I am part of the new ESRC Scottish Centre for Constitutional Change which begins work from Monday for two years on a large set of projects relating to constitutional change in Scotland. Here is a brief outline of part of its focus:
Constitutional change agendas in Scotland produce ‘windows of opportunity’ to discuss the future of Scottish politics and policymaking. In the 1990s, the devolution agenda was used by organisations such as the Scottish Constitutional Convention to propose major political reforms – associated with the phrase ‘new politics’ – regarding the role of government, parliament, interest groups and the public in politics. The independence agenda has prompted similar proposals from organisations such as the Electoral Reform Society, recommending more local forms of public participation, and the ‘Common Weal’ project, recommending corporatism (close cooperation between government, business groups and unions) and greater popular participation, as part of radical reforms of Scotland’s social and economic organisation. The common theme is the idea that a Scottish government can produce a distinctive ‘policy style’ (the way that it makes and implements policy). This style may be used to pursue an alleged social and democratic tradition in Scotland that has much more in common with the ‘consensualism’ of the Nordic countries than the ‘majoritarianism’ of the UK. Yet, the experience of devolution suggests that Scottish politics shares many features with its Westminster counterpart. Both systems are driven by government, with Parliaments performing a limited scrutiny role. Public participation is limited largely to Scottish Parliament and UK General elections. Many of the differences between Scottish and UK practices – such as a more ‘bottom up’ approach to public service delivery, in which local authorities are given more autonomy – may result from the Scottish Government’s size and policy capacity rather than its distinctive culture.
In this context, we examine a future Scottish Government’s ability to make policy in a distinctive way, in partnership with the main social partners (business, unions, the third sector), public sector bodies and professions, the public and the Scottish Parliament to elaborate shared long-term goals. We identify policymaking constraints which are specific to Scotland (including its size and responsibilities) and common to all systems (including the limited resources of policymakers and a challenging economic context which may undermine some types of policy innovation). We draw on the experience of devolution to paint a realistic picture of potential changes in policy and policymaking and use these insights to examine the Government’s ability to pursue major reforms. We focus on socioeconomic policies which rely on its ability to link taxation policy to spending priorities and policy outcomes. We use ‘preventative spending’ as a case study, examining policy outcomes and linking them to the policies of governments. This area is a key test of the ability of a small government to pursue ‘holistic’ government by bringing together a range of departments and organisations to consider the reinforcing (or undermining) effect of a range of policies on each other – and the need to cooperate in a meaningful way, with a range of organizations, to secure shared policy aims.
- What is the Role of the Scottish Parliament? (paulcairney.wordpress.com)
- Democracy Max (paulcairney.wordpress.com)
Grant Jordan and I produced an article which sums up this argument: policymaking in the UK is nothing like the ‘Westminster model’ suggests. The UK is often described, rather lazily, as ‘majoritarian’, which suggests power is centralised and used to make policy from the top down. The Thatcher era, and slogans such as ‘there is no alternative’ and ‘the lady’s not for turning’, sum up this idea. This is a very misleading image of the UK in which policy tends to be made at low levels of government, with civil servants consulting routinely with organizations such as interest groups. Some policies may be introduced with minimal consultation, but they are not typical. The handy thing is that Thatcher also made this argument. Compare our argument with Thatcher’s letter to Hayek:
“the concept of ‘elective dictatorship’ (coined by Lord Hailsham in 1976) using parliamentary majorities was so worrying within the political class because it was seen as an abuse of the democracy-with-consent principle. For Lijphart, elective dictatorship is the essence of British arrangements, but the desire for consent means that majoritarian systems are far nearer consensus democracies than Lijphart allowed. The drive for consent and the premium placed on consultation are key features of the unwritten constitution. Although the idea of ‘constitutional morality’ is nebulous (Flinders, 2010, p. 289), it still underpins British government” (Jordan and Cairney, 2013: 249-50).
