Scottish and Welsh ministers feel ignored by Westminster

Twenty years after devolution, ministers in Scotland and Wales say they are still ignored by the Government in Westminster. This feeling has been heightened in the wake of the Brexit referendum, says a new report by the Institute for Government.

Published today, Ministers Reflect on Devolution: Lessons from 20 years of Scottish and Welsh devolution is based on a diverse set of interviews with 14 devolved ministers. Ministers Reflect is a unique archive of interviews with former ministers including the most senior Cabinet members of the last decade, including former Chancellors, Foreign Secretaries and Secretaries of State across all departments.

This is the first time the project has expanded to include Cabinet ministers in Scotland and Wales, including former Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones and former Scottish First Minister Lord McConnell. Now outside of government, these former ministers speak candidly about the successes, mistakes, ambitions and frustrations of office.

A list of key quotes is attached, but highlights include:

On Brexit:

Carwyn Jones, Welsh First Minister 2009-18: “It was becoming obvious to me that we needed to have a constitutional convention… It fell on deaf ears, honestly, in Whitehall, they couldn’t see what the problem was. That problem has been magnified by Brexit.”

Shona Robison, Scottish Health Secretary 2014-18: “There was a relationship now that was very much about ‘you only tell them what you need to tell them’, from the UK Government to Scotland. You felt sometimes you were sitting on the naughty step because we were seen as to only be talked to and informed when need had it. You could feel that frostiness.”

Lord Jim Wallace, Scottish Deputy First Minister 1999-2005: “I don’t believe that the United Kingdom ministers are living up to what they said at the outset of proper and full engagement with Scotland, Wales, and unfortunately there aren’t Northern Ireland ministers. If you go back and look at what they said way at the beginning [of the Brexit process] about involvement, I don’t think any of that’s happened, or very little of it has happened.”

Leighton Andrews, Welsh Minister for Public Services, 2014-16: “I think the outcome was quite a shock to the political establishment in Wales, although many of us thought it was going to happen. And I don’t think they were prepared, immediately afterwards, for what would happen next or what should happen next or had a definitive view of how to take things forward.”

On relationships with UK ministers:

Carwyn Jones: “You couldn’t get much out of her [Theresa May]. I found her very distant. ...She did relax a little bit more as time went on, but you never got the impression that you’d say something to her and she’d say: “Oh, that’s interesting that….”. Never.”

Andy Kerr, Scottish Health Minister 2004-07: “Tony Blair came to a conference and essentially slagged me off on the rostrum about not having reformed the health service... I was on television live and watching this speech and I’m like: “What the f*ck is this about?””

Carwyn Jones: “With David Cameron, you could sit and talk to him, but you didn’t get the impression he was listening. He was actually devolution-neutral.”

Alex Neil, Scottish Health Secretary 2012-14: “We had a very good relationship with nearly every UK minister except Jeremy Hunt…I found Jeremy Hunt distinctly unhelpful. Once he was talking to me from his phone in his car, going to the House of Commons, and I said: “You're taking a very imperialist approach to this, Jeremy.” He didn’t like that at all.”

Lord McConnell on Blair and Brown: “We found the occasionally dysfunctional relationship between Number 10 and Number 11 hard to work with, because things would be agreed with one and then took ages to be implemented by the other.”

Kenny MacAskill, Scottish Justice Minister 2007-14: “Ken Clarke I found very cooperative. Some others were less so. Jack Straw was very much bonhomie.”

Alex Neil MSP: “We had dealings with Philip Hammond when he was Transport Secretary. He was an arrogant sod, quite frankly, an able one but arrogant, and I don't think he had any interest in anything north of Watford!”

On relationships with departments:

Andy Kerr: “I don’t think they [the Treasury] treated us with any respect whatsoever. I don’t think I had a meaningful conversation with Gordon Brown about money in all the time I was there.”

Leighton Andrews: “In the area of welfare reform, I had some very difficult conversations with Chris Grayling and with Maria Miller...The DWP, I think, is a ministry which operates on an England model as a default…There were big issues.”

Kenny MacAskill: “With the relationship with the Home Office, I never really had any issues there... What you forget is, frankly, nobody in the Home Office cares about Scotland.”

Akash Paun, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Government and author of the report, said:

“These interviews lay bare the extent to which decisions taken at Westminster impose constraints on the Scottish and Welsh Governments. Sometimes deliberately but sometimes just because the UK Government is often bad at remembering the devolved nations. To be effective, Scottish and Welsh ministers need good relationships with their UK counterparts but must also learn to stand their ground to defend their interests.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

  1. All our ‘Ministers Reflect’ interviews can be found online and the Ministers Reflect on Devolution report is available on our website.
  2. We conducted one Northern Ireland interview, with former Deputy First Minister Mark Durkan, but this report looks only at the Scottish and Welsh experience.
  3. The Institute for Government is an independent think tank that works to make government more effective.
  4. For more information, please contact press@instituteforgovernment.org.uk / 0785 031 3791.
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