Government and Politics Unit 3: The Changing UK System

Edexcel AS Level Government and Politics

Unit 3 The Changing UK System

  • Devolution
  • The EU
  • Electoral Reform
  • Created by: Anne
  • Created on: 21-05-09 13:53

Devolution Introduction

"The transfer of power from a central body to a local/regional body whilst maintaining sovereignty..."

3 Types of Devolution

  • Administrative- enforce and run policies/services
  • Financial- power to vary taxes
  • Legislative- power to make, repeal or ammend laws
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UK and Devolution


  • Power is centralised at Westminster

4 Countries: England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland

Since 1997 (New Labour Govt.) powers devolved to:

  • The Scottish Parliament
  • The Welsh Assembly
  • The Greater London Assembly
  • The Northern Ireland Assembly

In 1997 Labour Govt. gained Electoral Mandate to carry out major constitutional reform.

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Powers Given to Devolved Powers

Scotland - The Scottish Parliament

  • Legislative
    • Transport, Education, Agriculture
  • Financial
    • can vary the rate of tax +/- 3%
  • Administrative
    • responsible for implementing policy

HOWEVER, many powers are still retained by westminster (keeps the idea of nation state)

  • eg. Constitution, Defence, Foreign Policy

Welsh Assembly - The Welsh Assembly (restricted powers)

  • Administrative Powers
  • Oversees Quangos
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Devolution & Federalism


  • In a unitary state (eg. UK) sovereignty is retained with central body (Westminster)
  • Westminster can close devolved powers down at any time
    • N.Ireland was suspended in 2002
  • Westminster retains the right to decide on Policy issues affecting UK on the whole
    • Eg. Foreign Policy, Defence
  • UK has never had a federal structure


  • In a federal state (eg. USA) sovereignty is divided between central authority and the regional local level
  • Power cannot be transferred back to centre
    • Washington D.C. cannot close NY Legislature
  • Federal States are common in Europe
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The West Lothian Question & Barnett Formula

The West Lothian Question

  • Raised by Labour MP T. Dalyell (1970's)
  • Argued: Dev. would raise constitutional anomaly
    • allows Scottish MPs to vote on matter affecting England
    • BUT: English MPs cannot vote on matters affecting Scotland
      • Eg. 2004- Top-Up fees for Uni was passed due to Scottish MP votes; unfair as Scots were unaffecte
  • Solutions
    • Opposition suggests:
      • Tories: Limit votes to English MPs were matters only affect English territories
      • Lib Dems: In favor of a separate English Parliament

The Barnett Formula

  • Debate on funding for the devolved assemblies
    • arguments that Scotland is being funded too generously
    • £1000 per scottish head in Scotland
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Arguments for Devolution

  • Labour and Lib Dems believe that it will satisfy local demand for self govt. without breaking up the UK
  • Respects local traditions
    • Eg. Scotland's separate legal and education system
  • Relieves the legislative Burden on Westmister
    • Able to concentrate on England
  • Creates more checks and balances: makes "elective dictatorship" less likely
  • Brings govt. closer to the people thus making it relevant to the local area
  • Gives extra opportunities for political participation
  • Cements national identity in Scotland and Wales
  • Shows advantages of devolution to the English Regions
  • Allowed Scotland to decide its own policies
    • tuition fees, free elderly care, hunting
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Arguments against Devolution

  • Breaking up the UK
  • Nationalists are not satisfied with devolution
    • PC: Welsh Assembly had less power than Scottish Parliament
    • SNP: Want full independence- control of Foreign Policy and full tax power
  • The West Lothian Question
  • "Powers devolved is power retained"
    • Dev. is legally reversable unlike Federalism- UK is still unitary
  • Creates extra level politicians who can't acheive much due to limited powers
  • Public are still unsure about devolution
    • 25% of the Welsh population actually turned up to vote for Welsh Assembly
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Pros & Cons: Impact of Devolution


  • Enabled greater reflection of the cultural & regional diversity of UK
  • Decision-makers can reflect local needs more
  • Facilitated a greater use of policy ideas
  • Helped established a fragile peace in N.Ireland
  • Representation of Women has strengthened - 40% SP, 50% WA
  • Increased representation of smaller and independent parties


  • Failed to resolve prob. voter apathy- barely 1/4 voted yes for Welsh Assembly
  • PR system in dev. bodies have weakened link between elected reps & constituents
  • "Undermined unity of the UK" - Tories
  • Barnett Formula is too generous to Scots
  • Cost of SP is over budget
  • The West Lothian Question
  • Westminster's grip on Scotland and Wales has been loosened
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Has Devolution disunited the UK?


