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Politics class: Is the UK heading for break-up?

This article picked by a teacher with suggested questions is part of the Financial Times free schools access programme. Details/registration here.

Specification: 

  • AQA Component 1, Section 3.1.1.5: Devolution: impact of devolution on government of the UK

  • Edexcel Component 2, Section 1.3: The role and powers of devolved bodies in the UK, and the impact of this devolution on the UK

Background: what you need to know 

This is a series of four articles on different aspects of the UK’s devolution settlement. For a variety of reasons, the break-up of the UK is now a possibility. In Scotland, where the pro-independence side lost the 2014 referendum by 55 per cent to 45 per cent, opinion is now more evenly balanced. The SNP government will be in a strong position to demand a second referendum if — as expected — it polls well in the May Scottish Parliament elections.

On the other hand, as the first article in this series argues, an independent Scotland may face a serious economic situation with a growing budget deficit. Much depends, as the second article shows, on how the UK government responds. Boris Johnson’s strategy thus far has been to finance more projects in Scotland, but there are political risks in being seen to bypass the devolved government.

The third article finds growing support for Welsh independence among younger voters. This is a challenge for Labour, the dominant party in Wales, as well as for the London government, which stands accused of overriding the devolved administration. There is not yet majority support for independence, but the price of keeping Wales within the Union in the long term could be the granting of more powers to the Welsh Parliament.

The series is completed by a fourth article which looks at the way in which Brexit has affected the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. By treating the province as part of the same economic unit as its southern neighbour, the Northern Ireland protocol has raised Unionist fears and Republican hopes of a path opening up to Irish unity.

Click to read the articles below and then answer the questions:

Independent Scotland would face a large hole in its public finances

Johnson struggles to find a way to keep the UK together

Wales finds greater belief in self-government amid pandemic response

Brexit ignites the debate about a united Ireland

Depending on which examination board you are following, answer one of the following questions.

Question in the style of AQA Politics Paper 1

  • ‘Devolution has failed to hold the UK together.’ Analyse and evaluate this statement.

In your answer you should draw on material from across the whole range of your course of study in Politics. [25 marks]

Question in the style of Edexcel Politics Paper 2

  • Evaluate the argument that devolution is no longer capable of maintaining the unity of the UK.

In your answer you should draw on relevant knowledge and understanding of the study of Component 1: UK politics and core political ideas. You must consider this view and the alternative to this view in a balanced way. [30 marks]

TIP: A possible Edexcel Component 1 topic is 3.2: Referendums and how they are used. The different outcomes of the 2016 EU referendum in Scotland, and in the UK as a whole, help to explain why the SNP is pushing for a second vote on Scottish independence. Supporters of a united Ireland are also pushing for their own referendum.

Graham Goodlad, St John’s College

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