Monthly Archives: January 2015

The fracking moratorium in Scotland: what is it for? To gather new evidence?

The Scottish Government has announced a ‘moratorium’ on fracking to allow it to carry out ‘further research and a public consultation’. It plans to:

‘Undertake a full public consultation on unconventional oil and gas extraction

Commission a full public health impact assessment

Conduct further work into strengthen[ing] planning guidance

Look at further tightening of environmental regulation’

This is not a Green-style ‘keep it in the ground’ approach (as today’s questioning made clear). Rather, it is an expression of further caution, reflecting some public concerns about the environmental consequences, a small amount of survey evidence which suggests that fracking would be unpopular (table 22), and the ramped-up electoral competition, in which it is competing with Scottish Labour to be the most anti-fracking-sounding-party amongst the parties that are tentatively pro-fracking (expect Energy Minister Fergus Ewing’s announcement to be followed quickly by a Scottish Labour announcement: ‘it’s about time you did what we have been recommending for ages’).

The Scottish Government has also reiterated that its approach is ‘considered and evidence-based’ – but what evidence can it reasonably expect to gather? There are perhaps four main relevant kinds:

  • Scientific. The Scottish Government already has a wealth of information and expert opinion from, for example, The Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering and the Scottish Government’s Independent Expert Scientific Panel, both of which will not make the decision for ministers (also note that one of the experts has been highly critical of the delay). It also plans a ‘public health impact assessment’ to generate more opinion on the likely risks. What it can’t gather is more information on the likely reward, since the commercial potential of fracking will only be known when companies perform test drills.
  • Other countries. It could examine, in more depth, the effect of fracking on other countries. However, meaningful learning takes years, if not decades, to see how policy progresses in line with events, and to consider how relevant (if at all) the lessons are to Scotland (which will not share the same geography as other countries).
  • Anti-fracking groups. The Scottish Government will want to know more about what it is up against – the number of people willing to actively oppose test drills, and the proportion that may be satisfied with further environmental safeguards.
  • The public. We really don’t know what people want. One survey in Scotland highlights anti-fracking feeling, while others identify minority opposition across the UK. The surveys also highlight a lack of knowledge/ awareness of fracking and shale gas, and that people tend to associate fracking with the risks and rewards.

In other words, beyond the need to have a canny electoral position, this moratorium may exist largely to focus on ‘governance’ issues. The Scottish Government is proud of its reputation as a government that makes policy through consultation, to gather evidence, seek consensus when it is there, and (when possible or appropriate) ‘co-produce’ policy with a wide range of people and organisations. However, in cases such as fracking, it also exists to make hard decisions in the absence of consensus – some groups will win and others will lose.

The evidence gathering process should therefore be about generating new data on:

  • public opinion (detailed enough to be meaningful),
  • the strength of opinion of pro- and anti- groups (to get a better sense of the potential for compromise in some areas), and
  • ‘best practice’, on how to conduct meaningful public exercises to inform the public about the risks and rewards, and to demonstrate ‘due process’, before any decision is made in each local area.

See also: brief debate on Sunday Politics Scotland (30 minutes) http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b050b2kg/sunday-politics-scotland-01022015 , in which Professor Paul Younger argues that the Scottish Government’s new scientific concerns are ‘made up’, ‘feigned’ and ‘pretendy’ – and that he has become a ‘political football’. It is followed by a 4-party discussionthat is a wee bit confusing.

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Filed under Fracking, Scottish politics

Do Scottish political parties want to ban fracking in Scotland? Does the Scottish public?

STOP_sign

Update 28.1.15 The Scottish Government announced a ‘moratorium’ on fracking in Scotland, to give it time to gather more evidence, partly through a public consultation.

[27.1.15] MPs voted yesterday not to have a moratorium on fracking in the UK. Instead, via the Infrastructure Bill, the UK Government continued its plans to reduce some planning obstacles while accepting Labour amendments on further environmental regulations. Labour presented this move as a ‘u turn’ when, in fact, both parties appear to be pro-fracking under the right circumstances, as opposed to the Greens, who oppose it unequivocally.

The Scottish dimension regarded a Labour amendment to accelerate the Smith Commission proposal, accepted by the UK Government, to devolve a further aspect of fracking (the licensing of firms to drill). The UK Government rejected this move, but agreed to exempt Scotland from the new planning changes in the Bill.

