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The 20th Anniversary of Legislative Devolution Series



The 20th Anniversary of Legislative Devolution Series

 By Stewart Connell (c) 2017 is marking the 20th anniversary of the introduction of legislative devolution into mainland UK through a series of special articles and activities (further information to follow) which can be found below. 

  We will highlight the division and waste that legislative devolution has brought into British politics and why we must have nothing less than repeal.





 First Published 22nd July 2017  

    20th Anniversary of Legislative Devolution Series

 Part 1

 By Stewart Connell (c) 2017 

 A Warning Ignored.


  In 1997 there was no legislative devolution on the mainland of the United Kingdom. All government and administration took place through national government channels and for some delegated matters local council channels. This system is called administrative devolution.

  This system remains in place in England.

    Administrative devolution provided accountable and effective local government and administration of the public realm. 

  With administrative devolution there was: no devolved legislative powers, no third tier of government, no additional layer of devolved politicians (today 279 of them exist on three sites with a vast apparatus of political staff and substantial political budgets paid for by the British taxpayer), no territorial institution’s to aggregate powers to themselves and increasingly claim a status as a proto or embryonic state and of course no political personality to challenge the British Parliament for authority.

  Administrative devolution worked well, very well.

  It built the entire physical infrastructure of the United Kingdom that we know today.

    In the 1970s and 1980s, the anti-devolutionists in both the Conservative and Labour parties warned that the introduction of legislative devolution into the United Kingdom, an integral and unitary parliamentary nation would lead to it’s dis-integration.

    20 years after it’s introduction, we can now see the evidence in front of us that the anti-devolutionist’s were right.

   Legislative devolution has introduced a territorial, electoral and institutional conflict into the United Kingdom and in the space of just 17 years the United Kingdom was taken from being a "strong and stable" nation to the edge of complete destruction by the political forces unleashed by legislative devolution.

  The referendum on the Union in 2014, initiated by the Conservative party, not the SNP, is only the first direct challenge between the British Parliament and the devolved institutions.

    Unless and until legislative devolution is repealed the next referendum on the Union is not that far away.


   On the 1st of May 1997 the Labour Party was elected to government on a manifesto which included the introduction of legislative devolution in mainland United Kingdom.

   On the 11th of September 1997 the Labour government held referendums (state sponsored opinion polls) on devolution in Scotland and Wales.

    While neither referendum result contained a majority of the electorate, (devolution was not a burning issue for most electors in Scotland or Wales or in any part of the UK, who were more concerned about jobs, poverty and housing rather than some new fangled governmental arrangements for more politicians and another tier of government) but encouraged and comforted by the entire political establishment cheerleading for devolution, out of those that did vote, a majority supported the introduction of legislative devolution.

   It may have been expected that faced with such a radical and dangerous constitutional alteration to the unitary fabric of the Nation, the Conservative Party would provide opposition and rally forces against it, however the opposite was the case.

    As the result of the refendum was announced and broadcast, the Conservative Party (which had been wiped out in Scotland in the general election in May ) which had previously opposed legislative devolution (although increasingly it did not know why it did) immediately surrendered centuries of unionism and reversed it’s policy and embraced devolution with the zeal of the new convert.

  (Since the 11th of September 1997 no principal party in the United Kingdom now supports the actual existing constititutional and legal form of the United Kingdom as an integral and unitary parliamentary nation).

    The referendum result provided a convenient political cover for the Conservative Party to retreat from having to go through the motions of even having to think seriously about the Union nevermind having to defend it. 

 For decades the Conservative Party had regarded the Union as a distraction, a nuisance, a troublesome relic from the past just like the other heavy responsibilities of nationhood that it had no interest in. 

 It could now finally cast off unionism and concentrate on it’s prime concern and interest: money.

  Devolution would also provide the Scottish Conservative Party with elected representation and public money to run it's organisation. Devolution’s gerrymandered proportional representation system of 129 MSP’s (72 constituencies and 57 “list” MSP’s) and generous financial support for political parties had arrived at just the right time for the Scottish Conservative Party.