Thatcher to Hayek
See Thatcherism and the Idea of Policy Imposition for links to our article and related material
I have spent a fair amount of time arguing that the UK political system does not live up to its ‘majoritarian’ image. I mostly do it when comparing ‘new Scottish politics’ with ‘old Westminster’ and have recently extended the analysis to the ‘consensus’ Sweden. However, it has become a bit like getting rid of the bubbles in wallpaper: just as I feel like I’ve smoothed one out, up pops another. This time it’s Japan, after I found this (yes, I know it’s taken a while): Japan’s ‘Un-Westminster’ System. It contains a very interesting discussion about the need for prime ministers in Japan to negotiate with parties and bureaucrats to secure major reforms. So far, so good. However, then, it makes the assumption that they don’t do this sort of thing in the UK. No one needs to negotiate because power is concentrated in the centre. The more general sense I get is that many studies simply assume that Japan’s system contains unusual sources of inertia and/ or incrementalism without making sure that the UK lacks those elements (see pp104-6 on incrementalism UPP pp104-6 from Understanding Public Policy) . Instead the comparison is between real life Japan – with case studies of, say, expectations and implementation gaps – and fairytale UK. It will keep me in work for years.
Today’s Daily Mail has this brilliant piece by Simon Heffer in which he argues that “Since the mid-Nineties I have been convinced that England and Scotland would benefit from a divorce, or at least from a trial separation. Many Scots don’t much like the English and appear ungrateful for everything that England does for them in showering them with money”. There hasn’t been a storm as such – perhaps because if people spend their time calling each other arseholes they won’t pay much attention to someone calling them scroungers – although there is a reasonable-in-comparison reply on the blog of the Yes campaign.
Some people on twitter have pointed out that this piece appeared on the front page of the main London edition but not at all in the Scottish edition:
All I’d like to add is that the Daily Mail has form in this area. I like to show my students this example from 2007, entitled Scots to axe prescriptions – leaving England to pick up the bill which argues that free prescriptions represent “the last straw for English taxpayers forced to pay for a huge range of public service handouts for Scottish citizens” and gives you a great cut-out-and-keep list of the Scottish advantages and English disadvantages, accompanied by their respective flags (it also gives you a timely link to the pilots for free school meal in Scotland). As it turns out, it was only the penultimate straw (perhaps because 89% of prescriptions in England are free and the Daily Mail has enjoyed a few recent wins – for example, there are drugs you can get in England, not Scotland).
The World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC) is one of the most widely accepted treaties in the United Nations system. It represents an attempt by governments to address the global tobacco epidemic. It contains a ‘comprehensive’ set of measures to reduce the demand for, and supply of, tobacco products worldwide. In most countries, it has prompted an increase in the number and depth of policy instruments. It primarily sets the agenda for change rather than providing the means to ensure the domestic implementation of policy. Implementation has been uneven; it is more evident in ‘developed’ than ‘developing’ countries. We identify the policy processes that would have to change to ensure more successful global implementation.
The number of policies adopted across the globe has increased markedly since the negotiation of the FCTC. However, the implementation of policy has been uneven. The developed-developing country distinction provides an important way to describe this outcome, since most progress has been made in developed countries. However, it does not explain the uneven implementation of the FCTC; ‘development’ is not the causal factor. We synthesise the public policy literature to identify the key causal factors . We identify the most relevant characteristics of the policy processes within ‘leading’ countries with the most comprehensive tobacco control: their department of health has taken the policy lead (replacing trade and treasury departments); tobacco is ‘framed’ as a pressing public health problem (not an economic good); public health groups are more consulted (often at the expense of tobacco companies); socioeconomic conditions (including the value of tobacco taxation, and public attitudes to tobacco control) are conducive to policy change; and, the scientific evidence on the harmful effects of smoking and secondhand smoking are ‘set in stone’ within governments. These factors tend to be absent in the countries with limited controls. We argue that, in the absence of these wider changes in their policy environments, the countries most reliant on the FCTC are currently the least able to implement it.
