One truism in policy studies is that the messy real world of policymaking contrasts markedly with the ideal of comprehensive rationality. The size of the Scottish Parliament in an independent Scotland could become a good example. Consider the extreme, ‘comprehensively rational’, process in which there are no limits to the gathering and consideration of information. We would: search the globe for comparable systems; look at their experiences in area such as representation and scrutiny; consider how best to design staffing levels and the use of their time; learn from over a decade of devolution; think about the size of Scotland and its level of responsibilities; debate the proper role of the Scottish Parliament (scrutinising government, setting the agenda with inquiries, becoming a hub for popular participation, informing the public, etc.) and use that sort of information to decide how many MSPs (and parliamentary staff) we should have.
Now, compare that to the real world in which we have limited information, limited time in which to consider information, and limited cognitive skills. We need some major shortcuts, to gather a sufficient amount of the right kind of information; the information that we don’t have, but we know we want to know. The real stuff.
I reckon that the main considerations (at least before the vote, if it is discussed at all) are:
- What do we think the public will wear? This is not a good time to be talking about more MSPs and the greater cost of representation. So, I reckon that, if we simply have more devolution, the Scottish Parliament will stay at 129 MSPs and there will be a lot of talk about being more efficient. Only independence gives us that ‘window of opportunity’ to think bigger.
- What is the back-of-the-envelope figure? It is probably just 129 MSPs plus 59 MPs equals 184 mega-MSPs (see here for something more sophisticated).
- How much will change cost and how visible will the cost be? Few people pay attention to the details of Scottish politics, but loads of people remember the humdinging cost of the Scottish Parliament. Few will want to see a repeat. There is not enough room in the Scottish Parliament to accommodate 59 or more MSPs. Something has to give.
So, there may be a big decision to make in the future. For now, it’s probably best if we don’t think about these little things when the big matters of principle are to be discussed. Or, you can try raising the issue then wish you hadn’t:
Scott’s answer was Yes (no surprises there) at 4m50s
UPDATE 2: based on a question from @loveandgarbage, I should say that the same issues arises in the Scottish Government civil service. You would think that, in many areas, the size of the Scottish Government would have to be really beefed up. However, we are currently in the ‘age of austerity’ which may be pushing down civil service numbers in many areas. People are leaving, and other people are taking on more jobs. So, by 2016, ‘beefed up’ may mean more than the day before but not a huge amount more than a few years before. The difficulty is that, since the Thatcher Governments started getting creative about calling civil servants something else, it has often been difficult to track consistent numbers over the years. Still, here is what Neil McGarvey and I produced in 2008:
and here is what we produced in 2013:
At least we can use these for comparison if the time comes.
In both cases – Parliament and Government – one suggestion is that we won’t need to beef up existing national institutions because, instead, we can beef up local institutions. This is discussed at length by the Jimmy Reid Foundation’s report The Silent Crisis, ERS Scotland’s Democracy Max , COSLA’s Local Matters and its new Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy (also discussed here).
I have already been a bit sarcastic about this idea in a different post (here), so all I will say is this: the argument I’m getting at still holds. We often think we are discussing something of high principle – constitutional change and democracy – but at some point someone will cobble something together based on what they inherit and what they feel they can get away with in the current climate. All I ask is that, if the magic number remains 129, we all recognise how we came to it – a bog standard political decision, not a highfalutin principled one. For example, if the Scottish Government recommends 129 MSPs in an independent Scotland, the proposal should be followed by a full smiley face or one of those winky ;) faces.
p45 of the White Paper says ‘The Scottish Parliament will become the Parliament of an independent Scotland. It will continue to have 129 members’. There is no winky face.
Then I’ll finish with this table outlining the options so far, with the third column outlining the implicit messages in the limited debate so far:
You might have to look hard, but there are some parallels with current debates on regionalism in Japan: https://paulcairney.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/policy-transfer-in-theory-and-practice-what-can-japan-learn-from-regionalism-and-devolution-in-the-uk/
- The Role of the Scottish Parliament in a Devolved or Independent Scotland (paulcairney.wordpress.com)