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devolution

devolution. Though the usage of the term in this sense dates from the late 19th cent., the concept is much older. It represents an attempt to defuse discontent by bringing decision-making closer to the governed. Even in a highly centralized state some powers will be delegated to towns and provinces. Many countries—e.g. the USA and Germany—have federal constitutions with considerable powers exercised by states or Länder. But in a devolved system, the central government retains ultimate authority. The Westminster Parliament, which devolved powers to Northern Ireland at Stormont in 1921, took them back in 1972, and restored them in 1998. The federal government in the USA could not suspend or abolish a state like New York or Florida, and state rights are jealously guarded.

In Britain, devolution was first raised in relation to Irish Home Rule, which led, as some had predicted, to the total independence of Eire. Devolutionary policies were adopted in the 1990s, towards Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, which, after referenda, were granted an Assembly, a National Assembly, and in Scotland a Parliament.

The exact degree of delegation is, of course, likely to prove a bone of contention, especially the fund-raising powers, particularly if the devolved area, for political or national reasons, is at odds with the central government. Scottish devolution was complicated by the ‘West Lothian’ question (named after its MP Tam Dalyell), who pointed out that while Scottish MPs at Westminster could still debate and vote on English issues, English MPs were debarred from debating certain Scottish issues. Devolution also means accepting that different regions may well adopt different policies and have different benefits, and is less likely to appeal to deprived areas which look for support from their wealthier neighbours and complain that they are left to their own resources. Some of the English regions, particularly in the north-west and north-east, objected that, more remote from Westminster, they were at a disadvantage in lobbying for help, and there was some support for the creation of English regional assemblies. It remains to be seen whether devolution will promote or retard the breakup of the United Kingdom.

J. A. Cannon

Bibliography

Bogdanor, V. , Devolution in the United Kingdom (1999).

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devolution

dev·o·lu·tion / ˌdevəˈloōshən/ • n. the transfer or delegation of power to a lower level, esp. by central government to local or regional administration. ∎ formal descent or degeneration to a lower or worse state: the devolution of the gentlemanly ideal into a glorification of drunkenness. ∎  Law the legal transfer of property from one owner to another. ∎  Biol. evolutionary degeneration. DERIVATIVES: dev·o·lu·tion·ar·y / -ˌnerē/ adj. dev·o·lu·tion·ist / -ist/ n.

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devolution

devolution Delegation of authority and political power from a central legislature to a regional government. Central government retains overall constitutional control. In the UK, central government has devolved power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with the establishment of separate Parliaments. The Scottish Parliament has tax-varying powers.

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