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The Devolution''s Straightjacket: Negative path-dependency in Wales''s constitutional development

Diana Stirbu
London Metropolitan University
Diana Stirbu
London Metropolitan University
Open Panel

Abstract

The 1997 UK Labour''s grand plan of constitutional reforms included devolution of power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Infused with a rhetoric of ''new'' politics, inclusiveness and transparency devolution triggered a series of territorial constitutional dynamics as the newly democratically elected institutions settled in. Wales''s democratic institution (the National Assembly for Wales), oddly set-up as a body corporate, with no legal distinction between its legislative and executive functions, has witnessed the most ''unsettled'' process of adaptation to its constitutional parameters whilst attempting to push and redress its legal boundaries to become ''de facto'' a fully fledged parliamentary institution. This paper explores negative path-dependencies in Wales’ constitutional development by assessing a series of systemic / structural factors that continue to constrain the constitutional options available to the National Assembly for Wales in its process of incremental institutional change. The paper uses path-dependent theories to contextualize the discussion and focuses the analysis on three important factors that have been underpinning Wales’ constitutional development: the legitimacy deficit as a result of the very narrow referendum in 1997; the design anomalies that have instigated continuous institutional change and adaptation; and the constitutional deadlocks constraining future options for institutional development. The paper makes an assessment of the unintended consequences of the flawed devolution design in Wales drawing on a 3 year long longitudinal research on the unfolding of devolution in Wales during which over 50 semi-structured elite interviews were conducted. The author also used the experience of 2 snapshot ethnografies (carried out in 2006 and 2007) into the Assembly''s operation as it prepared to embark on a new constitutional framework set by the Government of Wales Act 2006.