   No wonder there were so many happy Scottish Conservatives at the Conservative Conference in Blackpool in 1997.

 Next in the

 20th Anniversary of Legislative Devolution Series

   Part 2

   “The Division Bell”


  First Published 29th July 2017

 20th Anniversary of Legislative Devolution Series

  Part 2

 By Stewart Connell (c) 2017


 The Division Bell


Conservative Manifesto 1997

   “… the development of new assemblies in Scotland and Wales would create strains which could well pull apart the Union. That would create a new layer of government which would be hungry for power. It would risk rivalry and conflict between these parliaments or assemblies and the parliament at Westminster. And it would raise serious questions about whether the representation of Scottish and Welsh MPs at Westminster - and their role in matters affecting English affairs - could remain unchanged…”

  Seldom has a manifesto so accurately predicted the outcome of a particular policy initiative and warned against it.

   Unfortunately, for the entire United Kingdom, the Conservative Party ditched it's opposition to legislative devolution only 4 months and 10 days after the general election.

 The division of the United Kingdom had begun.

 As the result of the referendum on devolution in Scotland was broadcast, the Conservative Party surrendered and declared it’s support for legislative devolution. Rather than hold to it’s established position and prepare for the long haul of political work and persuasion, the Conservative Party fell to it’s knee’s to worship at the alter of legislative devolution and the referendum device.

  With serious old guard “high Tories”, who did understand the implications of legislative devolution for the Union now few in number, hardly any Conservative’s even thought about the Union.

  Any mention of the Union in most Conservative meetings was met with a laugh and a swift “let us move on” to the next subject.

  The lack of depth of conviction and thought in the Conservative Party on the Union meant it was easy for the “New” Labour Party to take a devolutionist approach to the matter and be led by the federalist, separatist and republican forces inside and outside of it. New Labour like the Conservative Party was now all about money.

  The authority to begin the experiment in legislative devolution on the mainland of the United Kingdom was exercised in the general election on the 1st of May 1997. The Labour Party under Blair had included a commitment to it in their manifesto, provided referendums in Scotland and Wales took place to ensure “popular endorsement”.

   The referendum device itself was to be part of a new constitutional doctrine which would raise the referendum device to a new “gold standard” in democracy (20 years later this would lead to a conflict between Parliamentary general election (2015) and a referendum result (2016), on the matter of European Union membership, a conflict only resolved by another general election in 2017). Labour’s post war Leader and Prime minister Clement Attlee, had warned about such a conflict and described the referendum mechanism as “alien to all our (parliamentary) traditions” but in 1997, New Labour was intent that the referendum device would assist it preventing the House of Commons acting as a brake (it’s constitutional job) on the executive. The referendum device would be increasingly be presented as a counter authority to parliamentary authority and the matter of the Union in 1997 was the ideal subject for New Labour to begin its reintroduction of the referendum mechanism, which had not been used in the United Kingdom for 18 years since the last devolution experiment in 1979.

Labour Manifesto 1997

   As soon as possible after the election, we will enact legislation to allow the people of Scotland and Wales to vote in separate referendums on our proposals, which will be set out in white papers. These referendums will take place not later than the autumn of 1997. A simple majority of those voting in each referendum will be the majority required. Popular endorsement will strengthen the legitimacy of our proposals and speed their passage through Parliament.”

 “For Scotland we propose the creation of a parliament with law-making powers, firmly based on the agreement reached in the Scottish Constitutional Convention, including defined and limited financial powers to vary revenue and elected by an additional member system. In the Scottish referendum we will seek separate endorsement of the proposal to create a parliament, and of the proposal to give it defined and limited financial powers to vary revenue. The Scottish parliament will extend democratic control over the responsibilities currently exercised administratively by the Scottish Office.”

