Is Devolution Doomed?

Guildhall

In this article we look at the vagaries of the UK constitution and the effects these might have on obtaining and sustaining an effective devolution deal for Yorkshire.

“Parliamentary sovereignty is a principle of the UK constitution. It makes Parliament the supreme legal authority in the UK, the courts cannot overrule its legislation and no Parliament can pass laws that future Parliaments cannot change. Parliamentary sovereignty is the most important part of the UK constitution.” This is an extract from “Parliament’s authority” published on the parliament.uk website.

The UK constitution is not codified in a single document. It has been built up over time. It is based around several Acts of Parliament, practices and legal determinations. There are various theories around the sources of parliamentary sovereignty and, also around possible limitations of it in relation to Scotland by the Acts of Union of 1707 which, among other things, preserved the Scottish legal system.

The problems with the UK constitution are that it originated during times that were very different. For example, there was no universal suffrage in 1689 when the Bill of Rights was enacted. It is not properly codified, so it is very difficult to see what rights and responsibilities people and institutions have. It appears that Parliament has almost unlimited powers and reach over all matters within the country. It also appears that Parliament can overturn legislation on the whim of the current government. Add to this fact that Parliament is elected by a system of voting that allows minority parties to hold sway and we clearly have a recipe for disaster on our hands.

Regions like Yorkshire may strive for devolution but is there any point? Even if fair devolution is obtained, this could be overruled by a subsequent parliament of a more authoritarian nature. Is it any wonder that our local government arrangements cannot function properly when everything they try to do is subject to the control of an oligarchy that is effectively answerable to a minority? Local decisions are not necessarily made by local people but by MPs, or agents acting on their behalf, who may have been elected to represent constituencies miles away from the locality in question.

Local authorities do not have the powers to raise much of the finance they need to fund their services but are reliant on central government handouts which may, or may not, be forthcoming. It has recently been suggested that some grants may be disbursed on the grounds of political favour, rather than need. Who is to stop all parliamentary decisions being politicised to the detriment of the electorate if there is no effective control over Parliament?

It may seem strange but, when Westminster parliamentary sovereignty is taken into consideration, the only way to get an effective “devolution” deal would be to opt for independence instead. At least, in this way, not being part of the UK exempts the region from Westminster’s overreach and political interference. There can be no compromise when the UK Parliament insists on such a level of control. In effect, Scotland needs to opt for independence to confirm its autonomy, even though the process is likely to involve a lot of pain.

The answer to this problem is surely a new constitutional settlement based around the principle of subsidiarity, designed from the bottom up, by the people, for the people and ratified by the people. Anything less, at this stage, will probably see the eventual break-up of the UK.

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