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The last Labour government failed to formulate a robust and complete devolution scheme that would be a concise explanation of the importance of the public sphere and citizenship. For years, there has been an emerging consensus that the national public domain ought to cede control to a new, local, and participatory political space. This is perceived to be the best way of empowering communities to participate in those affairs that concern their current and future affairs. The former Environment Secretary, David Miliband, took the initiative of championing for what he termed as the Labour Government’s strategy for a double devolution. Double devolution refers to a situation, where power is devolved from the Whitehall to the local authorities, and then from the local authorities to various neighbourhoods. In fact, this had been a campaign promise by the Labour Party, especially to Walsh and Scottish people (Marquand 2004, 67-73).
The former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, appeared to be more ultra as compared to his successor, Brown, and other Labour Party leaders. At one time, however, Blair made a suggestion that enough powers ought to be reserved for the national government to enable the state to intervene for the purpose of disciplining troublesome and errant members, even in Wales and Scotland. This suggestion appeared to counter the state’s obligation to share information about individuals with other levels of the devolved government. This issue, coupled with the anti-terrorism legislation, has made a section of the citizenry sceptical of the Labour’s campaign promise of devolution. This paper addresses the issue of Labour Party’s devolution, and how its incompleteness and unevenness is likely to undermine its success, a scenario, which may revert UK into a union state or, probably necessitate a written constitution (Rose 1999, 20-30).
Labour Party’s Strategy of Devolution
Upon taking office, Prime Minister Tony Blair promised to honor the Labour Party’s campaign pledge of decentralizing the political structure of the national government. According to Blair, the restructuring was necessary so as to usher in a welfare state, a situation, which would enable the government to protect and promote the social well-being as well as the economic status of the citizens. During the first year of his Premiership, Blair facilitated referendums in Wales and Scotland, as he had promised during the campaigns. The two referendums were meant to decentralize power from the UK Parliament to the Scottish parliament as well as the Welsh assembly. The two passed and, in fact, Labour became the largest party in legislative bodies of Wales and Scotland (Rose 1999, 20-30).
The steps undertaken by the Labour government were referred to as devolution. Through this process, powers of the state were to be devolved or passed down for the purpose of serving the Welsh and Scottish people effectively. The effectiveness of devolution necessitated the institution of democratically elected legislatures in these two nations of the UK. Nevertheless, even with the progress in devolution, the British government retained the posts of the secretaries charged with the affairs of Wales and Scotland. With regard to the preceding discussion it demonstrates that the Labour Party assumed the responsibility of ensuring a proper devolution of powers in the British government. Essentially, the devolved power has always aimed at releasing Wales and Scotland from some of the constraints that resulted from being administered by Welsh and Scottish secretaries of state (Rose 1996, 327-335).
Steps towards Devolution
Historically Scottish and Welsh Labour factions have always served as integral parts of the main Labour party, and they have always been focused on facilitating the Labour’s win in the Westminster. The party has laboured to retain its formal unitary structure as well as its constitutional terms. The party has, nevertheless, made some remarkable adaptations towards devolution. This have, however, been considered to be taking place a piecemeal fashion, which is yet to embark on a post-devolution and strategic rethinking of the national institutional machinery (Rose 1996, 327-335).
The National Executive Committee, NEC, retains its centralized role of ultimate intervention, which happens under the English focus. This centralism has been reinforced by a de facto role because its executive committee under the current Labour leadership has been based on the politics of middle England. The mechanisms that the party utilizes to discipline errant behaviors are blunt and ought not to be employed by the centre management of the affairs involving Celtic parties. In essence, initial candidate as well as leader selection process reflects some competing forces, and these forces exists within some sections of the local Labour Party’s elites. Such forces appear to be trying to compete with the central control of the party. The National Party leaders seem to be uninterested in the federalist solution. These leaders consider such moves as ones that can dilute the Labour Party brand (Giddens 2006, 33-38).
Nonetheless, Labour Party has allowed the Welsh and Scottish governments some significant levels of delegated authority as well as a considerable level of freedom that enables them to manage the affairs of their territories. The Labour Party leaders in the Assembly and Parliament are able to formulate policies that best benefit these areas. Labour Party centrally is yet to begin utilizing the government machinery for the purpose of imposing its own view of policies regarding the two nations. In general, the centre requires the Welsh and Scottish leaderships to assume the prime responsibility of managing the internal disagreements that emerge in their nations. Undoubtedly, it has always aimed at devolving responsibility for the purpose of reconciling conflicts in accordance with the efforts of territorial managers. It has been challenging for the Labour Party leadership within Parliament as well as the Party Headquarters especially while trying to ensure that the national party brand and identity survive the devolution. For this reason, the commitment for devolution is unclear (Steinmetz 1999, 43-52).