Still, in the most important sense, the Scottish Government controls the fate of fracking policy. It shares responsibility – with the EU, UK, public bodies, and local authorities – for the introduction of test drilling and commercial fracking, but can stop development at any time through its planning powers. The question is: who wants it to do so? The answer is: we don’t yet know.

scotgreens fracking tweet 27.1.15

My impression is that the two main Scottish parties do not want to tie themselves to a pledge to ban fracking forevermore. Right now, they want to look like they want to ban fracking but keep their options open while they obfuscate (to buy time to see what happens in England). For example, the SNP MPs voted yesterday for a moratorium in the UK, but its MSPs have not done likewise in the Scottish Parliament. [Update 28.1.15 See Energy Minister Fergus Ewing’s announcement of a moratorium! The stated aim is to allow him to gather more evidence and conduct a public consultation]. It focuses on a cautious wait and see what the evidence tells us approach in Scotland, combined with the usual focus on the constitution: complaining that the Conservative-led Government is imposing fracking changes in Scotland. Labour MPs proposed (successfully) amendments to the Infrastructure Bill to introduce further environmental regulations but abstained on the moratorium. It has called on the SNP to put a stop to fracking in Scotland, but its plans instead involve calling for a ‘freeze’ on fracking until the case is made (I don’t know how a freeze differs from a moratorium), and proposing a ‘triple lock’ which keeps the option open. The approach of both parties is as clear as mud compared to the Greens on the one hand (keep it in the ground) and the UK Conservative leadership (see also Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser) on the other (‘all out for shale’) (one exception is the relatively clear statement by Sheila Gilmore MP). Still, from what they say, we can conclude that the SNP and Scottish Labour support commercial fracking if their conditions are met. This is conditional support, not outright opposition, and the main differences between them are in presentation rather than substance.

Part of the problem for these parties is that there is so much uncertainty, not only about the issue itself (‘the evidence’ will never tell you what to do, and scientists won’t make the decision for you), but about what the public wants. Only one Scottish-specific poll is available. Table 22 of a Survation poll in January 2015 has 23.6% responding ‘I support fracking in Scotland’, 44.5% ‘I oppose fracking in Scotland’ and 31.9% ‘don’t know’ (there is more support among men and more ‘don’t knows’ among women). Further, 55.4% of those voting SNP in 2010 and 52.1% Labour are opposed (supporters of the Scottish Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are more in favour). This contrasts with a separate, more regular, UK survey, showing that 21% more people say yes than no when asked, ‘Should shale gas extraction in the UK be allowed?’ (although they find similar party political differences).

The figures might show that Scottish residents are less keen than the UK as a whole, and that an open-ended cautious approach is the best strategy for both main parties. Or, it shows the important difference between in principle support across the UK and concrete support for specific drills in local areas. The same pattern might be found in England, or the England experience might show that governments can persuade and give enough incentives to secure sufficient local consent. We don’t yet know, because policy is progressing slowly (at least compared to places like the US), local opinion data is scarce, and about 30% of the public still doesn’t know what fracking is. Think of the contrast between the huge amount of data we had on attitudes to a simple question on independence – which still didn’t settle the matter. With fracking, many of the political parties look hesitant because they don’t yet know how to deal with uncertainty.

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Filed under agenda setting, Fracking, Scottish politics, UK politics and policy

What does the British public think about fracking, and how does it matter?

Public opinion on policy issues is a resource to be used in politics. Surveys don’t give us objective data on what the public want. Instead, they give us something to manipulate to help get what we want. It is easier to identify UK-wide support in principle than in specific areas. This suggests that, in a multi-level system of government, a UK pro-fracking government can draw on public support for its policies, but not rely on similar support in devolved and local areas.

There are at least three ways to measure public opinion on fracking:

  1. To focus on levels of awareness of, support for, and opposition to, fracking in the UK
  2. To identify how people compare the risks and rewards
  3. To identify levels of support in, or about, specific parts of the UK.

There are also at least three ways in which political actors might use the information:

  1. Political parties responding to public opinion when seeking votes
  2. Governments gauging levels of support/ opposition to their plans and waiting for the right time to act
  3. Groups seeking to manipulate attitudes, to focus on one aspect (such as the reward) at the expense of the other (such as the risk).

