Revolutions rarely pave the way for peace. But half-way through his term as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair has engineered a revolution in British politics that has secured peace in Northern Ireland—a region that has not known peace for much of the twentieth century. If completed, the reforms that Blair has initiated will stand as the most significant changes to the British system in three hundred years. The "devolution" of power from Westminster to the newly established regional governments of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland is at the heart of the successful peace agreement in Northern Ireland.
The passing of power from the central government of Great Britain to the regions began with the Scottish referendum in late 1997. Tony Blair came to power in part thanks to the help of the Scottish constituencies where he promised a referendum on the establishment of a Scottish Parliament with power to make laws, collect taxes, and establish policy in the important areas of health, education, and welfare. This promise represented a compromise with the goals of the Scottish National Party, which formally advocates the complete independence of Scotland. Under the Blair-sponsored arrangement, Westminster retains policy-making power over matters of foreign policy, defense, monetary policy, and social security. In the spring of 1998 the Scottish Parliament held elections for its 129 seats and began to govern itself in earnest.
The new government in Wales was established at the same time as Scotland's, but this government has moved more slowly to assert itself. The Welsh referendum passed by only a narrow margin, and the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff lacks the power to tax or make laws; it can, however, make policy on ...1