Subject Material

Devolution – How United Is the Kingdom?

Published: 10.01.2012, Updated: 04.03.2017
Houses of Parliament

What is a devolved parliament? Look up devolve in the dictionary and find out what this means with respect to the government of a country.

Devolving the powers of the central government is what the UK Parliament did in 1999; they transferred more legislative powers from London to the Welsh Assembly and even more to Scotland’s Parliament. England has no devolved parliament.


sovereign, incorporated, set forth, inherited, abolish, legislative, agitate, referendum



The Union Jack flag flies near Big Ben, the Houses of ParliamentThe Union Jack flag flies near Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament
Fotograf: Toby Melville
The UK or, in full, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, consists of the four countries, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with the centre of government in London. The UK became a unified sovereign state in 1707 as set forth in the Acts of Union. This Union was between the countries of England (including Wales) and Scotland and would now be administered from the Parliament of Great Britain based in London. In 1800, the Kingdom of Ireland was added and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland formed. After the establishment of the Irish Free State, the UK officially became the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 1927.


Wales was conquered by Edward I of England in 1282 though there were several uprisings against the English after this. Wales was fully incorporated into England in the reign of Henry VIII with the Laws in Wales Acts, 1535 and 1542. Wales now had representation in the English Parliament and English law was extended into Wales. There were, however, some areas of the law which were peculiar to Wales. Still the Welsh language now became secondary to English which was to be the official language; everyone in public office had to use it.


Scotland and England had been united under the same king from 1603, when King James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne on the death of Queen Elizabeth I and became James I. The two countries maintained their own political, administrative and cultural institutions. After the Act of Union in 1707, which united the parliaments of the two countries, Scotland retained separate systems of law, church and education.


Ireland was under English domination for centuries, but had its own parliament and legislative independence until 1800. This parliament was exclusively Protestant; Catholics were widely discriminated against. After campaigns and rebellions by the Irish to end British domination, the British acted to end Irish independence. With the support of the Protestant Irish Parliament, this was agreed in 1800, and the Irish Parliament abolished. Part of the agreement was Catholic Emancipation which was later blocked by the English king and only became law in 1829. Ireland continued to agitate for independence until the Irish Free State, later the Republic of Ireland, was eventually created in 1921, first as a British Dominion within the Commonwealth and since 1949 politically independent. The 6 northern counties remained within the United Kingdom. The Parliament of N. Ireland, which was created in 1921, was abolished after the start of the Troubles in the 1960s and a Northern Ireland Assembly formed in 1973. This has been suspended in periods throughout the latter part of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century due to unrest. Today a devolved government is in power in N. Ireland. It cooperates both with the central UK government in London and with the Government of Ireland. Policing and justice powers are transferred to the Assembly.


On 11 September 1997, the anniversary of the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297, where the Scots, led by William Wallace, won a victory over the English, a referendum was held in Scotland which resulted in an overwhelming majority vote to establish a devolved Scottish Parliament. Wales voted for a Welsh Assembly two weeks later. These changes came into effect in 1999.

After Devolution

Devolution has created a situation where MPs in the UK parliament, including the MPs who  represent Scotland and Wales, can vote on matters which only affect England, while on similar matters in Scotland and Wales, England has no say. "Is this fair?" is the question asked by many Englishmen and Scots. A commission has been set up to look into this problem. What the result will be no one knows. Will England also get a devolved parliament and the UK parliament only deal with issues which affect the whole of the UK or will independence be the next step, signalling the end of the United Kingdom?

Tasks and Activities


  1. This node does not support insertion type thumbnail 
  2. According to the text, why did these countries become part of the United Kingdom?
  • Scotland
  • Wales
  • Ireland
  • N. Ireland


  1. Can you think of any other reasons apart from those mentioned here, that may have influenced the countries in their decision to become part of the Union? British History Timeline
  2. What may have influenced the increased demand for devolution of the UK government’s powers in the 1980s and 1990s? What was the situation in Britain at this time? British History Timeline
  3. What are the pros and cons of devolution? Do you think devolution will be beneficial for the UK?
  4. How do you see the United Kingdom by the middle of the 21st century?


The Devolved Parliaments - Tasks