For the last few months, I’ve been working with the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law on a major inquiry into devolution and how it should develop, from the point of the UK as a whole. The starting point has been constitutional: what sort of constitutional system has emerged given the fragmented nature of the process of devolution in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and across England. Our committee has been chaired by Professor Sir Jeffrey Jowell QC, Director of the Bingham Centre, and includes such figures as Professor Linda Colley, Gerald Holtham, Sir Maurice Kay, John Kay and Philip Stephens of the FT. (Full details of the committee are here.) Adam Tomkins and I have acted as advisers to the committee.
We’ll be publishing the report on 20 May, with a launch at Middle Temple Hall, and have a number of important recommendations for how the UK should work which we hope will shape the actions of the incoming UK Government, whatever political complexion it may have. Key to these is the need now to think about devolution as affecting the UK as a whole, and what the nature of that Union is – not unitary, but not federal either. No new government can afford to ignore these issues, or fail to try to tackle them.
UPDATE: Anyone wanting to come to the launch should email Sandra Homewood on s.homewood[at]binghamcentre.biicl.org to confirm their attendance.
UPDATE, 21 May: The report, A Constitutional Crossroads: Ways forward for the United Kingdom, can now be downloaded here as a PDF file.
In keeping with the vogue for social media, Devolution Matters now has a Twitter account. I’m @devomatters there. I’m not yet sure how I will use Twitter, but certainly will use it to give notice of new posts on here. If you’re on Twitter, please ‘follow’ me!
Apologies to those who’ve been looking for responses on the host of recent developments in the UK, including the Commons’ detailed consideration of the Scotland bill and the report of the Commons Scottish Affairs Committee on it, the UK Government’s announcement regarding a ‘UK bill of rights‘, the UK Budget and the consultation paper on ‘Rebalancing the Northern Ireland Economy’.
I’m presently back in Brazil for a seminar in connection with the ESRC-funded ‘Pathfinder’ project, and haven’t had the chance to keep up properly with UK developments. I’ll do so after I get back next week.
I suspect that the Sewel convention – the requirement for devolved legislatures to give consent to Westminster legislation affecting devolved functions or powers – will become an increasing focus of interest in the coming months. I’ve just added a ‘page’ to this blog to clarify what the convention is and how it works. It can be found above (under the ‘Devolution: The basics’ tab), or HERE.
A couple of remarks I made in front of (and also outside) the Commons Scottish Affairs Committee on Wednesday appear to have caused some excitement in the Scottish press – see a short piece from Thursday’s Scotsman here and a longer story from the Herald here. It seems to be news to some that the Scottish variable rate wasn’t meant to be used, and that people knew this at the time. I don’t know why; I’ve said this on quite a few occasions, in most detail in writing in my post from November 2010 on ‘The Uselessness of the Scottish Variable Rate’ (available HERE).
It’s sad that an unnamed ‘Labour source’ is quoted by the Herald as claiming that I ‘didn’t perform well at the committee’. This sounds rather like sour grapes because what I’m saying doesn’t appear to suit Labour at the present time. After all, my mark of 48 per cent for the Scotland bill’s financial provisions is on the basis not of a preferred alternative to the bill, but what would be needed for the bill to deliver the Calman proposals effectively. Readers can Continue reading
My colleagues at the Constitution Unit at UCL have recently set up their own blog, to comment on constitutional developments of wider interest. There’s a lot of good stuff on it already, and I’d urge readers of Devolution Matters to have a look at it. It’s available HERE.
I shall be cross-posting some of my material there as well, when I think it’s relevant to the areas of constitutional development – currently Parliament, freedom of information, the judiciary, referendums and running a Coalition government – that are the Unit’s main concern.
Those who’ve noted the relative lack of activity on Devolution Matters in the last week or so may be interested in the reason: I’m presently in Brazil, in connection with the academic collaboration project between Edinburgh University and the Centre for Metropolitan Studies in São Paulo (previously discussed HERE). I’m giving a fairly general talk about the UK, the ‘Westminster model’ and how the UK is not – contrary to a common view here – really a unitary state. That will take place later today at the University of São Paulo, and thanks to the work of my hosts at CEM and the British Consulate has attracted some local news coverage (see here and here).
For those interested, the slides from my talk are available HERE.
I’ve just been appointed as a specialist adviser to the Commons Welsh Affairs Committee, to assist them on constitutional and related matters. Readers will understand that as a result there are certain things I won’t be able to discuss on this blog, in order to protect the confidentiality of the Committee’s work. They’ll also appreciate that anything I say here is my own view, not the Committee’s. I don’t speak for the Committee, and what I say here shouldn’t be treated as a way of guessing what advice the Committee has received or what view the Committee might take.
Devolution Matters is now a year old; the first post went up on 27 October 2009. There are now 176 posts on it, which I hope are interesting not just as a response to recent events, but also serve as an archive of commentary and a source of links to important reference material.
I’d be very interested in readers’ comments about it, either below or by email to devolutionmatters[AT]googlemail.com.
I’d like to apologise to readers for the inactivity of this blog over the last few weeks. I’m afraid I’ve been laid up with a debilitating bug, which is only now starting to clear off. A pity, as it’s been an interesting period, with George Osborne’s emergency UK budget and the emerging scale of public spending cuts, the Secretary of State for Wales’s suggested wording of the question for the referendum on primary legislative powers, a re-introduction of the Sustainable Housing LCO, and the Scottish Conservatives’ internal review (see also here). That’s not to mention English nationalistic blether as a consequence of Andy Murray’s appearance at Wimbledon, England’s appearance at (and departure from) the football World Cup, problems arising from holding a referendum on AV on the same day as Scottish Parliament and National Assembly elections, an interesting legal challenge to Scottish legislation controlling tobacco sales, or such interesting developments elsewhere as the Spanish Constitutional Court’s decision about the new Statute of Autonomy that the Catalan Parliament adopted in 2005.
I’m now starting to function again normally, and hope to get posts about most of these up shortly, as well as the Scottish Campaign for Fiscal Responsibility, and also Tuesday’s publication of the final report of the Holtham Commission in Wales.