  • Asymetrical nature of devolution
    • different assemblies have different powers
  • Intra UK differences
  • Finance: Barnett Formula Debate
  • Part of Devolution project not carried out- Joint com. does not meet to co-oridnate assemblies


  • Sovereignty is still at Westminster
  • Voter turnout has decreased
    • Wales 28%, Scotland 49%
  • No support for devolution in England
    • Turnout was Low and Vote=No
  • Same parties are in power in Westminster and Scotland
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Public Support for Devolution?


  • Referenda in Scotland, Wales, N.Ireland & London = majorities for devolution
  • Scotland voted 3:1 in favor for devolution
  • N.Ireland estimated that a majority both Unionists and Nationalists voted YES


  • 50% Turnout in Wales, 33% Turnout in London
    • Only minority of electorate voted
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Nationalism & Regionalism

"Nationalists advocate using nations as the basis for the state to create nation states"

  • nations are groups of people who have common racial, bilingual, cultural and historical ties together
  • Territory is seen as the homeland


After dev. to Scotland and Wales demands for dev. from regions w/in England grew

  • NE & SW England

However opposed due to cost and disagreements of location

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Scottish Nationalism

  • Scotland joined UK voluntarily
    • Economical Gains- British Empire
  • Scotland has become more independent (devolution powers)
  • Maintained its autonomy
  • Scottish National Party (SNP)
    • Nationalist Party
    • 2nd Largest Party in Scotland
    • In favor of independence for Scotland
  • Independent Scotland is more economically viable prospect than Wales
  • Scotland has had a long tradition of having separate legal and educational system
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Welsh Nationalism

  • Relatively weak due to language divide
    • Welsh vs. English
  • Wales involuntarily absorbed into UK
  • No autonomy
  • Plaid Cymru (PC)
    • Nationalist Party
    • Wants to break away from the rest of UK
    • Electoral support is less than that gained by SNP in SP.
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Significance of SNP and PC

  • Marginal parties in the UK
    • Parities' candidates do not field in England (majority of UK population)
  • Only won a handful of seats
  • 2003: votes declined for the SP and WA elections
  • 2nd biggest parties in Scotland & Wales, local/devolved and Westminster elections
  • Form main opposition to Labour in WA and SP
  • Significance has increased with the introduction of devolution
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European Union Introduction (1)

"Intergovernmental organisation: a collection of states that have agreed to work together to acheive mutual benefits"

  • Create a common market & customes union
  • Security
  • Promote welfare and prosperity
    • Trade=Prosperity=Peace
  • Maintain healthy democracy & human rights of member states
  • Help support economically disadvantaged member states
  • Social Chapter
  • Impose sanctions
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European Union Introduction (2)

EU Institutions

  • European Council - Main decision making body. Heads of States from member states
  • Council of Ministers - 7 bodies. Ministers from 25 member states. Pass EU Law. Unanimity votes
  • Commission - 25 unelected bureaucrats. Initiates legislation. Enforces EU Law. Represents EU in meetings
  • European Court of Justice (ECJ) - 25 appointed judges by member states. Enforces EU Law.

