The United Kingdom is not as united as it once was. In 1999, Scotland and Wales were granted “responsible government” in the form of their own legislatures, and Northern Ireland has its own Assembly.
This “Devolution” has so far had little effect on business, either in the countries in question or in the UK as a whole. The new legislatures are dominated by local party hacks with little interest in, experience of, or sympathy for private enterprise.
Yet if they have done nothing good for business, at least they have done little harm ... aside from neglect. They have been content to set their local economies to cruise control, relying on subsidies from the UK taxpayer. As a result, the public sector represents a much larger percentage of the economies of the three “Celtic fringes” than it does in England, the fourth, largest, and most prosperous of the nations that make up the UK.
They may soon be forced to change. With the UK as a whole facing public spending cuts, it will not be long before the more enterprising English start complaining about subsidising dependant Scots, Welsh, and Northern Irish.
That consideration may have prompted the Scottish National Party, who are currently in power in Edinburgh, to come up with a package of proposals that would have a profound impact on business. The proposals themselves are a mixed bag – some good, some bad – but the fact that they are being discussed points the way to the future: for good or ill, private enterprise is now on the agenda of the devolved legislatures.
In theory, it could be very good for all concerned. The new legislatures have some excellent role models very close to home. Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man are “Crown Dependencies”, nominally independent states subject to the Queen as Queen but not part of the United Kingdom. In practice, this gives them considerable autonomy, which they have used wisely. Cutting tax rates and deregulating, they have attracted capital from the rest of Britain and abroad, and have prospered as a result.
Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland could prosper in the same way – if they were prepared to take the risk.