The Evolution of Devolution

Devolution is coming to the United Kingdom and other countries, and its appeal is undeniable. But it is important to know where devolution ends and dysfunction begins.

CAMBRIDGE – The Scots have spoken. A solid majority voted against independence in their historic referendum last month. But the debate left no question that an even larger majority favors the further devolution of economic, social, and political power in Britain. And regional movements elsewhere in Europe – and around the world – are making similar demands.

The logic of devolution is clear. Scotland, for example, may not want a bigger or smaller government than it has now, but it wants a different mix of taxes and spending. It wants more local control. The Scotland Act of 2012, scheduled to come into effect in 2016, provides a down payment on this desired autonomy. Prime Minister David Cameron, knowing which way the wind is blowing, has promised more.

But if devolution is good for Scotland, then why not for Wales and Northern Ireland? Why not also for England, for that matter? An equilibrium in which Scots vote on English laws but the English have no vote on Scottish laws will not remain an equilibrium for long.

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