The long version of the paper is here: Cairney Mamudu 2013 Implementing the FCTC_ Insights From Public Policy
Global Tobacco Control
Alcohol: the Harmful versus Healthy Debate
Let me tell you a story about a handsome ginger 40 year old man at a conference in Japan. He’s the quiet, mumbling Scot type and he either likes to keep himself to himself or be warned if he has to do something super social like give a speech to over 100 academics at a conference. So, just on the off chance that he wins this lottery, he asks a friendly colleague ‘are there speeches at this reception?’ The reply was to the effect that some people from other countries may *want * to give a speech, but you’re OK. So, your man relaxes a bit and goes along prepared to stand and look pretty for a while. You can see where this is going, can’t you? He meets the nice chair of the exchange committee who asks him to give a speech. OK, sure, why not? Maybe for a few seconds or a minute? Well, maybe 2-3 minutes. Now, this young fellow (yes, 40 is young; yes, it is) is remarkably non-nervous because he has given all manner of inadequate speeches in his time. So, nothing remarkable there. But here’s the thing: he can see, from the other speeches, that the microphone is not amplifying well and people are not really listening to the other speeches. Plus, even if they were listening, they would really have to be within earshot and really, really trying to listen to be able to hear. So, he gets introduced and goes up to say his name, where he’s from, and to thank his colleagues for inviting him – which takes, say, 6 seconds. Then he hands back the microphone and everyone gets on with their evening. Now,
I reckon he reckons that it is possible that no-one heard what he said. On that basis, my question to you is; did the speech exist?
UPDATE: Here are a couple of pictures to prove I was there at some point. These were taken after I gave my paper and everyone had left
I can’t give you an answer yet, but here is a draft abstract and then an explanation for the question.
‘Regionalism’ can be defined broadly as the pursuit or creation of a governing tier between central and local government. The experience of regionalism in the UK – and Scottish devolution in particular – has attracted significant academic and policymaker attention in Japan. It has the potential to provide important lessons, particularly if the regionalism agenda is expanded in Japan. However, the policy transfer literature suggests that lesson-drawing will not be successful unless the borrowing government understands how and why policy developed in the lender – and if that experience is comparable to its own. Consequently, we must first consider the comparability of their political systems and their reasons to pursue regionalism. In the case of Scotland, devolution arose largely from local demand for a degree of governing autonomy. Unlike in Japan, there was minimal impetus from the centre and minimal discussion by central government of an economic development or public sector reform imperative. It is therefore difficult to assess regionalism as an economic project directed by the state (the experience of English regions may be more relevant). However, we can identify two relevant issues. First, the UK experience shows what it takes to create and sustain popular support and legitimacy for regionalism: it has been possible recently in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but not until the 1990s and not in England. Second, the Scottish experience demonstrates the ability of the Scottish Government to develop its own policymaking networks (‘territorial policy communities’) and governing styles – and both may contribute to the ability of regions to coordinate policies promoting social and economic development.
The draft paper came from this series of events: (1) I was asked by the National Diet of Japan to go there in November to talk about regionalism in Europe, and the UK/ Scotland in particular; (2) I knew, from my work on policy transfer, that I could only give relevant advice if I knew why they wanted the information and how comparable were the Japan/ UK experiences – i.e. there is no point in learning lessons from others if they don’t apply to you; (3) I knew that I knew very little about Japanese politics and policymaking; (4) I got together with Mikine Yamazaki to produce a more meaningful paper based on his knowledge of Japan (and Scotland) and mine of the UK. I’m in Hokkaido just now (to give a paper at the Japanese Political Science Association annual conference), so that has given us the chance to talk it through in person (which proved very valuable indeed).
I recommend this sort of thing. It’s very much like interdisciplinary work – the need to know so much about how to explain your specialist area (in my case to MPs, National Diet research staff, and members of the public) really forces you to think – in a more fundamental way – about the things you would ordinarily take for granted when communicating with a smaller group in your familiar networks. This is high bar work which, I think, will also improve the more straightforward work.
More information on the National Diet of Japan: http://www.shugiin.go.jp/itdb_english.nsf/html/statics/english/kokkaiannai_e.pdf/$File/kokkaiannai_e.pdf
See also: ‘Representing’ Scotland and the UK at Japan’s PSA