I am co-authoring a 2nd edition of Scottish Politics with Neil McGarvey (2013). It includes a revised chapter on public policy in Scotland. I have copy and pasted the introduction below. This chapter was quite straightforward to revise and I don’t think we changed the introduction much at all – which perhaps gives you a sense of the continuity involved in policymaking. The full chapter can be found here
“This chapter examines the extent to which the new political arrangements in Scotland have produced new policies. Such discussions often focus on the extent of policy divergence and difference between Scotland and England as a key test of devolution. This follows the image before devolution of a ‘back-log’ of policies which built up because Westminster did not have the time for Scottish legislation. On the basis of differing social and party attitudes and the need for ‘Scottish solutions to Scottish problems’, there were widespread expectations of divergence as soon as the Scottish Parliament had the opportunity to legislate. To a great extent, this picture of a ‘rush to policy’ has been confirmed since devolution, with 180 pieces of primary legislation passed in three 4-year parliamentary terms. Yet, there are three main qualifications to the idea of Scotland as a source of fast-paced policy divergence.
First, in the 1980s and 1990s most policy innovation came from the UK Government. Indeed, as noted in Chapter 2, part of the rationale for devolution was the defence of existing state institutions. The ‘Yes, Yes’ vote in 1997 was in part ‘a vote to change institutions in order to stay the same’ (Mitchell, 2005: 26-7). Second, there are as many good reasons to suggest that policy will converge rather than diverge. Factors such as a shared party of government, the role of the Treasury and the Europeanization of policy undermine the idea that Scotland will necessarily go its own way. Third, there is a big difference between making the decision to be different and seeing that decision through to its final outcome.
The evidence supports these qualifications. Policy divergence through legislation has been slower to develop than we might expect, and this picture is reinforced if we extend analysis to the wider policy ‘cycle’. In the relatively small number of cases where significant divergence has occurred in legislation, the incomplete implementation of policy has undermined divergence.
This is not to say that policy change has not been significant since devolution. In many cases, significant policy changes may have a greater effect on Scotland or be missed with a focus on divergence. This suggests that a focus on being different may be inappropriate, particularly since devolution is no longer in its infancy or enjoying its ‘honeymoon’ period. In this sense it is more important to develop and gain support for policies which are appropriate to Scotland regardless of the UK government position, particularly since a key aim of devolution was to address the ‘democratic deficit’ (Box 8.1). Yet, the temptation to look across the border is strong and has been reinforced not only by the election of an SNP Government keen to distance itself from its UK counterpart, but also the media reaction in London which suggests that English taxpayers are subsiding Scottish policy divergence (e.g. Browne, 2007; Settle, 2007; Groves, 2011).
This chapter therefore explores:
· How we identify and measure policy change. For example, although this chapter focuses heavily on outputs such as legislation or funding for services, it also considers outcomes following implementation.
· Why policies in Scotland may diverge or converge.
· The evidence for policy change in a range of policy areas – including ‘flagship’ policies regarding free personal care, student fees, and the smoking ban – in each parliamentary session.
· The implementation of those policies.”