Devolved Governments

The UK works on the global scale with the centralised government in London, which represents the entire United Kingdom. However, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each have their own devolved governments, which make decisions on a local basis.  

In Scotland, you have the Scottish Government, which is elected by the Scottish people every five years. They use the Additional Member System (AMS) which elects Scottish MPs through proportional representation. The party with the largest number of MPs leads the Government and the leader of that political party is called the First Minister. The current FM is Nicola Sturgeon. The Scottish Parliament is a very strong devolved government and they make decisions about Scottish education, transport and health, although funding for this tends to come from the UK Government. They sit in the capital city of Scotland, Edinburgh.

In Wales, you have the Welsh Government, which is very similar to Scotland. It’s voted for every five years by the Welsh people using the AMS and the largest party leads the Welsh Government, which sits in Parliament, the Senedd, in Wales’ capital city of Cardiff. They also make local decisions, including tax rates. The current FM of Wales is Mark Drakeford. 

Northern Ireland is slightly different to Wales and Scotland. Under the Good Friday Agreement, the executive power in Northern Ireland is the Northern Ireland Executive. Elections also take place every five years using a Single Transferable Vote (STV), also a proportional representation. It is chaired jointly by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. The First Minister represents the largest political party by representation in Northern Ireland, whilst the Deputy First Minister represents the second-largest political party. Each party nominates their leader to take up these roles. This means the Cabinet and the Government is always run by a mixture of people representing different political parties. 

Up until May 2022, the Northern Ireland Executive was led by First Minister Paul Givan of the Democratic Unionist Party and the Deputy First Minister was Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Fein. However, in the May 2022 elections, Sinn Fein became the largest party and the roles reversed. 

As a result of Brexit in 2016, new legislation was introduced, called the Northern Ireland Protocol. Unfortunately, as Northern Ireland is geographically detached from the rest of the UK but attached to Ireland, this created the need for additional checks and administration for trade from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK, which the DUP, as unionists, are not happy about. Until this is changed and Northern Ireland is treated as equally as Scotland, Wales and England as a result of Brexit, the DUP have decided not to nominate a candidate for the Deputy First Minister position in protest. This means that, since May 2022, Northern Ireland has not had a functioning government and it may result in a further general election. 

The devolved countries each have a Secretary of State and representative that sits on the Cabinet of the UK Government. These representatives often visit the devolved countries and meet their counterparts but are ultimately selected by the UK Prime Minister, not the First Ministers of each country. 

It’s also important to note that the elections every five years in the devolved countries may bring forward different members of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments, to the UK government. I.e. A Scottish representative may be elected by their constituents to represent the Scottish Parliament but a few years later may not be elected as an MP for the UK Parliament.

It’s a complicated system that requires power-sharing around the country but enables each devolved country to be in charge of local issues and policy making.


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