European Parliament

  • 78 Elected Members (MEPs)
  • Ammend EU Laws
  • Scurtinise the Commission & Council of Ministers
  • Reject draft budget
  • Debate EU Policy areas
  • Block membership of applicant states
  • Refer proposal back to the commission
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EU Constitution & Issue of Europe

EU Constitution (still being discussed)

  • Designed to bring EU closer to its citizens
  • Make EU Ins. more accountable and more efficient
    • Majority of countries have ratified Cons.
    • 2 Countries rejected - France & Holland 2005

Issue of Europe

  • Issue of Eu. Integration split:
    • Labour Party in 60's & 70's
    • Conservative Party in late 80's & 90's
  • No obvious "left-right" position on Europe
    • Centre: Pro-European
    • Left: Critical of EU's bias politics
    • Right: Oppose EU integration (threat to national sov.)
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Labour and Europe

  • 1960's: Against EEC
    • Late 60's: PM Harold Wilson applies for EEC Membership
  • 1970's: Referenda re: continued membership on EEC
  • 1980's: Approves motion to leave EEC
    • Late 80's: Social Europe plans persuade party to stay
  • 1997: New Labour wins on a "Pro-EU Platform"

1997-2005: Tony Blair's govt. pro EU

Current Views

  • Mixture of Pro-Europeans & Euro-Sceptics
    • Generally supportive of European Integration
  • Joining Euro not on govts. agenda at present
    • HOWEVER: could change due to current economic climate
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Conservative, Minor Parties & Europe

Conservative Party

  • Maggie's govt opposed to European Integration
  • Generally Euro-sceptic
  • Against single currency (Euro)
  • Wants re-negotiating of existing treaties
  • Stay in EU but opposed to loss any further sovereignty and national identity

Minor Parties

  • Lib Dems: Pro Europe, Pro Euro and sympathetic towards Federal State
  • SNP & PC: Pro EU due to generous regional funds & idea of "Eu. of Regions"
  • N.Ireland Parties: In favor of EU Integration
  • Green Party: Against EU Integration
  • UKIP: Withdraw GB from EU
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Arguments For & Against Federal Europe


  • Europe can act effectively as a whole on the world stage
  • European Unity will help combat nationalism
  • Considerable economic & political benefits to be gained
    • Pooling Resources- EU becomes single biggest market in the world


  • Loss of national sovereignty
  • Fed. EU is likely unworkable due to diverse national interests
  • USofEu. would be bureaucratic superstate
  • EU Ins are unelected therefore unaccountable
    • EU suffers from a "Democratic Deficit"
  • Weakens national identity
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Parliamentary Sovereignty & The EU

Parliamentary Sovereignty is one of the most important concepts of the UK Cons.

  • Parliament can make/repeal any law it wishes
  • Central Power and authority in UK

Argued that: Since joing EU in 1973 Westmister has lost sov. to Supranational Institutions of the EU

  • EU Law take precedence over UK Law
    • Factortame Case (1991)- Merchant Shipping Act unlawful under EU

HOWEVER: Parliament remains sovereign in the sense that it can leave EU anytime it wishes

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Has UK Sovereignty been maintained despite EU Memb


  • EU Law is limited to certain fields
    • UK has sov over issues such as Defence, Foreign Pol., Tax
  • UK has the right to veto decisions (unanimity)
  • Joined EU out of its own will and can leave when it pleases
  • Even in areas where there is EU influence its concern is limited


  • EU has power over significan issues
  • Qualified Majority Voting (QMV)- views of UK govt. are ignored
  • UK Citizens can appeal to ECJ if unhappy with court ruling
  • EU Law takes precedence over UK Law
  • Democratic Deficit
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Benefits of EU Membership (for)

  • EU has helped ensure peace through our Europe
    • Common markets=co-operation & lack of tariffs
  • Promotes Liberal Democratioc views to S & E Europe
  • GB is part of worlds biggest single market
    • offers EU Business' a larger pool of consumers
    • Rivals USA on the world stage
  • Mergers & Take-overs amongst EU Bus. create world leading organisations
  • Freedom to move across EU borders
  • Pooling of Economic and Social Resources
    • EU has more influence than a single state
    • USA increase tariffs -> EU went to WTO -> Issue resolved in favor of EU
  • Regional Aid to poorer regions
    • SW Wales, Scotland
  • Increase of employment opportunities
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Costs of EU Membership (against)

  • Loss of Parliamentary Sovereignty
    • cannot act in the interests of UK
  • Weakened sense of national identity
  • EU Policies & Law have worked against GB Interests
    • Factortame Case
  • Increased competition of jobs due to freedom of movement
  • Difficult to resolve issues of immigration and drug trafficking due to Freedom of Movement
  • GB has become a net contributor to the EU Budget
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Is the UK European in a Political Sense


