A Comparative Analysis of Regionalist Negotiations
Chapter 2: The UK: identity-based constitutional claims in a parliamentarian system
In this chapter, I will discuss the process of the negotiation and accommodation of identity-based constitutional claims in the UK. Britain is a political union of four ethnic communities. These communities are the English, the Northern Irish (who are divided along sectarian lines), the Scottish and the Welsh. However, and until relatively recently, the ethnic claims of these communities had little constitutional relevance. Before 1998, the UK was constitutionally a unitary state like other regional systems such as that of neighbouring France. In less than two decades, however, the system of governance moved from the unitary model to a highly decentralized asymmetrical system of territorial governance. There are multiple factors that have driven and drive this transformative process; however, in this chapter, I will focus on those elements that influenced the negotiation between central and regional institutions and that have a general comparative interest. The first aspect, from a comparative perspective, is the flexibility of the Westminster Model that allowed for the development of a multitrack decentralization system. The UK adopts a bespoke version of the Westminster Model in which the UK parliament has absolute legislative supremacy. One of the effects of this legislative sovereignty is that parliament and regional parliament acting intra vires have a large margin of discretion in allocating rights and policy aims. This level of flexibility at central and regional level has been the proxy for an asymmetric institutional and administrative diversity that mirrors, at least in part, the British multinational social structure. The second distinctive aspect of UK devolution is the existence of several communication channels between regional and central institutions. Institutions such as the Sewel Convention have the role of coordinating day-to-day policies and also ensuring smooth operations between central and regional political institutions.
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