By Pamela Nash
Devolution of power from Westminster has proved to be one of the greatest achievements of our Labour Government. Scotland has power to rule over the issues closest to the people, Northern Ireland has peace and Wales…well Wales has free drugs. We have designed a flexible system that allows a comfortable variety of powers to different areas of the United Kingdom to suit the different needs of the nations within our state.
The Good Friday Agreement led to the formation of the Northern Ireland Assembly, which was to be central to the success of the Peace Process; another great achievement of our Labour Government. Despite being fraught with difficulties, in May 2007 it eventually came through the lengthy weapons decommissioning process, and intermittent suspensions, to provide both sides of the divide in Northern Ireland with a power sharing Executive, and a future.
That is not to say that the happy ending is unshakable: violence has slowly been escalating over recent months; the debate over the devolvement of policing powers rumbles on; not to mention the fallout from the tale of Mrs Robinson. However, I think the people of Northern Ireland have reached the stage of “never going back,” and will do everything in their power to keep the Assembly in tact and the Peace Process on track.
The Scottish Parliament has been successful in quenching the thirst of the many patriotic Scots (of which I am one) who wished to have our separate national identity recognised, have control over those policies which most closely affect our day-to-day lives, but maintain our security and global authority through the United Kingdom.
The danger of Scotland sleepwalking into independence became a little more real upon the success of the SNP in the Scottish Parliamentary elections in 2007. This has had the effect of inflicting the image of Alex Salmond’s face daily on to the people of this great nation. Not the prettiest sight over one’s cornflakes. I strongly believe that the majority of Scots who voted SNP did so in support of their policies on scrapping student debt and freezing council tax; this was not a vote for an Independent Scotland. An Ipsos Mori poll taken towards the end of last year would back this up, with only 25% surveyed saying that they would vote for independence in a referendum. In fact, only 49% of SNP supporters would vote for independence. Now, this is one moment when I would have liked to have seen Alex’s face, upon reading this little fact.
The Welsh people voted for its Assembly in droves; with the “yes” vote achieving a massive 6,721 majority. Okay, so not exactly a resounding endorsement, but a positive vote nonetheless. Interestingly, since devolution of power to Wales, public opinion has changed rapidly. A greater national identity has been achieved, resulting in a larger section of the population who would prefer a Scottish-style Parliament to the more limited powers of the Welsh Assembly.
And they have free prescriptions.
Devolution has changed the face of our country in little over a decade. It has had the dual effects of increasing our individual national patriotism, whilst also increasing the stability of the Union. How it continues to develop remains to be seen, but it will remain part of the legacy of this Labour Government, a part that I am proud of.