The UK’s simple survey

Its latest figures (October 2014) show that:

  • awareness of shale has risen since 2011. 15% (from 6%) now ‘know a lot about it’ and 76% have heard of it (42%)
  • 26% (27%) support its use, 27% (21%) oppose, and the rest express no preference.

Note: in this survey they trust you to say if you know what shale is and gauge all preferences, including those held by people who have not heard of shale.

The University of Nottingham’s more detailed poll

O’Hara et al (September 2014) find:

  • similar levels of public awareness. It has gone up from under 37.6% in March 2012  to 72.3% in September 2014 (it is higher among men 81.6% than women 63.6%)

Note: in this online survey, they test your knowledge of shale gas and exclude you if you get it wrong.  This means that the UK Government and Nottingham University populations are different. The former should pick up more on don’t knows and don’t cares. The latter should get a specific measure of relatively informed opinion.

  • higher support for fracking. About 50% say yes and about 30% no to the question ‘Should shale gas extraction in the UK be allowed?’.
  • In their report, O’Hara et al use the net support/ opposition (+ or -) approach to identify +21% support, alongside important trends – for example, it was +39.5% in July 2013.

They also provide more detail about risks and reward, with:

  • concerns about water contamination appearing to slightly overshadow expected benefits on energy costs
  • some concerns seem to be declining, but 49% still associate shale with earthquakes, and 45% with water contamination, This is a clear plurality if we compare with ‘don’t associate’ and ‘do not know’, but it is roughly equal if we put the latter two together to identify how many people don’t make the associations.
  • there are similar patterns of positive association with cheaper fuel and energy security.

Polls in specific areas

Table 22 of a Survation poll in January 2015 has 23.6% ‘I support fracking in Scotland’, 44.5% ‘I oppose fracking in Scotland’ and 31.9% ‘don’t know’. For men, it is 34/44.2/21.8, and women 13.7/44.8/41.5 (the difference might seem familiar to people used to tracking the indyref surveys). The overall figure might show that Scottish residents are less keen than the UK as a whole. Or, it shows the important difference between in principle or relatively abstract support across the UK and concrete support for specific drills in local areas.

The Scotland survey is good because the Daily Record tells you who did it and you can go look at the detailed figures. The BBC does not, so it is hard to tell if UK people or local residents favour fracking in the North-West of England. It’s also problematic to take much from surveys commissioned by one of the politically engaged groups on local attitudes, since question wording is very important.

So, there is still a lot of uncertainty about what people actually believe when we move from the abstract to a specific decision on something that will have real consequences.

How might political parties respond?

Right now, Scottish Labour and the SNP are competing with each other to make out that they are the ones opposed to fracking – even though they don’t simply rule it out completely like the Scottish Greens. Labour talks about a ‘freeze’ until the case has been made, it learns from developments in England, and a local referendum approves drilling in each area. The SNP talks about being cautious and ‘evidence based’, and focuses on its campaign to get more powers devolved (and licensing is coming to Scotland, which leaves energy taxation as the only main power not devolved). These strategies make sense because their supporters are slightly more likely, than the rest of the population, to oppose fracking (55.4% of those voting SNP in 2010 and 52.1% Labour are opposed). It makes less sense for the (albeit far less relevant to the Scottish bit of the UK general election) Scottish Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, whose supporters are more likely to support fracking.

The same mixture of incentives applies to the UK parties. The Nottingham approach finds that supporters of the Conservative (+62.3%), UKIP (+38.4%), and Liberal Democrat (+38.4%) parties are relatively in favour when asked ‘Should shale gas extraction in the UK be allowed?’, while Labour’s (-3.1%) are more against than in favour and the Green Party’s (-57%) are far more against.

How might governments respond?

The outcome of the UK survey is sometimes interpreted as low support for fracking but can also be seen as low opposition. We might think of the policymaking ideal in which the government gets most people to go with it, but many governments may simply seek a ‘permissive consensus’, in which people don’t demand a policy but will not punish a government too much for doing it (this is a feature of tobacco control, in which more people support, for example, a smoking ban after it has been introduced).

The Nottingham survey is a bit different because there is a mixture of support and concern, which will put pressure on them to address environmental concerns as they progress. Indeed, this is a key feature of the UK process: there is a majority coalition pursuing fracking development, but only tentatively, and based on the assumption of significant environmental and safety regulations.

