is a Scandinavian-style Consensus Democracy and a UK-style Majoritarian Democracy?
- Cross-party negotiation: a meaningful degree of cooperation between government and opposition groups before and after legislation is introduced to Parliament. This does not happen in Scotland, which still has a Westminster-style government/ opposition culture; opposition parties do not get much involved before a bill reaches Parliament. The odd debate on this topic has arisen since devolution, but the Swedish style continues to be rejected to maintain traditional Westminster lines of accountability between government and parliament. So, to be more like Sweden, Scotland would have to give up its existing parliamentary style. I can’t see this happening, not least because MSPs and parties are relatively proud of their committee system in which they scrutinise policy by gathering evidence and examining witnesses. Swedish-style cross-party negotiation generally takes place before a bill is introduced, so the Scottish-style evidence gathering role is not as important.
- Commissions of inquiry: a meaningful degree of cooperation between government, interest groups (and other participants) and political parties, as policy is processed initially by civil servants. Sweden is also associated with corporatism, or relatively close relationships between government, business and labour groups during economic policymaking. If we take out the role of opposition parties, the Scottish and UK Governments have often-similar systems. Most policy is made by civil servants in consultation with groups at a level of government not particularly visible to the public, Parliament and senior policymakers. The difference may largely be in the detail and the formality of the process (and, at various stages, the corporatism).
- Universalism and the Welfare State? When many people look to Sweden, it may be more for its policies than its policymaking. We often associate Sweden with high-tax-high-spend policies and an extensive welfare state with universal coverage. So, current debates in Scotland are often about the extent to which we can afford to maintain a universal system (or, more likely, political parties do not discuss these issues for fear of losing popularity if they jump first).
Corporatism is mostly associated with a period of economic growth, prosperity and the sense that ‘everyone benefits and everyone pays’. It also came at a time when the government could really influence its economy and the businesses that operated in Sweden. ‘Globalisation’ has undermined that ability and the incentive of businesses to take part in old processes.
Commissions of inquiry have reduced in number and intensity.
Issues such as immigration have exacerbated social tensions and made consensus-style agreements more difficult to produce.
The Social Democrat government, so central to Sweden’s old image, does not dominate elections in the way it used to
Sweden has had recent bouts of majority government (largely during Scotland’s minority spell)