HERE and HERE), the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition has a limited mandate in Scotland or Wales, whether among its MPs or involvement in government, and in Scotland among the ranks of MSPs as well. It therefore faces a set of challenges if it really is to deliver its ambition of maintaining a United Kingdom. In many ways, it has made a good start, notably with the rolling-out of the ‘respect agenda’, and I know Scottish officials are broadly happy with the overall approach. But big challenges are still there. One, obviously, is finance and the implications of cuts. It’s also notable that the new government has been much less sure-footed in Wales, particularly over the timing of a referendum on primary law-making powers, but also in announcements on Wales. Why the UK Government has proved sure-footed in the one case but clod-hopping in other is rather a puzzle to me, but it is likely to compound the new government’s difficulties in managing the territory of the UK generally.