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brought about direct rule from Westminster. 1 2 The pre-devolution and post-devolution arrangements are explained, respectively, in Heald (1994) and Heald et al. (1998).
See, for example: Heald (1976, 1980, 1990) and Heald and Geaughan (1996). 265 Commission on Fiscal Imbalance Thirdly, since the election of the Labour Government in May 1997, constitutional reform has received much attention.
Devolution is just one aspect; others are the incorporation of the European Convention of Human Rights into Scottish
and then English law, and the removal of much of the hereditary element in the House of Lords (the upper chamber of
the UK Parliament). In 2001, Scotland has a devolved Parliament with legislative and some tax-varying powers; Wales
has an Assembly with executive powers and responsibility for secondary legislation, but not for primary legislation or
taxation; and Northern Ireland has a devolved Assembly with legislative but not taxation powers. There have been many
fewer developments in England, though London (itself a region for statistical purposes) now has an elected Mayor with
executive responsibility for, inter alia, strategic planning and transport, supported by an elected Assembly. Significantly
in a UK context, all these bodies have been elected by a form of proportional representation. Overall, there has been a
significant injection of a democratic element accountable to territorial electorates; these reforms have largely built upon
and modified existing territorial structures of government.3 An important point – to which attention will return – is that,
long before recent devolution, Scotland and Northern Ireland exhibited distinctive features of governance and civil
society which indicated that they had not been fully assimilated to the English model.
Two aspects of the UK political system also merit comment. First, UK citizens seem to expect that they can have EU
levels of public service provision at US levels of taxation. Among the consequences of this illusion is that genuine policy
failures go unaddressed and evidence of success is dismissed as data manipulation (eg improved school exam
performance is attributed to exams being easier). Second, the United Kingdom combines a highly centralized fiscal
apparatus dominated by the Treasury with a substantial degree of expenditure decentralization to local authorities.4
However, central government has long dominated local government, which is heavily dependent on transfers from
central government and operates under its direction in many areas. This was exacerbated by the taxation and
expenditure limitation measures of the 1979-97 Conservative Government.
Though still big spenders, UK local authorities suffered a loss of confidence and own revenues5 during this period, a
trend unlikely to be reversed under the centralizing tendencies manifest in ‘New Labour’ at the UK level.6
Asymmetric devolution is, in part, a response to the inherent asymmetry of the United Kingdom. First, 84% of the UK
population live in England, and this preponderance is likely to in...
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