Why do so many not understand devolution (or alternatively why is it so complicated)?

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TravelDream

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This comes up time and time again.

On this forum, it comes up repeatedly about Wales that the Welsh Government should invest in rail infrastructure in Wales. The problem is it is not devolved (outside of the Core Valley Lines) and is the responsibility of the UK Government. The Welsh Government gets no funding whatsoever for rail infrastructure. Some of those people then double down on their position saying that money should be taken from Welsh schools and hospitals to pay for infrastructure in Wales - though they don't think then Welsh Gov should buy aircraft carrier or similar.

It goes both ways too. I was talking to someone earlier in the year before the elections. This woman was complaining about the 'appalling' quality of local schools and how it was all Boris Johnson's fault. She said she was voting Labour because of it. What she didn't realise is that Labour have run the schools in Wales since 1997 (1997-99 as the UK Gov and 1999-present as the Welsh Gov).

It's an annoying position for an anorak like me.
 
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najaB

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Some people don't understand it, some don't want to understand it.
 

StKeverne1497

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There is also the dreaded Barnet Formula. For example, Health in Wales is devolved, so Wales can spend whatever it likes on Health, yes? Well, no.

The West Lothian question states that because health is devolved in Wales (and Scotland), Welsh and Scottish MPs should have no say on health decisions in England. It sounds simple, but what most discussions of the situation seem to ignore - including (unless I've missed it) the Wikipedia article I linked - is that the amount of money the devolved governments receive is directly linked, via the Barnet Formula, to decisions made in England. In other words, if the government decides to reduce spending on health in England, a corresponding amount is taken from the money allocated by the Barnet Formula, so if devolved governments do not want to reduce spending on health, they must find the money to maintain spending from other budgets. It therefore seems appropriate that MPs from Scotland and Wales should be allowed to vote on health matters in England.

And now there comes the news that the Westminster government is trying to claw back powers for itself. Roads planning is supposedly devolved, and there was massive controversy when the M4 relief road around Newport was cancelled, even though the money which would have been spent there could then be allocated to public transport or education or indeed a lot of other things. At the time, Westminster tried to "bribe" the Welsh Government by offering match funding, but only for that specific scheme. More recently there are proposals to alter the devolution settlement to allow Westminster to spend directly in Wales on matters which are supposedly devolved.

Back to rail, of course the classic example is electrification of the main line. Or lack of it to Swansea.

Many people don't understand politics in general, let alone devolution. I get cross at people who complain they don't understand the voting system for the Senedd because it's really not that complicated in principle, though the detail is a bit fiddly. Just because it isn't "first past the post" doesn't mean it's inferior, and there is a lot to be said for having governments slightly more balanced - without it, even now the Senedd would be dominated by Labour rather than Labour having exactly half the seats. As for reducing the number of Welsh (and Scottish) MPs in Westminster, see my point above about West Lothian and realise that without the "baseline" non-Conservative vote in Wales and Scotland, any party other than the Conservatives is going to have a really hard job winning a Westminster election.
 

Butts

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This comes up time and time again.

On this forum, it comes up repeatedly about Wales that the Welsh Government should invest in rail infrastructure in Wales. The problem is it is not devolved (outside of the Core Valley Lines) and is the responsibility of the UK Government. The Welsh Government gets no funding whatsoever for rail infrastructure. Some of those people then double down on their position saying that money should be taken from Welsh schools and hospitals to pay for infrastructure in Wales - though they don't think then Welsh Gov should buy aircraft carrier or similar.

It goes both ways too. I was talking to someone earlier in the year before the elections. This woman was complaining about the 'appalling' quality of local schools and how it was all Boris Johnson's fault. She said she was voting Labour because of it. What she didn't realise is that Labour have run the schools in Wales since 1997 (1997-99 as the UK Gov and 1999-present as the Welsh Gov).

It's an annoying position for an anorak like me.

What was her reaction when you pointed this out to her ?
 

Senex

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It doesn't help that in the UK there's no single pattern of devolution. The arrangements in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland differ, and what is termed devolution to various areas in England is not only totally chaotic but is also nothing that would be recognised in most other states as true devolution. Maybe if it were coherent and simpler ...

And the chaos comes out nicely in the point raised above about the Barnet Formula by St Kenverne 1497. You could indeed argue that Welsh and Scottish MPs should vote on English health matters because of the possible impact on income under Barnet, but couldn't you then also argue that English MPs should vote on Welsh and Scottish health matters because of the possible implications on the need for Barnet money of decisions being taken in the deevolved assemblies. And then where is devolution?
 

