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Unformatted text preview: Has devolution since 1997 rectified the problem of excessive centralisation of power in the UK? The constitutional theorist A.V. Dicey wrote that the freedom of the British people was subject to the absolute sovereignty of the British Parliament. Throughout history, the British have always looked to Parliament to resolve problems, even on relatively local levels to the point that one commentator even declared that during the 1980s “British centralism…was the new opium of the people” 1 . This is in stark contrast to our European neighbours – France’s 37 000 communes, of which 80% encompass less than one thousand members, are the pride of the French people and are arguably the very centre of the country’s democracy. A commune’s mayor has powers over planning, education, the environment and can even raise local taxes in order to pay for his or her policies. Scandinavia makes similar use of localism, especially the ideas of ‘free communes’, whereby municipalities are responsible for providing public services such as health or education. Alexis de Tocqueville’s description of the state in post-revolutionary France as an “immense and tutelary power” could be equally applicable to Britain in the 1980s and 1990s. The New Labour victory in 1997 was a turning point in Britain’s progress towards devolutionary ideas. Despite the efforts of past governments to introduce long term devolution to Scotland and Ireland, Blair, encouraged by the ideas of Amitai Etzioni, championed ‘local democracy’ and just two months after its election, the government introduced white papers proposing devolution to both Scotland and Wales, and in the Good Friday agreement, negotiated by the Blair government in April 98, it laid out the foundations for the Northern Ireland assembly, which shall be discussed in more detail later in this essay. The objectives behind the Government’s proposals were fourfold; economically, there was an opportunity to reduce the disparities in spending between the four elements of the United Kingdom; in terms of social policy, the gross inequalities in living conditions between the regions could be tackled; politically, nationalist sentiments that were becoming increasingly prominent, especially in Scotland and Northern Ireland, could be placated; and lastly, the efficiency of government could be improved by decentralising many of its responsibilities. The referenda in Scotland and Wales on the devolution proposals were held a week apart in September 1997 and it is the results of these which led to such disparities in the formation of the two devolved bodies. In Scotland, on a is the results of these which led to such disparities in the formation of the two devolved bodies....
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This note was uploaded on 04/29/2008 for the course PPE PPE taught by Professor None during the Summer '08 term at Oxford University.
- Summer '08