The Scotland survey is different still. It perhaps reinforces a good instinct at the UK ‘centre’ to not try to impose its policy on UK regions. People might support UK fracking in the abstract, only to punish you if you push too hard in their area. However, the UK Government’s problem could be that this in principle UK support contrasts with local objection in all areas.

What can campaigners do?

There are clearly several ways to interpret the findings: most people in the UK support fracking; people are very concerned about the effects; and, most people may oppose in their area or specific parts of the UK. More importantly, these attitudes seem to change, over time and when viewed in reference to the risks and rewards.

The strategy for groups is to make sure that our attention is focused primarily on the risk or the reward, and to use the survey results selectively. The figure used most by the industry association (UK Onshore Oil and Gas) is that more say yes than no to the question ‘Should shale gas extraction in the UK be allowed?’.  The Scottish Greens focus on opposition in Scotland. Other anti-fracking campaigners will focus on the uncertainty, the environmental and safety risks, and the public concern about them.

Overall, we might say that there has been a ‘permissive consensus’ for further drilling/ exploration across the UK, but these attitudes are too subject to change, following unfolding events and the ability of groups to exploit them, to suggest that there is stable public support.

For more background on fracking policy, see Fracking policy in the UK: all out for shale? See also if you can spot the mistake in footnote 4 in the full paper.

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Filed under agenda setting, Fracking, public policy, Scottish politics, UK politics and policy

Can you separate the facts from your beliefs when making policy?

A key argument in policy studies is that it is impossible to separate facts and values when making policy. We often treat our beliefs as facts, or describe certain facts as objective, but perhaps only to simplify our lives or support a political strategy (a ‘self-evident’ fact is very handy for an argument). People make empirical claims infused with their values and often fail to realise just how their values or assumptions underpin their claims.

This is not an easy argument to explain. One strategy is to use extreme examples to make the point. For example, Herbert Simon points to Hitler’s Mein Kampf as the ultimate example of value-based claims masquerading as facts. We can also draw on some embarrassing historic academic research which states that the evidence exists to show that men are more intelligent than women and some races are demonstrably superior to others. In such cases, we would point out, for example, that the design of the research helped produce such conclusions: our values underpin our assumptions about how to measure intelligence or other measures of superiority.

‘Wait a minute, though’ (you might say). “What about simple examples in which you can state facts with relative certainty – such as the statement ‘there are 449 words in this post’”. ‘Fair enough’, I’d say (you will have to speak with a philosopher to get a better debate about the meaning of your 449 words claim). But this statement doesn’t take you far in policy terms. Instead, you’d want to say that there are too many or too few words, before you decided what to do about it.

In that sense, we have the most practical explanation of the unclear fact/ value distinction: the use of facts in policy is to underpin evaluations based on values. For example, we might point to the routine uses of data to argue that a public service is in ‘crisis’ or that there is a public health related epidemic. We might argue that people only talk about ‘policy problems’ they think we have a duty to solve them.

Or, facts and values often seem the hardest to separate when we evaluate the success and failure of policy solutions, since the measures used for evaluation are as political as any other part of the policy process. The gathering and presentation of facts is inherently a political exercise, and our use of facts to encourage a policy response is inseparable from our beliefs about how they world should work.

To think further about the relevance of this discussion, see this post on policy evaluation, this page on the use of evidence in policymaking, this book by Douglas, and this short commentary on ‘honest brokers’ by Jasanoff.

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Fracking policy in the UK: all out for shale?

This post is based on a paper that I co-authored with Manuel Fischer and Karin Ingold: Cairney Fischer Ingold fracking in the UK for Zurich workshop 23 Jan 2015 (updated version: Weible et al book UK Chapter Cairney et al (including tables and appendix) 2016). See also a draft Fracking UK timeline

The UK Government looks like it is as strongly pro-fracking as it can possibly be. Prime Minister David Cameron famously declared: ‘we’re going all out for shale. It will mean more jobs and opportunities for people, and economic security for our country’. Chancellor George Osborne also wrote a detailed letter to ministers asking them to make policy implementation a ‘personal priority.’