  Labour’s victory opened the door to national division and dissolution. From May 1st 1997, bit by bit, power, patronage, status and money would flow to the devolved institutions, under the sponsorship of the Labour and Conservative parties not the SNP, (later installments both the Scotland Act 2012 and Scotland Act 2016 would take further substantial powers from the British Parliament and place them into the devolved parliament which now would have a “government” and not an “executive”, the nomenclature had changed to meet the rising status of the institution. The push for “parliamentary parity” was now on (even though the British Parliament is the sovereign parliament and the Scottish Parliament is the devolved one). The idea of the United Kingdom as a “family of nations”, an informal federal entity increasingly took hold, especially in the Conservative Party, for it avoided the party having to confirm that the United Kingdom actually still is a constitutional and legal integral and unitary parliamentary nation.

 By 1997 however the matter of the Union had been neglected to such an extent that many did not even care about the Union (this was especially the case with politicians - elected in 1997 Theresa May’s “precious, precious Union” does not even rate a mention in her political life until she is Prime minister in 2016) while at the same time the Union was so familiar and taken for granted in general that to suggest or even question that it should be brought to an end and dissolved was not taken seriously until 15 years later on the 8th January 2012 when Conservative Prime minister David Cameron launched a referendum in which it was proposed that the United Kingdom be dissolved on the night of the 18th of September 2014.


  First Published 2nd September 2017

 20th Anniversary of Legislative Devolution Series

  Part 3

 By Stewart Connell (c) 2017

 Referendums Everywhere

 (Devolution, Separation, A Coup D’état and A Year of Despotic Government)

 While devolution began its opposition free legislative journey, Labour’s devolution referendums themselves had not just touched on the matter of the Union they had aimed for the British centre of democracy and government.

 The return of the referendum device reactivated a direct challenge to constituted parliamentary and electoral authority.

 A challenge that had been silent for nearly two decades.

 The return of the referendum device, a referendum revolution, was to become a key feature of the United Kingdoms governance over the next twenty years and indeed change the course of history.

 The Referendum Revolution

 Devolution has always been intertwined with referendums. The referendum mechanism has been the favoured device by the Conservative Party (who used it first under Mr Heath) and the Labour Party to concoct a seemingly democratic mask for their latest devolved experiments. After a space of 18 years when the referendum device had not been used and it had only been used four times in a six year period (1973-1979, only one of which was a UK wide referendum on the “re-negotiated” terms of EU membership of the Common Market) had increasing been seen as an aberration in the parliamentary life of the nation and then largely confined to the territorial periphery.

 The authority for the legislative devolution experiment was exercised in the general election on the 1st of May 1997, not the referendums on the 11th and 18th of September 1997 but the devolution referendums of 1997 and 1998 re-opened the door to the referendum device and put it at the centre of British politics with an enhanced political status.

  Referendums were introduced into the UK in 1973 and by 1979 there had only been four referendums, three of them territorial and one national (Northern Ireland 8th March 1973, Wales 1st March 1979, Scotland 1st March 1979 and UK 5th June 1975).

  Between 1979 and 1997 there were no referendums.

 By 1997 however with a “new” political mood captured by New Labour referendums found a new cache as the idea of “popular sovereignty” took hold among the wider establishment.

 In 1997 on the back of it’s devolution proposals (which had been endorsed at the general election and did not need a referendum to “super validate” (an idea repugnant to the British constitution), New Labour sought to invent a new “progressive” constitutional doctrine “popular sovereignty” in contrast to established parliamentary constituency election, which it cast as “old” and “boring”, the referendum could be presented as “new” and “modern” and it was used all across Europe, so it must be a “good thing”.

 Both Conservative and Labour parties agreed to support it’s use and recognise its results. This appeared to raise its status and results above the authority of general election results. It appeared to “be above” normal party politics and general elections and be a new “gold standard” in democracy.

In what was to become a regular feature on the UK political scene the referendum mechanism had found an appeal among those who wished to alter the constitutional fabric but more importantly, who wanted to avoid the threat to their power, patronage, seats and public money - which always comes with election but never a referendum.

 Mr Blair (who harboured his own suspicions about the potential troublemaking nature of legislative devolution) decided to initiate referendums in Scotland (comprising not one but two questions) and Wales and include them in the manifesto. These would provide additional “popular” political confirmation on embarking on the new constitutional experiment (even though these were experimental themselves) and present the referendum mechanism as a modern form of democratic mandate (even though they were not a modern invention and have been used across Europe especially in newly emerging states or those re-emerging from a revolutionary or occupied period and/or those without a parliamentary tradition).