StKeverne1497

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couldn't you then also argue that English MPs should vote on Welsh and Scottish health matters because of the possible implications on the need for Barnet money of decisions being taken in the deevolved assemblies. And then where is devolution?
No, you couldn't argue that. The devolved powers get their calculated amount and then it's up to them how they divvy it up between different budgets. If the Welsh government wants to increase spending on social care but Westminster's spending remains flat, there is no extra money via Barnet and the Welsh government has to find the money from another budget. If the health budget is increased in England, extra money is put into the calculation and Wales gets a bigger grant, but they don't have to spend it on health - they could decide to spend it on social care - or indeed education or another devolved responsibility - instead.

There isn't a mechanism whereby a devolved government is able to demand extra money from Westminster in order to deliver increased spending overall. It's like Westminster are your parents giving you £5 pocket money each week. You can spend £4.99 on a magazine and keep the change, but if you need a new pair of jeans you'll have to save up. Or go to the charity shop.

Obviously this is rather oversimplifying things, but you get the drift.

There is another, less obvious, inequality in regional funding in general, which includes Barnet. For every £1 spent per person in England, Scotland gets something like £1.20 and Wales somewhere around £1.10 (I'm sorry, I don't have the figures to hand but that's the gist of it). In theory this is meant to balance need - for example Welsh people tend to have poorer health simply due to the types of heavy industries that destroyed the environment since the industrial revolution, therefore Wales needs to spend more per head on health and on social care than does England. Of course there are also areas of England with a history of heavy industry and similar health problems to Wales, but these things are calculated on averages and so some English regions have legitimate cause for complaint about lack of funding. It's a bit like your parents giving you £5 pocket money, but your brother gets £6 "just because" (I mean, I could work up some fantastic analogy here about threatening to leave home and take the family dog with him, but perhaps not). I have also seen some argument that Wales has a higher health burden than Scotland and so should receive more per head, but the basis of this weighting was set in stone over a hundred years ago (BBC article from 2014 in the run up to the Scottish independence referendum) and no-one's going to make major changes to it now.
 

172007

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Quite simply since the outbreak of Covid regulations have been different in the various nations due to the local political parties. Naturally people now assume they everything is devolved so the confusion abounds and will just increase more and more.
 

tbtc

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It doesn't help that in the UK there's no single pattern of devolution. The arrangements in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland differ, and what is termed devolution to various areas in England is not only totally chaotic but is also nothing that would be recognised in most other states as true devolution. Maybe if it were coherent and simpler ...

The problem is that the different countries are different in different ways (and weren't all fully independent countries before) - e.g. Scotland has always had its own laws and education system - so it's not as easy as having a "one size fits all" model of devolution like some more modern countries have

There's also the issue that the UK has separatist movements to contend with, so parties who will keep bumping up against the limits of devolution, because they have a vested interest in pointing out how they'd solve all of these problems if only we had the freedom to do so - the difference between "nationwide" and "state" spending/responsibilities is probably fine in somewhere like Utah because there's not a Utah Independence Party being mischievous and permanently complaining about the fact that they didn't have authority to do XYZ - so the UK's devolution is always going to be tested by parties with a vested interest in tearing it apart (whether those parties are in government or opposition)

You'll always get complaints about devolution and Barnett, since someone can always claim that the grass is greener elsewhere. Public spending is higher per head of population in Scotland/ Wales/ Northern Ireland than in England, but then the population density in those places means that it costs more to provide an equivalent level of public services (e.g. a secondary school/ hospital in a big city might be an efficient size but a lot harder/ more expensive to provide in the Highlands). But then public spending in the Lake District is probably also significantly above public spending in Glasgow, it's just that this is "hidden" in nationwide averages

Also, if you're unhappy with spending in constituent parts how do you raise taxes in a devolved place? The Scottish Parliament had tax raising powers from day one (I voted for them in the referendum at the time), but was very reluctant to do so for around twenty years - it's easy to suggest that you want the power to spend more, but if that means raising taxes to more than in another part of the UK then that may lead to people/businesses moving. I'm sure that lots of local government in the UK is unhappy about funding cuts too, but where to you draw the line in terms of giving significant tax raising powers to places? How much debt do you want areas of Government to be able to get into, since any misjudgement taken by a Parliament/ Assembly/ Council will have to be repaid by that area in future?
 
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