Failure to Deliver the Promised Devolution
Apparently, the Labour’s idea of power seems to be illogical: it appears to be an attempt to decentralize power while at the same time reserving the right of surveillance in its current form. The party’s devolution strategy is, therefore, contradictory and it has also proved to be different from conventional liberalism. According to David Marquand (2004), the public sphere in Britain appears to be fragile yet precious when evaluated on economic as well as private aspects. Throughout the history of the United Kingdom, the public sphere has been presuming an equality of inclusivity and status. This has always manifested itself in terms of political equality, a situation that has availed freedom as well as some rights-based arguments. Although the British political model is not mapped on any specified political institution, it appears to be highly reliant on the liberal philosophical thoughts of Habermas and Kant (Sassen 2001, 37-40).
Retaining the two cabinet positions has made the British government to appear as being bent to patronize the affairs of the two nations. Nevertheless, much of their former duties had been assumed by the newly created assemblies, which are meant to determine the duties and responsibilities of the respective local governments. The devolution was left incomplete and uneven as the two nations continue to have representatives in the House of Commons. In fact, the London Parliament continues to pass laws and preside over the United Kingdom as a whole, especially on matters of security and national defense. Other aspects presided over by the UK Parliament include the overall economic policy, social security, as well as the employment legislation.
Such unpopular policies as privatization of most of the state-owned enterprises, as advocated formerly by the Conservative government, increased the demands by the Scottish for self-governance. This was especially so after the Scottish people realized that the privatization was raising the level of unemployment. The Labour Party appreciated the need for having a devolved system of government, and immediately the party came to power in 1997, it began implementing its plans for devolution. Devolution has initiated some decentralizing trends and these trends have begun to challenge the nationalism as well as the national-wide influence of the Labour Party (Rose & Miller 1990, 21-27). The trends have, however, begun to threaten the Labour Party and its identity. Nevertheless, the party is yet to adopt a regionalized or, at least, a federalized structure, a structure, which would have facilitated a complete devolution as promised during the campaigns.
The National Executive Committee ought to have moved towards a federalized structure in a manner, which would have formalized complete representation from Wales and Scotland. Although, the Scottish and Welsh Labour parties have already been enjoying a considerable level of autonomy, the party has, been recently facing pressure from the Welsh and the Scottish to formalize the autonomy. As of now, considerable uncertainty still remains with regard to how far the Welsh and the Scottish Labour Party branches and their ministers remain constrained under the Westminster Labour Party’s policies. The party is, in fact, yet to devise an effective and internalized party settlement that would serve to distinguish the English from the UK government policies (Rose & Miller 1992, 173-185).
The constraints, as explained earlier, were instigated by the fact that the responsibility of the two secretaries was, basically, to the UK Cabinet and not to the people concerned. This situation has always been leaving the two Labour-led governments of these nations in complete discretion, and they find it challenging to spend the allocated resources. Welsh are more disgruntled than the Scottish since unlike Scotland, Wales lacks the considerable freedom, which would enable them to draw up legislation on such issues as domestic policy areas.
This devolution has always been problematic and there has always been an assumption that Labour Party would retain its dominance in the political scenes of the two nations. As such, the implementation of the Labour Party policies has not been taking place as it had been hoped. The Labour Party itself has failed to follow the logic behind devolution. Its organizational structure has not evolved as the leaders had promised from the onset. The party is yet to adopt either a federal structure or a formal devolution. In fact, this is so unlike the Liberal Democrats’ party structure, which has a fully federal structure. The mismatch between the unitary party structure and devolved government system has always challenged the manner, in which this party ought to seek the control of the two nations. This has also affected the identities and affiliations of the party members and property, which is located in Scotland and Wales (Rose & Miller 1992, 173-185).
The ultimate failure of the scheme would, therefore, prompt the Welsh and Scottish people to demand for a reversion of UK into a union state, a situation, which would be an acknowledgement of Wales and Scotland as fully fledged nation states, though united into a political body. This would, indeed, assure the citizens of the reduced central government’s control. Alternatively, the incompleteness and unevenness of the devolution that Labour Party initiated may act as a catalyst for federating the UK, a federation, which will necessitate a written constitution.