 Blair set the referendums on devolution for the 11th September 1997 and then on the 18th September in Wales.

  The Northern Ireland referendum would follow (contained in the Belfast Agreement containing the latest form of legislative devolution for the province) on 22nd May 1998.

 The referendum on the creation of the post of London Mayor and the introduction of Greater London Authority took place on the 7th May 1998 however these two creations remain just inside what can still just be described as local government and administrative devolution.

 On 4th November 2004 a referendum on the introduction of a regional assembly took place in North East England.

(there had been plans for 3 referendums including the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber – but these were cancelled after concerns about the integrity of the postal voting system were raised).

 However Labour decided to push ahead with the NE referendum

 (which was an all postal affair!).

  The result was: 696,519 (77.9%) Against. 197,310 (22.1) For.

  47.8% of the region's 1.9 million registered electors voted.

  The exercise cost £11 million.

 The result was a substantial defeat for Primeminister Blair and Deputy Prime minister Prescott.

 The draft Regional Assemblies’ bill contained telling features central to the entire devolution experiment. Similar to the London Assembly the other assemblies were part of an attempt to create a “devolution culture” where none existed also they were to appear to address the asymmetrical matter of devolution outside of England and they were again just inside the definition of administrative devolution although they did contain provision for a “rolling devolution” which could have taken them over the line into legislative devolution under the consent of the Secretary of State.

 The bill is very narrow and highly defined and largely dependent upon the discretion of the Secretary of State (British Parliament) for its “purposes and power’s”, this contrasts sharply with the broad and loose approach taken with the devolution versions in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

  While the Conservative and Labour parties were prepared to play fast and loose, token politics with Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, when it came closer to their political “home” they sensed the dis-integrative effect of legislative devolution and took steps to ensure that the regional assemblies were essentially “big” councils (similar to the old Strathclyde Council covering Glasgow and the west of central Scotland) and locked it into administrative devolution not legislative devolution.

 The architects of the legislation had one eye on the integrity of England and the existence of a territorial assembly and potential development of a separatist political personality - exactly the political concoction introduced into Scotland , Northern Ireland and Wales.

  By 2016 another four referendums would take place.

 On the 3rd March 2011 in Wales, a further devolution package was contained in a referendum, on the 5th May 2011 across the UK, a referendum on proportional representation took place and voters decisively rejected it.

 On the 18th of September 2014 the referendum on the Union took place and on the 23rd June 2016, it was the referendum on EU membership.

  The great clash between the hype of referendum authority and the legal and constituted authority of the British Parliament took place over the measure to give the devolved Scottish Parliament the power to hold the separation referendum.

 The Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Schedule 5) Order 2013, while providing authority for the Scottish Parliament to logistically hold a referendum on the Union did not contain any provision for the referendum to contain authority. In other words it was an opinion poll, a survey – nothing more, nothing less.

 Both he Conservative Party and Labour Party who wanted the referendum to appear as though it did contain authority (for the Conservative party to assist their forthcoming general election campaign and the Labour Party to look modern and avoid abstaining from a device that they endorsed) it was necessary to collaborate in ensuring that the most important piece of legislation ever to be presented to the British Parliament (for a referendum to be held on Parliaments own complete abolition) was pushed through Parliament.

  On the 15th of January 2013 the Order was pushed through the House of Commons in six hours (other constitutional legislation had taken months, years and even decades) while the next day the Order went to the House of lords and they did the same. There was no green paper, no white paper, no bill, no act of parliament, neither did the House of Commons sit in committee form which is the normal practice for legislation of an important and constitutional nature. No division took place but the measure passed into law with not a single voice of dissent.

 Having pumped up the fiction of a referendum authority and for separate reasons supporting a referendum on the Union, the Conservative and Labour parties had to keep up the fiction and keep the constitutional reality (the referendum was simply a survey) well away from the public domain.