  • PR is used in elections to the EP and devolved assemblies
  • Devolution reflects EU's aims to create "EU of the Regions"
  • Coalitions have become more common in devolved assemblies
  • European Convention of Human Rights is now part of UK Law
  • Member of EU since 1973

No-"We are with, but not of Europe"- Churchill

  • FPTP is still used for Wesrminster Elections and Still adversarial politics used
  • UK is still a unitary state
  • UK has opposed attempts to create a Federal Eu.
  • UK has uncodified constitution
  • Separated geographically from Eu.
  • Links to Commonwealth & "special relationship" with USA
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Electoral Reform Introduction

Electoral Systems

  • First Past the Post (FPTP)
  • Supplementary Vote (SV)
  • Alternative Vote (AV)
  • Party List (Open and Closed)
  • Single Transferable Vote (STV)
  • Additional Member System (AMS
  • Qualified Majority Vote (QMV)

Labour wanted electoral reform, part of their plan in 1997 but they did well out of elections in FPTP nad have therefore halted these plans.

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2005 General Election Results

LABOUR: 35.2% VOTE ---------------- 55.2% SEATS (356)

TORIES: 32.3% VOTE ----------------- 30.7% SEATS (198)

LIBDEM: 22.1% VOTE ----------------- 9.6% SEATS (62)

  • Votes received are not proportional to seat
    • Must have most seats to win not most vote
    • High votes may be due to higher concentration in one constituency not around UK
  • Labour Landslide Victory
    • Mosts Vote and Most Seats
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Advantages & Disadvantages of FPTP


  • Simple, Quick, Clear Results
  • Single Party Governments
    • Less likely for coalitions - easier and quiker to make decisions on policy
  • Allows for majority opposition party
  • Excludes extremist parties from legislature and representatioN
  • Provides a link betwwen MP and constituent
  • Allows electorate to choose between people rather than party


  • Excludes smaller partied from fair representation
  • Votes are wasted
    • people who dont vote for majority party have votes wasted
  • A party may get lots of votes but may not win because its not enough to get a seat
    • only need one more vote in a constituency to win seat
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Impact of Electoral Reform upon UK

  • Increased Representation for smaller parties
    • Tories have benefitedfrom PR in SP
  • Coalitions in devolved assemblies
  • "Two-Tier System" of representatives in Scot and Wales
  • Devolution has imposed financial bruden on the English
  • Led to Policy divergence over a number of issues
    • Higher education, free elderly care
  • Unresolved voter apathy
  • SP cost is over budget
  • Representation of women improved
  • West Lothian Question
  • Possibility of Electoral reform in Westminster
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Should PR Be used for Westminster Elections? Yes

  • PR is fairer than FPTP
  • More consensu politics as opposed to adversal
  • Coalition Govt.- more than one view is represented
  • No wasted votes
  • May encourage higher voter turnout
  • PR & coalitions work well
    • Scottish Parliament
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Should PR be used for Westminster Elections? No

  • Results in weaker government
    • difficult to gain consensus in coalition government
  • May create unstable coalition government - Italy
  • Loss of link between MP and Constituency
  • May result in cross party consensu that restricts voter choice
  • Give too much power to third parties
  • Some PR systems are too complex - STV
  • No cross party consensus on which system to use
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Reasons for Low Voter Turnout in 2005 General Elec

  • Public disenchantment w/ politics
    • currupt self-serving politicians- especially now with Expenses Scandal 09
  • Most people thought Labour victory was inevitable so no point in voting
  • Little difference between party's as Labour has shifted to right
  • Labour voters disillutionment with Blair
    • Iraqi War
  • Fall in party membership
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Old Sir


A thorough and useful presentation which will serve well as an introduction or reminder of the main issues surrounding UK devolution. In order to address assessment objective 2, (evaluation and analysis), students might wish to use evidence about degrees of participation, such as voter turn-out and impact such as the independence movement in Scotland.

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