“A ghost town”: Inside the Royal Commission for Devolution

It was to “settle the issue”, in the words of a Prime Minister. A cross-party, independent commission to navigate the murky waters of devolution. It was to answer two thrusting questions. Firstly, the “correct arrangement” for calling a referendum on a reserved matter. And perhaps most significantly; which powers are best administered by devolved government in the place of Westminster, and which are not.

Scotland voted strongly in favour of devolving responsibility for “welfare” to the Scottish Parliament in 2018.

The Royal Commission for Devolution was announced on the 28th April, seen largely as a response to politicians in Scotland demanding new powers and a larger role in Scottish decision-making. Attributing to a feeling of being ignored, leading to the controversial Referendum on Scottish Welfare Devolution, the commission was well received.

The leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, also a member of the commission, promised “a solution to the devolution question, once and for all”. The leader of the Social Democratic Party spoke of the commission as “only a positive thing for our country”.

[The Royal Commission] aims to put to bed the issue of devolution long-term: not just to Scotland but to all areas of Britain.

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With a membership of ten, the commission was to draw on a broad range of expertise and political opinion; representing no less than seven political parties and groupings.

Yet the warrant issued by the sovereign, on the advice of the government of the day, made clear the expectation of the commission to publish its findings “by the end of July”. At the time of publishing this article, the 17th August, no such report has been published.

Speaking anonymously to The Model Telegraph, a source close to the work of the commission described it as a “ghost town”. Another, who shall also remain anonymous, spoke of “[twenty] pages of comments and findings” that “have not been formally compiled into one document”; also warning not to expect a report “anytime soon”.

Explaining the delay as the fault of “people who were meant to provide expertise ended up not doing their part, in particular those who now are set to occupy the highest offices of Sunrise”. Despite this, they were “confident a report will be produced”.

…people who were meant to provide expertise ended up not doing their part, in particular those who now are set to occupy the highest offices of Sunrise.

The expected contents of this report remain unclear, with such a broad range of views held by members of the commission, a compromise appeared to be inevitable. Yet the Model Telegraph was told “welfare [devolution] does not have a mandate”, with “many” members of the commission viewing “the matter of changing the constitutional settlement as not being worth it”. Going further, the source argued the “issue has been settled in favour of the status quo” with “those who are meant to support… change have decided to no longer fight for it”.

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