For the UK Government, fracking has three main benefits: ‘energy security, decarbonisation and economic growth’. It has shown clear support for test drilling to assess the economic feasibility of fracking. It has reinforced this support with a range of policies:

Yet, in two crucial ways, it has not gone all out for shale. First, it is part of a loose coalition of organisations which, ‘on average’, is tentatively pro-fracking. The coalition includes UK government bodies; government agencies monitoring adherence to regulations; the three main UK political parties – Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat (at least while in coalition government); the Energy and Climate Change Committee of the House of Commons, currently with a government majority; private energy companies (Cuadrilla, IGas Energy, Centrica, Total, Shell, National Grid) and industry groups (United Kingdom Onshore Operators Group, Oil & Gas UK, Chemical Industries Association; the NGO, No Hot Air; and, groups generating and sharing research: Royal Academy of Engineering, Royal Society, British Geological Survey, CNG Services, Geological Society, Policy Exchange. The common element to this coalition is a wish to approve test drills, to get a better sense of the economic potential of shale gas (which only depends partly on production potential – note the currently low oil and gas prices), and support extensive regulation. Only some members of this coalition favour the ‘all out’ strategy. This coalition competes with an anti-fracking coalition which, while much smaller number, has a less equivocal political position. It includes the Green Party, NGOs such as the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Frack off, Friends of the Earth, and WWF UK, and, a research group, Tyndall Centre Manchester.

Second, it has not taken a centralist approach to energy security. Instead, it shares power across several levels of government. It has overall responsibility for energy policy, and retains ownership of mineral and gas resources, but has not centralised many aspects of fracking policy which are made by: devolved governments, responsible for developing national planning guidelines (Scotland will also soon receive powers on licensing); local authorities charged with granting planning permission for individual drilling sites; and public bodies responsible for ensuring environmental protection and health and safety. It also shares responsibility for environmental policy with the European Union. The UK has taken responsibility for strategic issues, related to energy security, the generation of evidence to address the economic viability and environmental uncertainty regarding fracking, the tax and incentives regime, and the UK-wide system granting energy companies the right to operate to extract minerals, but not the decision to approve drill sites in local areas. This is reflected in its rather convoluted ‘roadmap’ for private companies, which involves at least 15 steps and interaction with government and a large number of public bodies, culminating in the need to satisfy local authorities that they should drill in their area (public bodies, such as environment agencies also implement a complex mix of EU, UK and devolved regulations).

Currently, the result is that we don’t quite know what will happen, particularly since devolved and local governments are much more hesitant to approve actual development in their areas. The UK government may be ostensibly ‘all out for shale’, but this is not reflected in key decisions on the ground.

On this basis, we could expect one of three things. First, as events proceed and local areas begin to make decisions on individual sites, the anti-fracking coalition may swell, to reflect a growth in opposition or the decision of local authorities to reject planning applications. This is particularly likely if incidents such as tremors/ earthquakes should happen again close to test drilling sites. Second, the majority coalition may swell, but change further, to reflect an important degree of hesitant and prudent pro-fracking attitudes that are not sufficient to produce commercial fracking. Or, third, the majority coalition becomes more in favor of fracking, perhaps following the development of test drills and the gathering of evidence that suggests that regulations are sufficient and the commercial potential of shale gas is more certain. The latter outcome is by no means certain.

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How to teach public policy to non-specialists

Write a textbook or find one already written. This isn’t just a self-promoting statement. I partly wrote a textbook because I couldn’t find a way to teach public policy theories without one. Consider your other choices:

  1. A course guide/ syllabus with representative books and articles per topic per class. In most cases, there are no representative texts that will do the job. In the main, scholars write for other scholars. They publish articles with a very specific aim. They don’t have the space to set things out in an accessible way. They don’t say how their work relates to the work of everyone else. So, when you try to recommend a small number of texts, you find that they are too specialist and they provide minimal context. In most chapters of textbooks, you will find an attempt by one scholar to combine all of this mess into one coherent account of a significant part of the literature.
  2. A book that brings together the state of the art in an edited volume. In cases like the excellent Theories of the Policy Process (or other, as good, ‘handbooks’ on policy concepts), often the main authors (or the nearest best thing) try to sum up their work. However, they are still speaking to other scholars. Indeed, in the TOPP series, they now update their progress since the last edition – which is great for me, and other academics, but not great for students with no prior knowledge of the field.
  3. The key book. In some cases, you can point to the book/ article that set the field on fire. A good example is Agendas and Instability by Baumgartner and Jones. I recommend this book highly, and often argue that it remains the best thing they have written (all things considered). However, it is also over 20 years old (or, over 5 years old if you get the 2nd edition with the added chapter at the end) and it does not include much reference to the quantitative and comparative work that they have done since.

