The Challenge to Westminster: Sovereignty, Devolution and Independence

The Challenge to Westminster: Sovereignty, Devolution and Independence

The Challenge to Westminster: Sovereignty, Devolution and Independence

The Challenge to Westminster: Sovereignty, Devolution and Independence

Synopsis

A stimulating collection of essays that provides the historical context for the constitutional challenges now facing the United Kingdom and examines the question: can the United Kingdom Survive? In addition to detailing Scotland's relations with the Westminster Parliament through the ages, it also discusses how Wales and the American colonies accepted or rejected the authority of Parliament, and considers why Ireland has for so long remained the most difficult political and constitutional change facing Westminster.

Excerpt

The restoration of a Scottish parliament in Edinburgh is a major political and constitutional development in the life of the nation. Its opening in 1999 caused great excitement in Scotland and very considerable interest across the world. It also inspired the historians in the various departments of history at the University of Edinburgh to come together to mark this auspicious occasion by hosting an international conference at the university in March 2000. While undoubtedly wishing well to this important experiment in devolution, these historians not unnaturally recognised that the new Scottish parliament was bound to face difficulties in establishing effective working relations with the Westminster parliament. The doctrine and practice of parliamentary sovereignty is so powerful and so entrenched that historians recognise that it will be difficult for the Westminster parliament to sacrifice some of its powers and to concede real influence to the legislative bodies it has established in Edinburgh, and also in Cardiff and Belfast. It was therefore decided that the focus of the conference in Edinburgh should be on the historical evidence that indicates the likely challenge that Westminster will face from these rival legislative bodies. One theme of the conference therefore focused on the earlier challenges posed by the desire for legislative devolution or even independence in Wales, Ireland, the American colonies and the white-settled Dominions of the empire. The other theme focused in more detail on the Scottish context. It concentrated on relations between the Edinburgh and Westminster parliaments before the Act of Union, on the discussions about sovereignty during the Union debates, on the extent to which Scotland did retain a measure of self-government after the Union, and on the long and tortuous campaigns for devolution or independence since the later nineteenth century.

A number of historians at the University of Edinburgh contributed papers to this conference (and essays to this book) and the various departments of history combined to plan and organise the conference. Katie Stevenson and other postgraduates in the Scottish History department played a major role in promoting and organising the conference. The conference and this book would not have been possible without generous financial support from the Scottish History Society, the departments of History and Scottish History at Edinburgh, and the Faculty Group of Arts, Divinity and Music at the university. The staunch backing of the Provost, Dr Frances Dow, and the Head of the History Department, Professor Robert Anderson, is particularly appreciated. We are also grateful to John Tuckwell for producing this volume so speedily and we are very appreciative of the efforts of Sir David Steel, the Presiding Officer of the new Scottish parliament, who opened the conference with a most appropriate introductory talk.

Harry Dickinson Michael Lynch . . .

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