 In a referendum no MP loses their seat and in 2014, the avoidance of a general election called on the matter of the Union was the priority for both the Conservative and Labour parties.

  On the 20th January 2014 the Secretary of State for Scotland Alistair Carmichael finally conceded “the Order does not contan any provisions relating to Scottish constituencies in the UK Parliament”, in other words the referendum was a survey and a general election (as always) would be required to authorise representation in or abstention from the British Parliament.

  Any “Yes” referendum result however would have provided a fictional authority and a political cover story for MP’s to withdraw from the British Parliament while continuing to be mandated from the 2010 general election to go and sit in the House of Commons - to be part of the whole.

 Emboldened by the division and near catastrophe of 18th September 2014, the Conservative and Labour parties embarked on yet another referendum this time on EU  membership.

 The EU membership referendum brought the challenge of “referendum authority” straight to the British centre of power. The challenge was no longer peripheral. It could not be hidden or pushed to one side. It was targeted at the centre of the British state, Parliament, government and civil service.

 The return of the referendum device was to have a traumatic impact upon the parliamentary representational democracy in the United Kingdom.

 Having taken the Union to the edge of complete destruction in September 2014, the referendum device now facilitated a coup d’état in government between the 24th June-13th July 2016 - the period of the Conservative Party’s internal selection and appointment of Theresa May as Prime minister - which, as it was meant to, led to the replacement of the Conservative manifesto, which had been authorised by the general election in May 2015, with a new manifesto (the opposite to the one that the electorate had endorsed) that had not been unauthorised, in the space of a just over a year.

 The decision by the Conservative Party not to have a general election immediately after the EU  membership referendum meant that it’s new post referendum manifesto would not be submitted to the British electorate for authorisation until June 8th 2017.

  The decision not to have an immediate general election resulted in the United Kingdom enduring a year of unelected (despotic) government and an unauthorised manifesto between 13th July 2016 and the 8th of June 2017, when a general election was held and parliamentary government was restored and the new post referendum Conservative manifesto was (just) authorised.


 The devolution experiment introduced in 1997 was not the first, 76 years earlier another attempt had been made. In 1921, a very grand and elaborate devolution scheme was introduced in Northern Ireland. It was brought to an end by the British Parliament in 1970.

 While the referendum mechanism is now a regular “go to” instrument for both Conservative and Labour parties in and out of government when they wish to get an unpopular measure into legislation without an election, the devolution referendums of 1997 had set the referendum ball rolling.

  Legislative authority in the United Kingdom cannot be separated on a territorial basis and attached to a territorial electorate and institution. As we have seen over the decades this leads to division and political conflict. Administrative devolution (local government) does not create this conflict because council's do not have legislative power or a political personality to challenge national authority. 

 The referendum in our unitary constitution is limited to being an opinion poll as no authority can be in it. The United Kingdom is an integral and unitary state. Authority is integral and unitary (singular) and only contained in and excerised and transmitted through parliamentary constituency election.

 Authority in the United Kingdom can only be in one place at one time.

 This is the lesson of the nature of authority in our country as experienced through legislative devolution and the referendum device.

  Whether you measure the success or failure of legislative devolution in political or money terms the experiment has failed.

  It is not just a political distraction, it has taken the United Kingdom to the edge of complete destruction while costing billions in money and materials that could have gone directly into defence, rebuilding heavy industry, schools or hospitals.

  The United Kingdom is not short of political problems, we have enough.

 We could do with a one less.

   As we continue to watch the legislative devolved institutions as they are given more powers and promised more powers by both the Conservative and Labour parties, we can see it causing further friction, further division of the nation and generating more referendums and wasting yet more resources.

 The anti-devolutionists of the 1970’s and 1980’s were right.

  20 years after the introduction of legislative devolution the evidence of the division, the damage and the expense that it has created is in front of us.

 We must learn and we must act.

  If we do not then the complete dis-integration of the United Kingdom will take place.

 We must repeal legislative devolution, restore local government and ban referendums. 

Copyright © Stewart Connell 2017