Thursday, 15 July 2010

An obsession with constitutional change holding back devolved regions.

Unionist Lite investigates the think tank Policy Exchange’s latest report. ‘The Devolution Distraction’ (PDF), suggests that Scotland’s ‘constitutional obsession’ has led to bad government.  Its author, Tom Miers, finds that an increase in funding has not been matched by the achievements of the Scottish Executive.

The source of the failure is, Miers believes, a preoccupation with constitutional reform, to the exclusion of what we in Northern Ireland are fond of describing as ‘bread and butter issues’.
“Only on constitutional matters is there any drive for change.  Yet the problems Scotland faces are political in nature, not constitutional. If the huge increase in ‘accountability’ that took place with devolution in 1999 did not improve matters, there is no reason to suppose that further constitutional change will help.”
Holyrood, it is argued, already has the powers and the autonomy to get on with making Scotland a success.  The contention that it is hampered by Westminster is simply an excuse and a red herring.

It is a more thorough development of the instinctive argument, which many unionists launch, that devolved administrations tend to take credit for everything which goes right, and blame central government for everything which goes wrong.

Miers describes a ‘conspiracy of inaction’ which draws on an obsession with constitutional matters.  Although ‘the [devolved] mechanisms … have the potential to work well’ the contention that more powers are needed to provide effective government provides an inbuilt excuse for stasis.

The rewards for inaction are particularly tempting for nationalists, whose interests are advanced by seeming to prove that the current set-up is not sufficient.

I’m having a little trouble with the PDF beyond page 20, which means that I haven’t read the full document, but, so far, it has proved a compelling thesis.

Obviously some of the logic upon which it relies is more generally applicable to devolution settlements outside Scotland.  It would be interesting to see how it stood up to academic investigation, in that regard.

1 comment:

O'Neill said...

I've opened it on 2 different computers and it's worked Ok for me.

Aberdonian on my blog reckons it's the first shots in the battle to prevent further devolved powers. I think he might be right and it would be interesting to find out how far it reflects current Conservative HQ thinking.