Daily Archives: December 2, 2013

An SNP Government in the Union: The Best of Both Worlds?

Sometimes, some people have a dig at the SNP by stating that support for independence has fallen since they entered office in 2007. This was not part of the plan, but is it the SNP’s fault? One argument made by John Curtice is that the SNP has become a victim of its own success. People may feel that they can enjoy the ‘best of both worlds’ by staying part of the Union and having an SNP Government ‘standing up for Scotland’. Here is one example from the SDMR in May 2008 (p39):

best both worlds

If you don’t fancy going through the 300 pages per year reports, I summarise them in this book like this:

best both worlds Cairney

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Academic Branding

The word ‘branding’ applied to academics is so pretentious that I feel dirty just typing it, but it’s a good way into thinking about how you are seen as an academic based on the decisions you make. I think that a lot of assume that we should brand ourselves according to our specialism: there’s Professor X, who knows the most about mutation, or there’s Professor Green who knows the most about mangling songs. However, there are now strongish incentives (in some disciplines – mostly social science?) to maintain some sort of generalist knowledge to further comparative, interdisciplinary and/ or ‘impact’ work. In each case, your audience may not necessarily benefit from your fiddly knowledge of a subject but, instead, appreciate how it fits into a wider picture. Let me give you some rationalised and glossed-over examples of my career to make the point:

  1. Comparative work. I’ve been paid to go to Japan 4 times (3 since 2011, 2 this year) on the back of my work on Scottish devolution. The most useful stuff here, even for academic colleagues, is the Scottish Politics textbook I did with Neil McGarvey. My most recent trip was to give talks to a public and practitioner audience where, again, few are interested in the Scottish navel.
  2. Interdisciplinary work. I’ve been working on collaborations with colleagues in subjects such as physics and psychology, The most useful stuff here is a public policy textbook I did in 2011.
  3. Specialist work. I’ve been making some good links with US colleagues, including Chris Weible (editor of Policy Studies Journal), who asked me to co-author the ‘Schlager chapter’ in the 3rd ed. of Theories of the Policy Process (you may have to trust me on how good that is). Again, this came out of work I did bringing together a discussion of theories after doing a textbook.

So, I’m convinced, based on some anecdotal evidence (which I’ve manipulated to suit my argument) that this more general textbook (and bloggy) work has been crucial to my career development – perhaps since it has helped me write in a more accessible/ less jargony way. Perhaps more importantly, it has allowed me to maintain a broad knowledge in particular fields, including policy theory and one particular area (Scotland/ UK). It is no substitute for the REF-type work we all have to do but, then again, it may not hurt either (my big book is underpinned by the policy theory work I analysed while writing a textbook).

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Indy Light part 2

Every week, I make the mistake of listening to the News Quiz on radio 4. Last week in particular was annoying because it produced a revival of the focus on Scottish independence through the lens of people who cannot be arsed to learn or think much about it. I know it’s a comedy show, but it’s not people falling over banana skins and wondering what you get when you cross a sheep with a kangaroo. No, they want to look intelligent as they get polite laughter. Yet, JH wondered aloud if Indy Light was worth bothering with, since Scotland wouldn’t be much different if it kept the Queen, BBC and the pound. Well, even as a joke, that’s just shite, isn’t it? The difference would be Scottish Government responsibility for things that are so important we should put them in capitals: NUCLEAR WEAPONS and DEFENCE, FOREIGN AFFAIRS, ENERGY, TAXATION and SOCIAL SECURITY. So, the not-worth-bothering-with argument has to go down as the worst argument of the indyref debate. It’s on a par with my relative’s argument that there’s nothing worse than wet hands.

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Indy Light part 1

When I was in Japan, I was asked to compare Scottish independence to that of Estonia. I was told that, after the fall of the Soviet Union, energy and industry was limited in Estonia, which took the opportunity to rebuild its economy on the back of IT (including companies such as Skype). The question was: would Scotland do the same? The answer is that any break from the UK does not have that same profound sense of separation, novelty and crisis. Rather, Scotland would remain a relatively rich country with natural resources and developed ‘human capital’. Its break from the rest of the UK is not radical. Rather, it will keep some meaningful institutions (including the Queen and perhaps the BBC), seek to keep the pound as its currency (although the details are hotly debated right now), become part of the EU (which will maintain many Scottish laws and practices) and maintain important social, economic and political ties to the rest of the UK. It is often described as a ‘divorce’, but it’s more likely to be Moore/ Willis than Holmes/ Cruise. I then said that modern Scottish independence is often called ‘Indy Light’, to reflect that qualified sense of separation. It took some time to explain the term, and we talked about Coke Light/ Diet Coke as the real thing without the sugar. I’m not sure what the connotation is supposed to be, though, since it began (I think) as a disparaging term – when diet coke is quite nice really.

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