It has now been established that the devolution of powers in the UK is clearly asymmetric as a result of both major differences and finer details which distinguish each region. However, asymmetry does not necessarily equate to ineffectiveness. It is necessary to assess whether there are defects which make this position unsatisfactory and so, by extension unsustainable, or whether these can be overlooked as minimal in the face of the overall benefits. It can be argued that the present position is unsustainable as it can be easily undermined on the grounds that it does not follow a principle of equal rights for all UK citizens.
Devolved areas such as Scotland and Wales are clearly enjoying benefits of a grant from Westminster whereas England has no devolved Parliament whatsoever and so cannot benefit from these additional features. Again, this means that Scotland for example can afford to pay the fees for its University students whereas England cannot; based upon this, the UK is left in a position where people are treated differently or afforded different privileges based on their place of birth.
Devolution does not account for the fact that, within one unitary state, there should be parity of opportunity or at least no deliberate disadvantages. The counter-argument to this, however, is that it is unreasonable to expect all of the regions to follow the same legislation to prevent this. If each region were forced to legislate in the same way this would completely undermine devolution and present it merely as an empty fai?? ade of self-governance. The Barnett formula is also an issue which raises contest, again around the problem of equal rights in many cases.
The formula aims to compensate devolved regions of the money which they spend in England. However, the method has often been seen to be quite flawed and disparate towards devolved regions with Scotland receiving 20% extra per-capita than England. Again this is an affront to equal rights because, if Scotland is being allowed this extra money, it can afford favourable policies which England, for no reason, cannot. Another extremely contentious issue with regard to devolution's sustainability is what has been termed the West Lothian Question.
This issue relates to the feature of UK Parliament in which Scottish MPs have the right to vote on issues which concern only England however, on the contrary, English MPs are forbidden from voting on secondary legislation relating to Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales as these are dealt with in the home territories of each of the regions. This is such a large issue as it raises serious doubts as to the legitimacy of several decisions of the UK Parliament.
It is certainly possible, as was seen in the implementation of an Act creating Foundation Hospitals in England, that Acts may succeed solely through strong Scottish support on issues which do not regard their constituency, constituents or even country. Whilst there are several proposed measures to counteract this unfairness such as an English Parliament, 'English Votes on English Laws' and devolution to local regions, there is a consensus that all are ill-advised and would be ineffective.
On the other side of the coin to these finer criticisms, however, it must be remembered that England has always existed in an asymmetrical manner. Bogdanor writes that "there have, after all, always been asymmetrical elements in British government, even before devolution… "10 It seems unreasonable therefore to expect that devolution would present any kind of symmetry. McCrudden's idea of a pragmatic approach to devolution certainly seems to be one which would be largely sustainable.
If a fluid element to devolution could be maintained and so issues could be addressed and dealt with reasonably and without regard for any broader symmetrical pattern, the position of the UK at present could foreseeably continue successfully. There is little point in forcing a harmony without any real reason – to force Wales to conform to the same model as Northern Ireland would be futile; Wales simply is not the same. Individual solutions ought to continue to be found to individual problems and England's traditional lack of symmetry ought to be maintained not out of principle but out of pragmatism.
In determining if the present situation is sustainable it seems reasonable to assess whether it is satisfactory. With regards to Scottish and Welsh devolution 35% of Scots and 18% of Welsh consider their new Assembly to have improved government compared to 10% and 4% respectively who think that it has worsened the situation11. These figures do not overwhelm but they are conclusive; there is certainly a trend in which more people view the current situation of devolution to be an improvement and this satisfaction is a good indicator of sustainability.
"Devolution was the outcome of democratic choice"12 and so there is no call for criticism of its validity of existence. Whilst there are issues which can be highlighted with the implementation of devolution it seems that the improvement and benefits which it creates should overshadow these practical or minor complaints. It is true that improvements can always be made yet that does not reasonably mean that the current position is not satisfactory for the moment, improvements would be preferable but are not, as yet, a necessity.
1 V Bogdanor, The New British Constitution (2009) 2 McCrudden, 'Northern Ireland and the British Constitution since the Belfast agreement' in JL Jowell and D Oliver, The Changing Constitution (6th edn. , OUP, Oxford, 2007) 3 Bradley and Ewing, Constitutional and Administrative Law, (14th edn. , 2008) 4 Scotland Act, 1998 5 BK Winetrobe, 'Scottish Devolution: Developing Practice in Multi-Layer Governance' in JL Jowell and D Oliver, The Changing Constitution (6th ed. , OUP, Oxford, 2007) 6 B Hadfield, 'Devolution and the Changing Constitution: Evolution in Wales and the Unanswered English Question' in JL Jowell and D Oliver, The Changing Constitution (6th ed. , OUP, Oxford, 2007)