A Conservative Case for Devolution | Nathan Wilson
Currently the United Kingdom faces major internal dilemmas and worries. The UK is currently facing a period of widespread and chronic lack in self-confidence. Brexit helped demonstrate this with the rise of nationalist movements in Scotland and Wales. However, the rise of these movements has had their origins in much later British history than that of the build up to 2016.
It was under the New Labour years under Blair, that the UK saw the introduction of widespread devolution into Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But with the devolution and the devolved governments, many have criticised the effects of Blair’s reforms. It would be fair to say that New Labour (and especially Tony Blair) remain controversial figures in UK politics, with the Iraq War, Immigration reform, the Euro and the global financial crisis to think of just a few topics. But one topic that is often overlooked is that of devolution and its effects. It is no secret that the Conservative Party is not popular with the idea of devolution. The number of headaches that Scotland has produced through its devolution is often the most cited and most visible in arguments against devolution. However, as the UK remains fervently divided from within itself, it is important to explore how to solve such problems and issues.
It is from this, that I will attempt at doing the nearly impossible within Conservative circles. I will write a conservative case for devolution. At the same time, I will examine its common criticisms while attempting to explore what this all could mean.
Firstly, devolution could be a fantastic means of tackling perceived regional inequality. It is no secret that the UK suffers for inequality of opportunity and politics. The ever-present North-South divide remains as polarising as it did throughout the 1980’s. However, the collapse of the ‘Red Wall’ in the North of England was the Conservative Party’s first attempt at really focusing on this regional inequality. The conceptual anger that the political North of England has towards both Westminster and the South at large, remains a mystery for most people who live and work within those places. If the Conservatives want to truly keep those voters, who lent their votes to them in 2019, then the traditional party of the South could start by focusing on the North. One of the best ways this can be achieved is by actually devolving powers into regional parliaments or actually empowering local councils.
This will stop the perception of a London-centric nature of the UK, this being that London is the spiritual viewpoint of all sovereignty in the nation and that it has slowly become a country within itself. It will help fix the view that the North and South of England are two politically separate things, with one being represented and the other not. While attempting to bring true representation from outside of the London bubble. This may help the Conservative Party become more attractive to the North of England and actually entrench themselves in the region’s body politic.
Secondly, devolution could empower and promote real accountability amongst local councils and devolved governments. This follows on from the first point, this being that devolution could be used to make local politics more efficient. Within the UK political system, there exist several broken layers of bureaucracy. These span from local councils, borough councils, county councils, town councils and police commissioners.
This complex web of bureaucrats creates a system where voters do not know what the various levels of politics do, or more importantly where to put the blame for when things gone wrong. The devolution of power away from Westminster will mean that local councils and local power will have to start holding their local politicians with more accountability, instead of the traditional Westminster fault viewpoint. In addition to this, I would argue that local people know more about what their local problems are than that of a London-Centric grouping of politicians. It would therefore make sense to give local councils and communities the ability to help themselves instead of being reliant upon the actions of a centralised political structure. This is something that both conservatives and libertarians would favour as it would allow the ability to promote actual responsibility within our political institutions, something that has been missing since the Thatcher years. This could be achieved through the devolution of political power into devolved parliaments. What is sad is that the Labour could easily win this back, but they view their traditional heartlands with contempt and being an embarrassment. I would argue this is because traditional White Working-Class communities are not ‘fashionable’ in the eyes of an intersectionality advocate. This will mean that only the Conservatives can make a real dent into this issue.
Firstly, devolution has created even further bureaucracy within the UK. In direct contrast to the final Pro for devolution within the UK. Affectively, devolution may reach the logical contradiction of creating bureaucrats and to get rid of bureaucrats. Such a message was best epitomised with the campaigning against the North East Parliament referendum in 2004. It could be stated that if we cannot truly be represented by individuals in London, then what makes people believe that they will be represented in Edinburgh or Cardiff? This is actually a very important point that needs to be examined, devolution is not a magical wand of political accountability. It generates a more complex political world of finger pointing. This is because we reach the state where policy and laws enter a state of mass confusion as one set of people can do one thing while another does something else. If we take the topical example of the COVID-19 pandemic, England has one response to the virus and its restrictions, while in Scotland and Wales they each have separate ones. This creates a lack of consistency and within these political bodies, with in turn lead to further confusion within the general political sphere. Devolution it could therefore be argued will only add addition problems to the general system.
This is the big one. Devolution has given valuable ground to nationalist and separatism movements within the UK. This has allowed the possibility of potential of breaking up the UK. Perhaps the biggest advocate for this is that of the Scottish National Party (SNP). Political devolution has allowed the ‘grifting’ of mainstream politics. It has been no illusion in the past that political figures have often used politics as a means of securing power and money, but no political party has done it to the same success as the SNP. Since the party took power of the Scottish Parliament, Scotland has seen perhaps the biggest collapse of itself since the failed Darien Gap Expedition, Pre-Act of Union.
It is often common to come across parties or individuals that spent more time appearing to look good, than do good. The SNP are a party of status over substance. The ability of raising a generation of young people in Scotland with the view of innate oppression and Anti-Englishness, will make the SNP go down as a failure in the history books. Even if they will every election and get Scottish independence, history will always view them as that. This is because devolution has allowed political parties to injure the moral character of the nation state. Devolution has allowed otherwise useless people to con and morally cheat their way into politics. The best party for that example is the SNP and that might be possibly one of the most defining problems of devolution within the UK.
In conclusion, I would argue that there could be a solid case to be made for devolution within the UK. It has the possibility of truly addressing some of the root problems within UK politics. The real question therefore stems, are the Con’s worth the headache and heartache that could come and what does if they could true?