Tory candidate calls for union government department

A top Tory election candidate based in Glasgow has called for the creation of a new UK Government department for the constitution or union.

Adam Tomkins is John Millar Professor of Public Law at the University of Glasgow. Picture: Contributed

Adam Tomkins, John Millar Professor of public law at the University of Glasgow, urged an overhaul of the way power is shared across the UK in a report published by think-tank Reform Scotland.

Mr Tomkins, who tops the Scottish Conservative regional list for Glasgow, said change was necessary to take account of new “shared powers” over tax, welfare and work coming to the Scottish Parliament under the Scotland Act 2016.

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He argued the UK’s intergovernmental machinery is “dominated” by the UK Government and “lacks transparency”.

Among his recommendations is the creation of a single, powerful UK Government department for the constitution, or union, that would bring together the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland offices, the Cabinet Office and the Department of Communities and Local Government.

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Mr Tomkins, who represented the Conservatives on the post-referendum Smith Commission on further devolution, said: “Whitehall’s knowledge and understanding of devolution is woeful and the Scotland and Wales Offices are so small that they lack the weight to have the influence they deserve in ensuring that the UK Government machine reflects the modern, devolved state.”

The professor also argued for arrangements for shared rule in areas such as tax and welfare to be enshrined in law in the same way as devolved and reserved powers.

He said: “Devolution is here to stay and, whether one looks to Scotland, to Wales or to the city regions of northern England, it seems set not merely to stay, but to deepen and grow.

“Thus far in the short history of devolution in Britain, we have done as if a power is either devolved or reserved.

“On this understanding there is no meeting point, no middle ground, no power that is partly devolved and partly reserved, no power that is shared.

“Even if this limited understanding of devolution has been sufficient to make sense of it since 1999, it will soon prove inadequate.

“A new category of powers will come to the fore - shared powers. This may be new for the United Kingdom but it is routine in federal countries.”

A UK Government spokeswoman said: “The secretaries of state for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland recently made clear in evidence before the House of Commons’ Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee the clear need for separate and individual territorial offices.

“They provide strong and effective voices for the nations of the UK at the heart of Government.”