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History of the United Kingdom

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An Act of Parliament ratified the conquest of Wales by England. It was unilateral, but

provided for a Welsh representation in Parliament.


Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland. The heir to the throne of England, after the

death of Elizabeth I, was James VI of Scotland, who became James I of England.


Act of Union with Scotland. The English and the Scottish Parliaments agreed to merge.

Scotland kept its official religion, Presbyterianism, its legal system, its educational system.


Act of Union with Ireland. Since the Reformation, English Protestants and Scottish

Presbyterians had settled in Ireland, which, although a theoretically independent country, had

become a semi-colony, with frequent revolts of the Catholic indigenous population. With the

Act of Union, to which the Irish Parliament dominated by Protestants consented, it became

part of the United Kingdom, the Dublin Parliament disappeared, and seats were provided for

Irish MPs in Westminster (i.e. in the British Parliament).


Creation of the Irish free state which had the status of a dominion with an independent

parliament, but the head of state remained the English monarch. However, the six northern

counties of Ulster remained in the United Kingdom, with a regional Parliament, the Stormont,

to which a number of powers were devolved. Ulster was also" represented at the Westminster



The Irish free state rejects the monarchy and becomes a republic.


After the beginning of 'the troubles', the Stormont which was dominated by Protestants and

accused of unfairness by Catholics was suspended by the British government. Direct rule from

London was established. Since then, British troops have been stationed in Ulster, and terrorism

from both sides has claimed many victims.


The British government, alarmed by the electoral success of the nationalist parties in Wales

and Scotland in 1974, proposed a greater amount of devolution (i.e. internal autonomy) to

those two parts of the UK. The proposal included a Welsh and a Scottish Assembly

(Scotland Act and Wales Act, 1978). These proposals were rejected by the Welsh

population and the Scottish population in a referendum held in 1979.


The principle of consultation between the governments of Dublin and London on the

problems of Northern Ireland was established by the Hillsborough agreement. Powersharing was not achieved though.


The regions and more specifically the Union between Scotland Wales and England was one

of the prominent electoral issues at the 1997 general election.

The three main political parties disagreed as to the need of a reform of the Union.

The labour party was committed to devolution, the decentralisation of power to Scotland

and Wales, once established in referendums. The party proposed the creation of a Scottish

parliament with law-making powers, as well as tax-raising powers and a Welsh assembly

with secondary legislative powers but no tax-raising powers.

The Conservatives remained adamant that devolution would pull apart the Union and

would cause conflict and rivalry between these assemblies or Parliaments and

Westminster. Consequently they were opposed to it.

The Liberals pledged to introduce Home Rule for Scotland (self-government) and an elected

Senedd for Wales.

The SNP and the Plaid Cymru wanted nothing less than full independence but backed

devolution plans in the meantime.

Following the victory of New Labour, as promised, referenda were held on September 11,

1997 in Scotland and on September 8 in Wales. A clear majority of Scottish voters came

out in favour of the return of their Parliament to Scotland (74.3% answered yes) and taxraising powers (63.5% in favour of it) and Wales voted yes to devolution by a whisker

(50.3% against 49.7).

In accordance with the White Papers published in the summer, both the Scottish Parliament

(129 members) and the Welsh Assembly (60 members) were to be partly elected by

proportional representation. The system chosen was AMS, which meant that in Scotland for

instance 73 MPs were to be elected at the level of the constituency, the remaining ones in 8

former Euro constituencies. The Scottish Parliament was to have the power to vary the

basic rate of income tax by 3 pence in the pound, to legislate about health, education, local

government, law and order, the distinctive Scottish legal system, transport (but not about

defence, foreign affairs, social security, the economy) and to spend the current Scottish

Office budget of £14 billion on these services; the Welsh Assembly was to have no taxraising powers and no primary legislative powers.


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