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Time-Lapsed Image of the Palace of Westminster from Westminster Bridge

What is Devolution?

This week, we will look at the history of devolution in Scotland and Wales. We will also examine how the electoral system works in each country. However, before we do that, let’s examine briefly what devolution is.

Before 1999, the UK resembled a unitary state. That is to say that power was concentrated in the UK government in London. There were no sub-state governments or legislatures. The Westminster Parliament contained MPs from all parts of the UK and it was responsible for changing the laws that affected Scotland and Wales. The UK government appointed a Secretary of State for Scotland and a Secretary of State for Wales. This cabinet minister was in charge of most domestic public policy in Scotland and Wales.

In 1999, the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament were established. Scotland and Wales continued to send MPs to Westminster. However, most policy areas that were previously the responsibility of the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales now passed to these new institutions. Power was devolved from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.

The models of devolution offered to Scotland and Wales in 1999 were quite different. Both institutions have also evolved significantly since their creation. We will explore these developments in the following sections.

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This article is from the free online course:

Scotland and Wales Vote 2016: Understanding the Devolved Elections

The University of Edinburgh

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