Comparison of UK Devolution and US Federalism

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One way that devolution in the UK differs from federalism in the USA is through the different levels of entrenchment. In the UK, devolved bodies rely on parliament for their existence. Due to doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, parliament maintains the right to dissolve the bodies, such as when Northern Ireland’s virtual autonomy within the UK was ended when the British government restored direct rule in 1972, abolishing the Northern Ireland parliament, Stormont. However, US federalism is entrenched under the 10th amendment, making it an incredibly difficult system to change, shown by the rigorous amendment process, requiring approval by two-thirds of both houses of Congress, then ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states. The fact that there have only ever been 33 total amendments to the US constitution shows that the level of entrenchment of US federalism is much stronger than that of the UK devolution.

Another difference is that of the varying levels of power in each ‘unit’, found in devolution, but not in federalism. Devolution in the UK allows differing levels of power and autonomy for the different areas within the nation-state, for example, the difference in power between Scotland and Wales. Comparatively, federalism in the US requires each areastate to have the same power, not making one state have more power and abilities than another.

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The origin of the power is also a difference between the two systems. In the UK, devolution is decentralization of powers by the central authority to lower levels, where all power originated from the central government in London. However, federal powers in the US are constitutionally divided, and there is a covenant between the central authority and the state in the division of powers in federalism. Certain powers are given to the national government alone, some to the state governments, and some are shared, making the states somewhat equal to the national government. Comparatively, in the UK, Parliament is sovereign, so each ‘unit’ only has power due to the approval of Parliament.

One difference between the legislative powers of the UK Parliament and the US Congress is the equality of powers between the houses. In the UK, the House of Lords and the House of Commons have unequal levels of power. The Commons has supreme legislative power- the chamber proposes and passes laws, and can stop bills from being passed into law, but the House of Lords can only delay a Bill for up to one year, due to the Parliament Act 1949, and even that power has limitations. This can be explained through the structural political theory. Comparatively, in the US, the House of Senate and House of Representatives are equal in the constitution, so there is no division of legislative power. For a bill to be passed, it must be agreed on by both branches.

A further difference is that of the power of the purse. In the US, it starts off with the President’s proposal to Congress, recommending funding levels for the next fiscal year. The House of Representatives has exclusive power to introduce legislation involving money, but has to be approved by both houses, just like any other legislation. So, despite the House of Representatives having power over the purse, the Senate still has significant power as they can reject the balance sheet and edit it, and send it to be debated again. Again, this can be explained through the structural political theory. However, in the UK, the House of Lords has no power over legislation and it stays mostly in one house. Budgets are usually set once every year, and are announced in the House of Commons by the Chancellor of the Exchequer after different departments have requested money for different operations. The power remains in parliament as they vote on the funding. If there is a failure then a vote of no confidence can be announced.

Another comparison that can be made, is that of the checks and balances within the legislation. Once again, here, the structural political theory can be applied. In the UK, Parliament is sovereign therefore has most control, and the only way to contest a law that has been passed is by implementing another law or debating it through the houses. In the US, law can be contested through presidential vetoes, in which another supermajority is needed in both houses to implement. Also, the US Supreme Court can nullify the law if it is seen to be unconstitutional, whereas the Supreme Court in the UK cannot, but can reach a conclusion on whether a law infringes on rights already given, such as the Human Rights Act, which does not incite parliament to change legislation.

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Comparison of UK Devolution and US Federalism. (2022, September 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 16, 2024, from
“Comparison of UK Devolution and US Federalism.” Edubirdie, 01 Sept. 2022,
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