The administration of John Major (1990-1997), which came into office after the collapse of the last Thatcher government, can hardly be credited with many successes. There was one reform he introduced however that was very successful and is actually a good example and template for how the Unionists of today can sort out the mess left by Tony Blair's disastrous constitutional 'settlement' that has led the UK to the very brink of extinction.
His government introduced and rolled out a programme of de-centralization by introducing a policy of administrative devolution. Under this system, powers that were relevant to the running of the regions were devolved to local councils. Any matter that was applicable to the UK as a whole remained under the remit of the House of Commons. The reason for this policy being carried out was that there had been several loud and repeated criticisms from various sources that the UK was an over-centralized state and there was a feeling that local identity was suffering as a result. Some people felt that far away London wasn't particularly good at knowing what was best for their region of the UK. Whilst it wasn't the case that these calls had become so loud that they were un-ignorable, Major's administration was in something of a quagmire as it was riven with rifts over issues such as Europe (this was the age of the Maastricht Treaty and the Conservative Party was sharply divided between Pro=Britain and Europhile factions). Major introduced this policy in an attempt to bolster his administration's popularity, which by this time was falling more and more every day.
Unfortunately, for Major, it did little to bolster his government's popularity ratings. However, in terms of the UK constitution, it was a tremendous success. This type of devolution (administrative rather than legislative) has two major benefits that greatly enhance the UK's political make-up. First, it has the obvious advantage that it answers the criticisms that the UK is an over-centralized state. The number of powers that were devolved to local councils was quite substantial and resulted in a very significant increase in local control over their affairs. The Commons was no longer seen as a controlling, all powerful big brother type of institution (quite so much, anyway). This increased the public's positivity towards British democracy and went some way towards revivifying the UK public's belief and interest in democracy, which had taken something of a nosedive in the preceding few years. Second, it also bolstered the sense of local identity, without endangering the unitary nature of the UK. This is an extremely important point to emphasize. There is a great inherent danger in ill-conceived constitutional reform that it can over-emphasize local over national identity, resulting in a growing feeling in the regions of a unitary state that they are different from the rest of the country, even though that isn't the case. These false feelings of separateness can then be manipulated and magnified by the synthetic grievances of modern aggressive nationalism into forcing that region to break away from the unitary state and become independent, despite the lack of support for this amongst the population. Administrative devolution avoided this trap neatly as it gave regional nationalism no platform on which it could attempt to play its nationalist games.
The biggest drawback to the legislative variety of devolution is that it enables modern aggressive nationalism to rise to power and provides it with a platform to push for independence. It does this by setting up a 'national' parliament, or assembly, that has the power to initiate primary legislation. Consequently, nationalism is given the ability to get into power in the devolved institution, and begin campaigning for an independence referendum. This has clearly been the case in Scotland today after the introduction of legislative devolution by Blair's New Labour twenty years ago. There was a brief period (up until 2007) when the Labour Party held power at Holyrood when, perhaps, the situation could be described as 'autonomy within the UK' with the executive just looking after local Scottish affairs and national issues falling under the remit of the House of Commons. That all came crashing down one dark day in 2007 when, as is pointed out above, nationalism managed to insinuate itself into power at Holyrood after a campaign of lies and intimidation of their Unionist opponents. Even though they had no real mandate from the population for a referendum on independence (support for this stood at 28% at the time), they ignored both this and their devolved remit, which reserved constitutional matters for the House of Commons, and began an extremely aggressive campaign for an independence referendum. They managed to get one held in 2014, in which they were decisively beaten by Unionism with a 10% margin of victory 55% 'no' to 45% 'yes'. The administrative devolutionary model completely avoids this problem and indeed when a referendum was held on English regional assemblies being set up in November 2004 it was virtually completely rejected by the voters by a massive 77.93% 'no' vote on a 47.71% voter turnout. Clearly, administrative devolution had done it's work and satisfied the electorate's concerns over local democracy. They felt no need for further reform. It had worked.
The only substantive criticism that can be levelled at Major on his de-centralization policy is that he didn't take it far enough-literally. It was only introduced in England and not in any of the other regions of the UK. Why he did this is uncertain. Perhaps he was too preoccupied with holding together the Conservative Party which was split over Europe. What's important is that Major's failure to extend his success to the entire UK had very serious ramifications for the future of the UK, the effects of which are still being felt today.
If Major had extended his administrative devolutionary reforms to the entire UK, he could have forestalled Tony Blair and New Labour and their disastrous legislative devolutionary constitutional reforms of 98-2001.As described above, administrative devolution would have satisfied any concerns in the regions of the UK over such matters as local democracy and regional identity. Power would have been de-centralized from the House of Commons and given to local councils so the misconception that the regions were being ruled by an out of touch London elite would be addressed and, just as importantly, modern aggressive nationalism would have been prevented from rising to power and going on the march for independence as they would have had no platform from which to do this.
As things happened, Major failed to have the foresight to extend his reform Northward, Westward and over to the Province of Ulster. Tony Blair and his gang of cultural-Marxist saboteurs were able to exploit the misconception in the regions of the UK that the constitution needed to be changed and the result is now all around us. The UK is being progressively Balkanized by the forces of modern aggressive nationalism. The integrity of a unitary UK is under increasing threat. Legislative devolution has signally failed to push back these nationalist forces and create a stable UK polity. All it's done is bring this country to the brink of becoming a failed state, the real aim of New Labour's Britain hating left-liberal elite.
So much for the past. Looking to the future, the lessons of Major can be applied to guarantee the Union today. It's now crystal clear to see that legislative devolution isn't the answer to creating a strong, stable, viable and fair UK constitution. Infact it's done the exact opposite and created a volatile brew of instability and synthesized nationalist grievance which has merely put the very existence of the UK into grave doubt. Administrative devolution, on the other hand, has been shown to work in practice in England since its introduction there in the 1990's. If the current legislative devolutionary constitutional 'settlement' of New Labour was repealed and replaced with a new administrative devolutionary model then the UK could have a viable, durable and fair constitutional system in place that serves the needs of all the regions of the UK.
© 2017 Stephen Bailey.