Daily Archives: August 19, 2014

Why would the UK Government take a tough line with the Scottish Government after a Yes or No vote?

Update: so far, the main reaction to the Scottish No vote has been David Cameron’s plan to address the idea of ‘English Votes for English Laws’, plus some wider discussion of how to address the English Question. From what I can tell, no one has yet told politicians in Scotland to get stuffed. Instead, The Vow, coupled with Gordon Brown’s intervention, has kept quick and ‘extensive’ further devolution high on the agenda on Scotland and it remains to be seen if constitutional change for England will get the same attention.

Judging by some of the rhetoric on the Scottish independence referendum, one thing is certain: the UK Government will take a tough line with the Scottish Government. If there is a Yes vote, it will defend UK interests to the hilt. If there is a No vote, and the Scottish Government seeks further devolution, it will assert the rights of the rest of the UK. Why will this happen? Well, because the UK Government acts in the interests of the rest of the UK, and the rest of the UK – and England in particular – is waking up to Scotland’s privileged position within the Union.

At least, that’s what I’ve heard. Beyond this assertion, how can we demonstrate that the rest of the UK is ready to put pressure on the UK Government to take a tough line? I think there are three sources of relevant information, only two of which reinforce this argument.

The first is personal testimony from politicians, either directly in interview, or indirectly through the columns of journalists, including:

  • The decision by George Osborne, Ed Balls and Danny Alexander to rule out a currency union, on the basis that it is against the UK interest (Alexander also argues that it is against the Scottish interest).
  • Boris Johnson’s suggestion that there is no reason to grant the Scottish Parliament more powers in the event of a No vote.
  • Nigel Farage’s suggestion, in a BBC documentary, that a Yes vote would provoke the rest of the UK, and England in particular, to wake up and protect its interests (followed by vox pops making this claim in stronger terms).
  • Archetypal media commentary, such as Adrian Woolridge’s caricature of an English response, describing the opportunity to ‘turn off the tap’ (end subsidies for Scotland) after a Yes vote, or invite the Scots to shut up after a No vote (note that the first three paragraphs are set up to get your attention for a more subtle argument in the remainder).

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The second is quantitative survey research. For example, an IPPR press release in 2012 argues that: ‘The evidence presented here suggests the emergence of what might be called an ‘English political community’, one marked by notable concerns within England about the seeming privileges of Scotland in particular and a growing questioning of the capacity of the current UK-level political institutions to pursue and defend English interests, and one underpinned by a deepening sense of English identity. The full report by Richard Wyn Jones and colleagues suggests that a small majority of people who feel ‘English, not British’ or ‘More English than British’ believe that Scotland gets more than its ‘fair share’ (p27). It is not a majority of the English respondents as a whole – but the 44% response in 2011 is more than double the (21%) response in 2000 (see p116 of the Scottish independence chapter, by John Curtice and Rachel Ormston, in British Social Attitudes 29).

This was followed by a YouGov/ University of Cardiff survey of 3705 English adults which suggests that attitudes towards Scotland have hardened, on several measures. When asked:

  • If Scotland ‘should be able to continue to use the pound’, 53% disagreed and 23% agreed (15% neither, 9% DK).
  • If ‘Levels of public spending in Scotland should be reduced to the levels in the rest of the UK’, 56% agreed and 9% disagreed (21%, 13%).

Respondents were happy enough for the Scottish Parliament to take control over ‘the majority of taxes raised in Scotland’ and the welfare state, but not too keen to help it join international organizations.

The third is a mixture of qualitative and quantitative. In this case, the aim is to allow people to speak for themselves without a questionnaire setting the agenda. In other words, if you ask people , in a questionnaire, if Scots get more than their fair share, many will say ‘yes’ without having given it much thought. You don’t get a brilliant feel for the way in which they prioritise important issues – and you don’t know if they would have articulated this concern in the absence of someone asking them about it. The alternative is to simply raise a broad issue and ask people to say what they think. This approach has been done to great effect by Susan Condor (2010) in the journal article Devolution and national identity: the rules of English (dis)engagement, which draws on ‘1,652 conversational interview transcripts collected between 2000 and 2009’. The argument that is most striking to me is that: ‘most people remain unaware of the policy issues that excite so much interest among the political and intellectual elite’. In other words, politicians and journalists talk as if they represent the will of a population, without providing much evidence that the population knows or cares as much about the issues as they do.

