Here is a paper – Cairney JPSA 2013 – that I will present at the annual conference of the Japanese Political Science Association in September. The abstract is fairly academic (and perhaps quite familiar if you read much on this site):
Lijphart’s (1984; 1999) distinction between majoritarian and consensus democracies still has a major effect on the comparative study of British politics. Although the UK literature generally supports a more consensual image of British policymaking, reflecting a common ‘European Policy Style’ identified by Richardson and colleagues in 1982, it is difficult to shake off Britain’s distinctive ‘majoritarian’ label. This image was reinforced by a Scottish devolution campaign in the 1990s which promoted a shift from a UK majoritarian to a devolved consensus democracy. Flinders (2010) uses Lijphart’s framework to allege ‘bi-constitutionality’: the Scottish political system adopted the consensus democracy ideal while majoritarianism was maintained in UK politics. The aim of this paper is to present an alternative comparison, focusing on their ‘policy styles’ or how they make and implement policy. The evidence suggests that consultation practices in Scotland and the UK are similar (and not very ‘majoritarian’), while the way they implement policy often differs. Further, Scotland’s size, its government’s capacity and the attitudes of governing parties may be better explanations for distinctive Scottish practices than its new ‘consensus democracy’ institutions. In this context, the paper focuses briefly on the effect of devolution on intergovernmental relations, highlighting a generally smooth relationship between the UK and Scotland, and the potential for a distinctive relationship between Scottish Government and local authorities.
One aspect of the comparison may have a broader appeal, relating to how we see ourselves and others see us. The interest of the Japanese audience (and paper givers on this panel) is in intergovernmental relations (IGR). It will be interesting to see if we mean the same thing by IGR. For me, it refers primarily to the interactions between the UK and devolved governments and so I discuss briefly the comparisons between the UK government’s respective relationships with devolved governments and interest groups (making the same argument about the general lack of top-down imposition). However, it may also refer primarily to central-local relations. Still, there is some room for doubt here. For me, a focus on central local produces the chance to compare the UK central-local-government relationships with central-local relation in Scotland. In other countries, it may be that the comparison would not arise because (a) there would be no equivalent to the Scottish level and (b) the assumption may be that Scotland is part of the ‘local’ (or, at a push, regional) not the ‘central’. I have started to take for granted that the Scottish level is the national level, only to find in international conferences that this status may not occur to other observers. This is not necessarily a nationalist point. Independence would solve this problem, but so too would a well-worded footnote.