The changing context
20. While constitutionally devolution in Scotland
and Wales could be reversed by the UK Parliament, it is now accepted
by all of the major political parties and by the majority of the
public across the United Kingdom. Devolution therefore represents
a permanent change to the way the UK is governed. However, devolution
is a dynamic process, and ten years on, the institutional and
political context within the devolved territories and throughout
the UK has changed. Most notably, since the elections to the Scottish
Parliament and National Assembly for Wales held in May 2007, there
are Governments of different political compositions in London,
Edinburgh and Cardiff. (An SNP minority administration was formed
in Scotland following the May 2007 elections, while in Wales the
Labour Party formed an Executive in coalition with Plaid Cymru).
21. Furthermore, at the time of writing, reviews
were being undertaken in both Scotland and Wales to consider the
possible devolution of further powers to the Scottish Parliament
and to the National Assembly for Wales respectively. Professor
Robert Hazell, Director, Constitution Unit, University College
London, has argued that the establishment of a SNP government
in Edinburgh has opened the question of amendments to the Scottish
The Scottish Government sees that the further development
of the constitutional settlement, whether to move to independence
or to further devolution to the Scottish Parliament, as an issue
that needed to be addressed.
22. Following a debate in the Scottish Parliament
on 6 December 2007, Wendy Alexander MSP, the then leader of the
Labour party in Scotland, launched the Commission on Scottish
Devolution. The United Kingdom Government signalled its support
for the Commission on 25 March 2008 when it was formally announced
by the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Rt Hon Des Browne
MP. The primary aims
of the Commission are:
- To ensure that any proposals
for constitutional developments that affect Scotland are fully
debated and decided in Scotland;
- To examine how the proposals of the Power Inquiry
for more participative governance could be implemented in Scotland;
- To clarify the constitutional implications of
various forms of relationship with the other countries of the
- To prepare the broad outline of a draft Constitution
23. On 17 February 2008 the Prime Minister, Rt Hon
Gordon Brown MP, said there was a "very strong case"
for a review after ten years of devolution and that one of the
questions to be addressed would be the Scottish Parliament's use
of tax raising powers. However, he also said that the review was
not a "one way street" and some powers could be returned
to Westminster. Sir
Kenneth Calman was appointed to chair the Commission on Scottish
Devolution on 25 March 2008.
24. The SNP did not sign up to the Commission, as
they had already published a consultation Choosing Scotland's
Future: A National Conversation: Independence and Responsibility
in the Modern World on 14 August 2007.
In that paper, it outlined what they described as three "realistic
choices" for Scotland's future. These are described as:
"First, retention of the devolution scheme defined
by the Scotland Act 1998, with the possibility of further evolution
in powers, extending these individually as occasion arises. Second,
redesigning devolution by adopting a specific range of extensions
to the current powers of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish
Government, possibly involving fiscal autonomy, but short of progress
to full independence. Third, which the Scottish Government favours,
extending the powers of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government
to the point of independence".
25. The Scottish Government argued that the structure
of the Scotland Act 1998, and the history of the development of
the settlement by the devolved Scottish administration and the
United Kingdom Government since devolution, "clearly shows
that the boundaries of current devolved responsibilities are matters
which the Scottish Government and Parliament can and should consider".
Furthermore, it suggested that "Scottish independence and,
to some extent perhaps, full fiscal autonomy could, in practice,
address many of the concerns that have been expressed" in
relation to the English question and the governance of England.
26. In Wales, devolution has been regarded by many
as "a process, not an event".
Indeed, as outlined above, less than 9 years after the Government
of Wales Act 1998, a second measure was passed: the Government
of Wales Act 2006. This brought about a process by which law-making
powers can be transferred without primary legislation.
The current Labour / Plaid Cymru Government in Cardiff is committed
to conducting a referendum on full law-making powers by 2011.
"There will be a joint commitment to use the
Government of Wales Act 2006 provisions to the full under Part
III and to proceed to a successful outcome of a referendum for
full law-making powers under Part IV as soon as practicable, at
or before the end of the Assembly term".
27. An All-Wales Convention was launched by the Welsh
Assembly Government on 6 May 2008. An interim report was published
on 24 March 2009,
with a final report on the likelihood of getting full law-making
powers for the National Assembly for Wales expected to be completed
by the end of 2009.