So, you need something that students can get into before they get into the harder-to-reach literature; to stop them giving up when they find some initial, not-very-accessible, articles inaccessible; and to encourage them to read further. Even then, policy theory is a tough sell, which partly explains why I am forever seeking ways (such as 1000 words posts, but see also ICPP ‘Policy Approaches’) to make the initial explanation shorter and more straightforward.

This is not a process of dumbing down. Instead, it’s good teaching. It’s an attempt to see the topic through the eyes of someone who has (as yet) done little reading on it, does not have enough knowledge of the wider literature to understand it, and is looking to build on something they understand.

In more general terms, it’s good communication. The same process, to turn something specialist into something readable to non-specialists, is useful when we engage with other audiences:

All of these things require a level of simplicity and clarity that we don’t always find in the specialist journals, no matter how many we read.

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Policy concepts in a tweet

#policyconceptsinatweet

I have been trying to summarise complex policy concepts in 1000 words, to make the study of public policy more accessible to students and people with a general interest. The aim is to condense hundreds of thousands of words into one short description, as a way to get people interested. Of course, you have to grab people’s attention in a tweet first, so I wondered if I could sum up each concept in well under 140 characters. See if you can tell what the topic is before you click. If not, can you think of a better short description?

  1. Policy concepts in a tweet: public policy is about much more than ‘whatever governments choose to do or not do’ http://wp.me/p3Ovrd-gG
  2. Policy concepts in a tweet: How can we measure policy change if we don’t know what policy is? Like this … http://wp.me/p3Ovrd-ji
  3. Policy concepts in a tweet: describing policymaking as cycles & stages to show how the policy process does *not* work http://wp.me/p3Ovrd-cB
  4. Policy concepts in a tweet: there is no apolitical way to measure the success and failure of policies http://wp.me/p3Ovrd-ga
  5. Policy concepts in a tweet: policymakers have to take shortcuts to make quick decisions with limited information http://wp.me/p3Ovrd-cx
  6. Policy concepts in a tweet: ‘Evidence Based Policy Making’ (EBPM) doesn’t happen, and maybe it shouldn’t http://wp.me/p3Ovrd-dR
  7. Policy concepts in a tweet: policymakers are driven by rules, both formal (e.g. constitutional) and informal (norms) http://wp.me/p3Ovrd-k1
  8. Policy concepts in a tweet: when people don’t cooperate well on their own, can the state intervene and do better? http://wp.me/p3Ovrd-kT
  9. Policy concepts in a tweet: most policy is made by junior civil servants working with bodies such as interest groups http://wp.me/p3Ovrd-jG
  10. Policy concepts in a tweet: long periods of stability & continuity disrupted by short bursts of instability & change http://wp.me/p3Ovrd-ak
  11. Policy concepts in a tweet: forming meaningful coalitions with like-minded people to translate beliefs into policies http://wp.me/p3Ovrd-an
  12. Policy Concepts in a tweet: policy won’t change without high attention, feasible solution & the motive to adopt it http://wp.me/p3Ovrd-au
  13. Policy Concepts in a tweet: the ‘policy environment’ constrains some policy solutions and facilitates others http://wp.me/p3Ovrd-ay
  14. Policy Concepts in a tweet: policy seems to ’emerge’ in the absence of government control. Here’s why it happens … http://wp.me/p3Ovrd-aC
  15. Policy Concepts in a tweet: socioeconomic factors may seem impossible to ignore & can be beyond policymakers’ control http://wp.me/p3Ovrd-jM
  16. Policy Concepts in a tweet: is it more effective to distract people, or influence how they think, than win disputes? http://wp.me/p3Ovrd-aP
  17. Policy Concepts a tweet: power is shared across many levels & types of government and with non-governmental bodies http://wp.me/p3Ovrd-bT
  18. Policy Concepts in a tweet: governments import policies from elsewhere without learning why they were successful http://wp.me/p3Ovrd-cK
  19. Policy Concepts in a tweet: ideally we’d want to combine the insights of many policy theories, but we don’t know how http://wp.me/p3Ovrd-aF
  20. Policy Concepts in a tweet: policy comes from the decisions of emotional policymakers with flawed thought processes http://wp.me/p3Ovrd-kF

https://paulcairney.wordpress.com/1000-words/

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What will be the role of constitutional issues in the UK General Election 2015?

