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Scottish Parliament

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The State and the Nation

For Benedict Anderson, Nations are “imagined communities”: it means that there is a will of the people to do things together and this group of people is so large that people cannot know every member: hence, they imagine the other members like them, sharing the same value.

The State is an independent polity, a political unit with a fully independent legislature. Scotland is not a State but she is a Nation. Until 1999, Scotland was described as a “stateless nation”. Now it has a legislature: she is referred to as a “partially-stated nation”.

Home Rule – Devolution

“Home Rule” is a concept developped by the Liberal Party at the end of the 19th century. The whole concept was “Home Rule All Around” (i.e. Home Rule in UK). Then, it meant self-government (independence, autonomy), and later: devolution proposals of the Labour Party.

For Scotland, Home Rule means Scotland governed by Scots in Scotland: it underlines Scotland’s sovereignty. On the other hand, devolution underlines the sovereignty of the British State.

Vernon Bogdanor defines devolution as “the transfer of powers from a superior to an inferior political authority. Devolution may be defined as consisting of three elements:

  • the transfer to a subordinate elected body
  • on a geographical basis
  • of functions at present exercised by ministers and Parliament

The Scotland Act of 1998 set up the Scottish Parliament, its rules etc. Section 28: “this section does not affect the power of the British Parliament to make laws for Scotland”. In theory, the British Parliament can still make laws for Scotland in Education for instance. The Scottish Parliament is subordinated to the British Parliament.

  • Devolved areas: education, health, environment…
  • Reserved areas: defence, foreign affairs, constitution…

Differences between the 2 electoral systems

England uses the single ballot simple majority system, also known as “the first-past-the-post” system: one round is always sufficient since the party which gets the largest number of votes wins. This system was designed for only 2 political parties at the time. If there is more than 2 parties, it is unfair for parties whose electors are not located in the same area.

Example : General Election in Scotland in 1997 for the British Parliament:
Conservatives:    17.5%     0 seats (they never came first)
Liberals:                13%     10 seats (they came first several times)

The British Parliament is bicameral (2 chambers: House of Lords + House of Commons). Scotland uses a completely different system: there are 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament:

  • 73 seats for the 1st vote: first-past-the-post system (vote for a candidature),
  • 56 seats for the 2nd vote: additional member system. It restores some balance between the votes cast and the number of candidates: adds up some proportional representation.

The Scottish Parliament is unicameral: decisions are usually made quicker than in the British Pt since it is more constructive and consensual. Therefore, the Scottish Parliament is more representative of the people of Scotland than the British Parliament is.

Sommaire de la série Scottish Politics: devolution

  1. Definitions : the State, the Nation, Home Rule and Devolution
  2. Scottish Home Rule
  3. The Act of Union of 1707
  4. The rise of the Scottish National Party (SNP)
  5. The Scottish Parliament

Introduction

On May 1st 1997, a general election took place in the UK. It was won by the Labour Party after 18 years of Conservative Government (1979-1997).The political programme of the Labour party included a vast number of constitutional reforms and manifestos:

  • devolution (power to the regions) to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and English regions (wide range).
  • reform of the House of Lords.
  • incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into British law.

The Labour Government was for devolution because there were demands for more autonomy (yet not the same demands):

  • Scotland: Parliament (law making body)
  • Wales: Assembly
  • Northern Ireland: Assembly and power-sharing executive between Catholics and Protestants.

The Scotland Act

September 11th 1997: referendum in Scotland on devolution. Majority of “Yes” votes. The Scottish Bill was introduced and validated. It became the Scotland Act in 1998, which defines the Scottish Parliament, its rules… The next stage was the 1st Scottish General Election. Donald Dewar, who had been Secrtary of State for Scotland in Tony Blair’s Government became the First Minister of Scotland. Labour did not have a majority and made an alliance with the Liberal-Democrats (coalition executive).

Between mid-May and the end of June, the Scottish Parliament met on a regular basis but it was officially opened by the Queen on July 1st 1999.

Opinion polls about the Scottish Parliament

Scottish Parliament has achieved Sept. 2000 Feb. 2001
 
A lot 11% 25%
A little less than 56% 56%
Nothing at all 29% 14%

This study was conducted in Scotland only. The positive views more than doubled. The Scottish Parliament cannot change things overnight, some decisions might take some time.

The Scottish Parliament

Achieved things in certain areas:

  • the abolition of poindings and warrant sales.

This old law obsolete concerned people who had too many debts and could not pay the loans back. The company to whom money was owed could easily seize the property of those people. The British Parliament had to repeal it but had not any time to discuss: the Scottish Parliament repealed it.

  • tuition fees.

Were introduced by Tony Blair. Before, students received grants from the State when the number of students was low. As it increased, it became a problem. Thatcher suppressed grants and adopted loans. Those loans were for 3 years: it meant lots of money to pay back and some students stopped their studies (masters) because they could not afford it.

Tuition fees were £1,000 per student to enter University. It was a very unpopular measure, especially in Scotland. Only the Labour party was defending it. At the election of 1999, the Labour party won but did not get the majority. They formed a coalition with the Lib-Dem and the latter asked for the abolition of tuition fees. That is why tuition fees do not exist in Scotland for Scottish students. They exist in Britain and Wales for everyone. Scottish students do not pay £1000 each year but they have to pay back £2,000 (for the four-year degree course in Scotland) when they start earning £10,000 a year. It is a lump sum and you pay for the next generation (idea of solidarity).

The slippery slope to independence

One possible scenario for the independence of Scotland :

  • the SNP should win a majority of seats in Scottish Parliament,
  • organize a referendum,
  • if there is a majority of “Yes” votes, go to the British Parliament,
  • pass a bill for Scotland’s independence.