Localism: The Unionist Alternative to Legislative Devolution

March 15, 2018


Administrative devolution is a localism agenda that delivers: legislative devolution is a centralisation agenda that doesn’t.


Administrative devolution is a mechanism that delivers power into the hands of local people. It disseminates powers relevant to the running of local areas into the hands of the residents in that area. It enables them to control their own local conditions as they see fit (and local people know what’s best for their own locale far better than distant centralised government). It has been proved to be effective in England, where a programme of local devolution was rolled out on the 1990’s and proved to be very effective. Legislative devolution on the other hand is a tool for the centralisation of all power in the devolved executives and this has proved to be disastrous for the provision of local services, as has been conclusively proved across the U.K. as the regional assemblies and parliament have completely failed to improve the living and working conditions for ordinary citizens of their part of the UK.


You only have to look at the example of the last twenty years of the real-world effects of legislative devolution in the various parts of the UK into which it has been introduced, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, to see that the centralisation of power in one assembly or parliament has led to a massive failure by that executive to improve the living and working conditions for that particular area of the U.K. Scotland is a prime example of this. A parliament,Holyrood, was set up after a referendum in 1997 and powers were devolved to it from the Commons in the years that followed. (and have been more or less continuously since)The SNP took over from Labour as the governing party in the 2007 Holyrood election and began a steady process of gathering powers previously in the control of local authorities into the remit of the Scottish parliament (and consequently brought them under the SNP’s control as they controlled Holyrood.)


Since they took over from Labour as the governing party in Scotland after the 2007 Holyrood elections they have pursued a bizarrely hypocritical policy of centralising as much power in Holyrood  as they can. This is hypocritical of them and very ironic as since their inception eighty-four years ago the SNP have complained about the evils of power being centralised in the House of Commons in London and this is exactly what they are doing themselves when they get into power. They complained that this kind of centralisation led to poor government as these central authorities knew nothing about the far away regions they were governing yet this has been the exact result of SNP centralisation of power in Holyrood.


One act of centralisation that has led to major ramifications for the ordinary citizens of Scotland has been the major merging of Police and Fire services.Police Scotland was formed on 1stApril 2013 by the merger of several  local constabularies that had previously policed their own local areas. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service was formed by the merger of eight regional fire services also on 1st April 2013.This led to decisions on policing and fire services being made in the central beltof Scotlandrather than in the local communities that they served. The results of this are plain to see. The Police Force is now in severe turmoil, with one disaster after another. Morale is low amongst the rank and file (and the officers). There is now a pronounced problem with gun crime in Scotland (especially in the Highlands). The resultant loss of local accountability that the creation of Police Scotland entailed has led to the severe curtailment of services across Scotland, with the closure of five Police control rooms and sixty-one public counters at Police stations.Since the beginning, Police Scotland has been racked with one failure and scandal after another, including deaths in custody and corruption to add to the above mentioned failure to provide an adequate service to the citizens of Scotland. Finally called to account for this series of disasters, Police Scotland’s Chief Constable,Stephen House, resigned in disgrace on 30th November 2015. His successors have kept up the low standard and Police Scotland continues to perform badly.It has been a similar picture with the centralised Scottish Fire and Rescue service with centralisation leading to the closure of Fire services, including five fire control rooms, and inefficient service.


The SNP's centralization tentacles have spread far and wide since 2007. The SNP dominated Holyrood executive has systematically and categorically stripped powers from local communities.  In the health service, the SNP dominated Holyrood executive has imposed a new rule on health boards capping the amount they can spend on capital works at hospitals without getting the permission of the SNP. This means that Holyrood now has centralized decisions on major works in 179 hospitals, rather than the decisions being made locally. Local councils have also been affected by SNP centralization. They have had their funding and council tax levels decided centrally by the SNP in Holyrood rather than decisions taken locally. To get access to revenue support, thirty-two councils have been forced to agree to let the council tax level be set centrally by the SNP executive


Whilst the same concerted programme of centralizing powers in the devolved executive hasn't been quite so acute n Wales and Northern Ireland. It is perfectly clear to any reasonable observer of the real-world effects that legislative devolution has had on services in these parts of the UK that it has done little, if anything, to improve the living and working conditions for ordinary citizens. In Wales, under Welsh assembly management, the economy has nosedived, and Wales constantly comes bottom of the performance table, compared to the other parts of the UK. The health service has been so badly mismanaged that Welsh patients have been forced to travel to England to receive lifesaving medical treatment that they couldn't receive at home. New exam reforms have seen Welsh Schools plummet down the world's educational achievement tables and GCSE pass rates have also dropped precipitately. From this, it's clear that the centralization of power in Cardiff Bay has simply not worked. It's a similar story in Northern Ireland. With the centralization of power in Stormont, the governance of the Province has suffered enormously with legislative devolution failing to even provide an actual administration for Northern Ireland.


It's clear that the centralizing tendency of legislative devolution (especially in Scotland) has led to a massive failure to provide good governance and better living and working conditions for the citizens of the devolved regions of the UK. The evidence s all around and overwhelming. It has led to top-heavy government that has completely failed to govern well for the regions of the devolved areas of the UK.


Administrative devolution offers a viable alternative to this. It poses no threat to the integrity of a unitary United Kingdom. It does not devolve any legislative power (IE legislative authority) to the constituent parts of the United Kingdom or need the setting up of elected political structures such as parliaments or assemblies. It delegates decision making (IE administrative) authority to official organizations, local government (such as councils) or individuals. It is fair, organizationally efficient and generally tends to cost less than the legislative variant. Thus, in this way administrative devolution has the great advantage over the legislative variety that it spreads decision making out to local areas and away from the centre. It enables local people, who know what’s best for their own locale, to make decisions as opposed to the centralising tendency of legislative devolution that tends to take power and decision making away from local people thus putting it in the hands of faraway central government that neither knows, or cares, about local issues.


There has been twenty years of legislative devolution and in that time, there has been an unmistakable trend of devolved executives centralizing vast amounts of power in themselves and this trend looks set to continue into the future. This has been most pronounced in Scotland under the SNP since 2007 but is also true to a significant but lesser degree in Wales and Northern Ireland. The results are plain to see all around. This has translated into a massive failure to deliver both good governance and services for the devolved region's citizens. Administrative devolution is the antidote to this.


© Stephen Bailey 2018.

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