IFG - ‘Historic day for the UK’s constitution’: what now and what next?

27 Nov 2014 07:42 PM

The Institute for Government welcomes yesterday's announcement on the next phase of devolution to Scotland, reached by cross-party agreement.

Lord Smith and his secretariat are to be congratulated on managing this complex process on such a tight timeline.

We are glad to see the report set out clear principles, including that the new settlement should enhance the financial accountability of the Scottish Parliament, and strengthen cooperation and partnership working between Scotland and the UK.

But the new proposed settlement does more than set out a list of new powers to be devolved. It also contains some very significant constitutional changes, including committing to make the Scottish Parliament and Government permanent institutions, and to put the ‘legislative consent convention’ on a statutory footing.

These changes signal the end of the doctrine of unhindered parliamentary sovereignty and entrench the principle that changes to the devolution arrangements can only be made with the express consent of the Scottish people (via their Parliament). But precisely how this will be made plain in the legislation remains to be seen.

Akash Paun, Fellow of the Institute for Government, said:

“Today is a genuinely historic day for the UK’s constitution. The powers that all parties have now agreed should be devolved will significantly enhance the ability of the Scottish Government to tackle Scotland’s social and economic challenges, also making Scotland more responsible and accountable for its own fiscal decisions.

”While today’s report marks a major milestone, it is far from the end of the journey. There remain significant differences of opinion between and within the parties. The two governments and all the parties must continue to work closely together to ensure that the new settlement is fully thought-through and effectively implemented.”

Challenges ahead

There are four main sets of challenge for the governments to resolve:

It will be particularly incumbent on the UK and Scottish Governments to work closely together to design and implement the new constitutional settlement, and it should be remembered that the new package of powers can only be enacted with the consent of both the Scottish and the UK Parliaments.