Shared Rule

Reform Scotland, Scotland’s leading think-tank, have published my latest paper on Scotland, the United Kingdom and our constitutional future. You can read it here.

The paper is called Shared Rule. Federalism, said Daniel Elazar, is “self-rule plus shared rule”. The United Kingdom is not about to become a fully federal state, but there are a lot of things we in Britain need to learn from experience of federalism overseas. For the last 20 years we’ve thought about our territorial constitution only through the prism of self-rule. Devolution has provided a very substantial degree of self-rule for Scotland, and also, to a lesser degree, for Wales and Northern Ireland. But, I argue in the paper, this is only half the story. For if the United Kingdom is to hold together, to thrive and to prosper in the longer term, we need to think about our territorial constitution also in terms of shared rule.

Despite the advance of devolution since 1997 and despite all the other constitutional tinkering we’ve endured in this period, the UK is only at the beginning of its thinking about how–now we’ve got devolution–we hold the country together. This is not an argument for more devolution: on the contrary, it is an argument that much more than mere devolution alone will be required before the constitutional question is finally settled.

Thus, the paper considers the UK’s inter-governmental machinery–the ways in which, for example, the UK Government and Scottish Ministers interact and do business with one another. It discusses inter-parliamentary relations, and calls on Westminster and Holyrood to work more closely together in a number of ways. It argues that the UK centre–specifically, Whitehall–needs to reform in order to catch up with the magnitude of the change heralded by devolution. In particular, the tiny Scotland and Wales Offices are now too small and too weak, and need to be rebooted. I suggest ways in which this should happen–by rolling them up into a single, powerful, department for the constitution sitting at the heart of Government. Much of this needs to be placed on a formal, statutory (that is, legal) footing. The informality of the UK’s inter-governmental relations has been part of the problem in recent years, and needs to change.

Much of the paper analyses comparative constitutional law in federal countries: the USA and Canada especially. The focus is on how governments at different levels work together, and on how law can help to frame–and also to limit–such co-operation, or sharing of power. This is going to become more and more important in Scotland, as core areas of domestic policy are now shared between Westminster and Holyrood. Tax, welfare and work are three areas of governing which, thanks to the Smith Commission Agreement and the Scotland Act 2016, are now the joint responsibility in Scotland of both levels of government. This is shared rule. It’s here. It’s happening. And, the paper argues, we need to understand its implications and consequences.

It’s a real honour for me to be publishing with Reform Scotland. I’ve admired and I have been learning from their work for years. We disagree on some issues, but their contribution to Scotland’s public policy debate has been unrivalled in the last decade. Hopefully my paper with them can add to the ongoing public conversation about Scotland and our place in the United Kingdom. I hope you enjoy reading it.