The major caveat to this third argument is that the research took place before surveys started picking up a growing sense of English national identity (and before it started having some sort of impact on electoral behaviour via support for UKIP). Yet, it should still give us pause, to wonder: if Susan Condor repeated this research, would it support or undermine the assertion that there will be an English backlash to Scottish independence or further devolution?

 

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Scottish Independence: Will Anything Really Change?

Some issues are territorial. Others are universal.

I like to tell people that very little will change after an event such as an election or referendum. While we focus on the exciting world of party politics, elections, campaigns and a referendum, the humdrum world of policymaking goes on, often unnoticed. Indeed, one partly causes the other: our attention to a small number of high profile people allows a large number of people to carry on, delivering public policy, out of the spotlight. Some issues receive huge amounts of attention, and policy might change if there is a problem that can be solved and the solution is not too expensive or controversial. Others receive almost no attention – yet, life goes on, and policy is often delivered in much the same way as in the past. When we elect governments, or choose a completely new kind of government, we expect ministers to solve problems for us. Yet, they can only pay attention to a tiny proportion of the things for which they are responsible. No individual, or small group of people at the heart of government, has the ability to understand or control the complex government of which it is in charge. In Scotland, regardless of a Yes or No vote, one of those key issues is about how to organise, deliver and reform public services. It demonstrates two main problems that you find in any study of government and policymaking. First, there is an inescapable trade-off between a desire to harmonise national policies and to encourage local discretion. Policymakers and policy participants understand this problem in different ways; some bemoan the ‘fragmentation’ of public services and the potential for a ‘postcode lottery’, while others identify more positive notions of flexible government, the potential for innovation, and the value of ‘community-led’ policies or individualised, ‘co-produced’, services. Second, policymakers have a limited amount of control over this trade-off. They do not simply choose a level of fragmentation. Instead, they face the same problems as any government: the ability to pay attention to only a small proportion of issues, or to a small proportion of public service activity; the tendency for problems to be processed in government ‘silos’ (by one part of government, not communicating well with others); the potential for policymakers, in different departments or levels of government, to understand and address the policy problem in very different ways; and, ‘complexity’, which suggests that policy outcomes often ‘emerge’ from local action in the absence of central control. These problems can only be addressed in a limited way by government strategies based on: the use of accountability and performance measures; the encouragement of learning and cooperation between public bodies; and, the development of a professional culture in which many people are committed to the same policy approach. In our new paper, my colleagues Emily St Denny, Siabhainn Russell and I look at how the Scottish Government addresses these ‘universal’ problems. We describe its reputation for making policy in a distinctive way; its reputation for pursuing a consultative and cooperative style when it makes and implements policy. It works with a wide range of bodies to build support for its policy aims. Its policy delivery involves a broad national strategy combined with a commitment to trust bodies such as local authorities to meet its aims. In turn, local authorities work with a wide range of bodies in the public, voluntary and private sector to produce shared aims relevant to their local areas. This approach could help address problems associated with ‘silos’, ‘ambiguity’ and local discretion, if policy is ‘co-produced’ and ‘owned’ by national and local bodies. On the other hand, the ‘Scottish Approach’ implies a decision to encourage discretion, the production of a meaningful degree of local policymaking, and perhaps even the acceptance that some policies may ‘emerge’ in the absence of central direction and traditional accountability measures. To show how complicated government is, we select problems and strategies that seem more likely to exacerbate these ‘universal’ problems more than others. We outline two policy areas, on prevention and transition, which cut across many government departments, involve many levels of government (local, Scottish, UK, and perhaps EU) and types of government (including education, social work, health and police authorities), and seem particularly difficult to define and manage. In both cases, the problem is not one of disagreement. In fact, there is a widespread commitment to both issues, and to achieve a ‘decisive shift to prevention’ in particular. Rather, the problem is often one of ambiguity – for example, people are not quite sure what prevention means in practice, when applied to different kinds of policy problem – or ‘fragmentation’, when a range of public bodies have to work together to produce more specific aims and objectives. These ‘universal’ points are important when we consider Scottish policymaking in the context of constitutional change: a shift of policymaking responsibility from the UK to Scotland may reduce one aspect of complex government – such as the link between the social security system (currently reserved to the UK) and public services – but many would still remain. In cases such as prevention, Scottish independence could have an impact on budget and policy priorities. It would not, however, solve the problem of how to define and address a cross-cutting and ambiguous problem. That problem would remain, and life would go on regardless of a Yes and No vote. The paper is here: Cairney Russell St Denny ECPR 19.8.14

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