Devo More as a plan for a revivified Union

Monday’s Herald had a story based on an interview with me (here), based on something I’ve written as part of the IPPR’s Devo More project.  In this paper, I set out the Devo More strategy as a whole, and explain how it fits with the political traditions of each of the major UK-wide parties.  There are two key arguments: much the same package of devolution serves the interests of all three traditions and the parties that currently embody them pretty well, and that this approach to further devolution will reinforce the Union not weaken it.

I’ve written a comment piece for the Herald which summarises the chapter and its overall argument.  That can be found here, and its text is also below.  The chapter on which all this is based can be found on the IPPR’s website here.

There’s a good deal more to come from the Devo More project, including a substantial report on welfare devolution, which we should have out by the spring.

Devo More : The best way forward

Lying behind IPPR’s Devo More programme is the idea that more devolution is not just compatible with strengthening the union, but vital to doing so for the 21st century. A stronger form of devolution is clearly the ‘settled will’ of Scottish voters, and increasingly so in Wales too. In England, there is growing discontent about what is seen as preferential treatment of devolved parts of the UK, and the unfairness involved in the way it is funded.  Finding a way of reconciling these different concerns is key to making the union fit for purpose in a changing world.

What might enhanced devolution look like? First, devolved governments need extensive (though by no means complete) fiscal devolution, accompanied by a grant that is clearly designed to distribute resources in an equitable way.  That will mean devolved governments can provide a similar quality of services – a fundamental guarantee of fairness across the UK.  A package comprising personal income tax, land taxes, and an assigned portion of VAT would both enhance devolved autonomy and help devolved governments to manage the risks associated with fiscal devolution.  Income tax is the first, vital step toward achieving that.  None of this would stop the UK Government having substantial tax bases to fund redistribution across the UK if it wished.

Second, social security needs to change.  It would be hard if not impossible to devolve the big redistributive benefits like old age pensions and jobseekers’ allowance.  But there is a strong case for devolving those benefits which overlap with devolved functions. Housing benefit is an obvious candidate here.

Third, there needs to be greater awareness of the role of the UK government as a government for England itself. England is not simply a residuum of the UK but one of its component nations, and the English public increasingly wants to see this recognized. Decentralisation along the lines of city-regions and city deals – a process that is already underway, with broad political support – could be one aspect of this. But it is also important to ensure that MPs from English constituencies are given a more explicit role in approving legislation that affects England only – something Scottish as well as English voters support when they are asked.

Ultimately,  Devo More would see the evolution of the UK into a rather asymmetric, quasi-federal system, in which emphasis could be put on both devolved autonomy and the value of the union.  Such a scheme is workable in practical terms, and indeed much of it could be put in place relatively quickly, building on existing arrangements or ones currently in train (like tax devolution under the Scotland Act 2012). It also brings the UK’s overall system of  government closer to aspirations for it from voters in Scotland and Wales, without undermining the interests of people in England. This means the package is not merely potentially popular, but implementation would contribute to ensuring the ongoing legitimacy of the government across the UK.

Finally Devo More offers something to each of the major British political traditions and the parties that currently embody them.  For social democrats,  enhanced devolution reconciles devolved self-government with  a framework to assure UK-wide fairness through  a system of financial redistribution.   For conservatives, the key element is to combine autonomy with devolved fiscal responsibility – which means transparency about spending decisions, so that voters wanting more spent on public services will have to bear the cost as well.  For liberals, Devo More offers guarantees of fairness as well as autonomy, so that devolved parts of the UK can make meaningful policy choices of their own.  For all, it still enables the various parts of the UK to act together when there is a joint interest in doing so.

Devo More offers a way forward, and making sure Scottish voters can get what they want: a high level of self-government while remaining part of the United Kingdom.  It balances autonomy and union, in a way that offers a lasting settlement.

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11 Comments

Filed under Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems, Publications and projects, Scotland

11 responses to “Devo More as a plan for a revivified Union

  1. Glenn Simpson

    I am in favour of city-regions along the lines of the GLA but you also need an English Parliament. If English MPs are going to ‘approve’ England only legislation you are accepting the logic of a separate legislate approach for England. Government’s draw-up, enact and deliver legislation – you can’t do that with out a separate Government.

    Also your Devo-max proposals gives levers to the devolved administrations which will give them a competitive advantage over England and its regions. This is unfair. I don’t understand why powerful city-regional governments aren’t set up either like the GLA.

  2. Muscleguy

    Hmm, it accords with the big 3 UK parties does it? does it accord with the SNP? currently in majority government in Scotland? is Plaid Cymru happy with it? and why exclude the Nationalist parties in the Devolved countries?

    Not to mention all this is a bit late. Alex Salmond called for civil society (which means you) to bring forward such proposals to back up a DevoMax option in the referendum. The time for bringing a bill into the House in Westminster backed by all 3 ‘main UK parties’ which is the minimum required to persuade many that the ‘jam tomorrow’ might, might be real.

    Vague aspirations will not the cut the mustard. I’m a DevoMax supporter who is reconciled to voting Yes because of ‘jam tomorrow’. Nothing has changed.

  3. David B. Wildgoose

    “there needs to be greater awareness of the role of the UK government as a government for England itself.”

    So, no “Devo-More” for England then, just the continuation of the misrule of the UK Government.

    “England is not simply a residuum of the UK but one of its component nations, and the English public increasingly wants to see this recognized.”

    Exactly!

    “Decentralisation along the lines of city-regions and city deals – a process that is already underway, with broad political support – could be one aspect of this. But it is also important to ensure that MPs from English constituencies are given a more explicit role in approving legislation that affects England only”.

    So no English Parliamentarians deciding English Policy for England, just a bunch of nominally “English” MPs in the UK Government nodding through the current UK misrule, just like now.

    No Thanks.

  4. Bob McMahon

    What about asking the voters of England what we want, in a referendum? All you have to do is ask us the same question that was asked of the voters in Scotland in 1997, but replacing the words ‘Scotland’ and ‘Scottish’ with words ‘England’ and ‘English’.

    Every time somebody from the Wastemonster/Whitehall village or some media hack suggests a possible future arrangement for the Divided Kingdom, they never suggest anything that involves asking the voters of England for our opinion. Quelle surprise.

  5. Muscleguy

    @Bob McMahon
    To achieve that all you have to do is elect a party dedicated to just your region to fight for your right to self determination. Scotland has the SNP, Wales Plaid Cymru. Be warned the process will likely be an intergeneration one as it was in Scotland, Wales and Eire. Expecting what you want to be handed to you on a plate without any political pressure is naive.

    Neither Scotland nor Wales would have achieved Devolved government without parties to fight for it. Why do you think England or some region of it can achieve the same without, especially with the neutering of local government, is beyond me.

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