Devolution: a squabble for funding


The devolution discussion is currently dominated by party-political chicanery and vested interest. Most of the tinkering proposed by the major parties should be ignored and proper plans put in place for designing new options for governing the UK - or its constituent nations.


Governing a modern, stable polity is largely about collecting and re-distributing tax. In a rational, well-designed devolved regime, everyone can see that there is no magic money-tree and that the funding round is a zero-sum game: winners only win at the expense of losers. In contrast, piecemeal devolution as at present being proposed and (here and there) implemented in the UK has the advantage (for a politician) of not being a zero-sum game. Politicians can appear to promise (and sometimes deliver) real increases in funding for the devolved parts without the impact on the whole really being clearly understood. To the lucky devolved recipients, it is in fact very much like a magic money tree - and the rest don’t seem to notice. What better way could there be of wooing voters or of bribing would-be secessionists to stay within the fold?


Tories promise extra funding for core cities.


Labour talk about cities and regions.


All parties sing the praises of limited, demand-driven devolution rather than an up-front design process. How very British.


No party is presenting a compelling big picture of how the whole UK might operate if and when completely devolved. I suppose they want to keep the magic money tree budding for as long as possible.


England presents the most difficult obstacle. A devolved, federal UK would require England to be divided into regions, otherwise the English vote would dominate all proceedings and England would vote itself the largest share of the tax available for redistribution. The other nations, acting together, would be nowhere near a majority to counter-balance England. But this tactic of dividing England would risk stirring English independence.


We therefore face a situation in which the only workable federal structure would almost certainly lead to a reversion back to a pre-UK picture with separate, sovereign nations of England, Wales and Scotland (and with the shame state of Northern Ireland urgently looking for a home).


Three choices are therefore presented:


  1. Bring about devolution through stealth (and make sure your political friends and sponsors are well rewarded - tories’ friends amongst the developers and entrepreneurs in a handful of successful cities; labour’s amongst favoured sections of local government).

  2. Go for a full, federal solution with an English Parliament - and watch a dominant, unleashed England lead the way to independence for the 4 nations.

  3. Recognise that the game is up for the UK, and initiate a series of multi-lateral discussions aimed at smoothing the path to mutual independence.


Option 1 is the weakest but is almost certainly what our timid politicians will go for.


Option 3 is the strongest for the long-term but none of our politicians has the stature to sell the case for it.


Another British missed opportunity in the making.


John Robertson Apr 8, 2015

Option 4: a duty to fund according to need, not bargaining power, imposed on each part of government.


Added 11.5.15
I think that an end unfair Barnett Formulas - the ones not based on need - is one thing and devolution slightly separate. Does anyone have any ideas which threads to discuss which issue in?

Edward Jones Apr 11, 2015

Now we've entered the refining phase, how do you think this idea could be refined to a more concise proposition?

  Please continue to vote for/against ideas and feel free to change you original vote.

Titus Alexander Apr 17, 2015

I agree with the issues raised, but we need a clear proposition for the consitution

Tom Austin Apr 17, 2015

Efforts have been made elsewhere [By me, admittedly] to sway all matters of non-central (non-Westminster) government around to the idea of public-preference. i.e. not laid down from above.

Perhaps the thrust of this 'proposal' should be subsumed under associated proposals?

John Robertson Apr 17, 2015

I like Option 4 [by me, admittedly].
As for devolved spending, I worry about welfare state or insurance-like budgets being devolved; I see them as a commitment between a group of people over a generation, more like private insurance, more than a commitment between people who live near each other so I urge people to vote for