From the vantage point of Scotland, you would expect constitutional issues to dominate the UK General Election. The famous ‘vow’ almost ensured its place in the debate, because the idea was that each political party would engage in the Smith Commission and include its recommendations in their party manifestos. Although the SNP was one of the least satisfied parties, it has already begun to campaign on the idea that the others might drag their feet come election time. Yet, it seems inevitable that all of the main parties will include something very close to the Smith recommendations. Indeed, Scottish Labour argues that one part of it (devolving the licenses to ‘frack’) can be done now, with an amendment to the current Infrastructure Bill at Westminster.

We have also seen some opening exchanges that show how much the constitutional question is in the minds of Scottish politicians. Most notably, Jim Murphy’s apparent promise, to use the proceeds of the UK ‘mansion tax’ to fund 1000 more nurses than the SNP would promise, has raised issues about the extent to which people can make meaningful promises for devolved areas in UK elections, and the role of the Barnett formula, since the promise depends on a UK Labour government in 2015 using the money on health (or another fully devolved area) and a Scottish Labour government in 2016 using the Barnett consequentials to fund more nurses.

This is the normal routine in Scottish elections, where parties tend to drape themselves in the Scottish flag and fall over themselves to show that they are standing up for Scotland. It is not yet the norm in England, although there are early signs that things are changing. Murphy’s claim was met with predictable opposition from Boris Johnson, who claimed that it represented a tax on London to pay for services in Scotland. It was less predictable that some Labour MPs would agree so publicly (unless you buy into the idea that the internal Labour debate was manufactured).

This short-lived debate shows the potential for a new dynamic that we saw developing during the independence referendum campaign: the so called English backlash, built on the idea that an increasing number of people in England feel that Scotland has a disproportionate advantage in the Union and that it is time to stand up for England’s interests (also note the longer, and largely justifiable, sense in Wales that it does far less well from the current arrangements than Scotland). Whether or not people feel this way might be less important than the political capital that parties can gain from the claim. Particularly since the rise of UKIP, it has become more tempting to refer specifically to interests in England, to push back against Scottish claims for more powers, and/ or to seek assurances that there will be some sort of equivalent move in England (currently, the periodic focus is English Votes for English Laws). However, I doubt these issues will dominate the election in England. In the UK as a whole, Scotland may have disproportionate influence, or receive disproportionate attention, but it is still small beer.

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5 Rules for Westminster Elections

  1. Tell people why they shouldn’t vote for their favourite party: if you vote for X, you really get Y, so vote for Z, even though you want X.
  2. Deny that you would enter a coalition with any other party, even if you have no chance of being in government on your own.
  3. Promise to lower taxes and increase public spending. Or, only promise to tax rich people to pay for low paid public servants.
  4. Suggest that your opponents are making promises that they can’t afford, or making the campaign too personal, then make some of your own promises and keep it personal.
  5. If you are not campaigning, be cynical about the tactics of political parties, and suggest that all politicians are corrupt and unelectable. Give the impression that you are above it all, without suggesting a useful alternative to representative democracy.

I forgot number 6: object whenever a party agrees with an idea that you claim is yours. You don’t want their support; you want to exploit the fact that they don’t support you.

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Tobacco Control in South Korea (A ‘War on Tobacco’?)

I did a short radio interview today, prompted by developments in tobacco control in South Korea, including a doubling of tobacco prices and the introduction of new regulations in 2015. I’ll put up the audio soon, and here are my notes on the questions. As usual, with this topic, it is difficult to present these things in a ‘neutral’ language when talking about how ‘leading’ or ‘lax’ some countries are.

Interview Questions tbs efm Primetime (Seoul, South Korea) 5.1.15 6.40pm (9.40am)

Q1. In your view, what makes some countries lax in regulating smoking? 

  • Imagine two processes
  1. Almost all have signed up to tobacco control – the World Health Organisation-led Framework Convention on Tobacco Control
  2. But many countries face more obstacles when they try to turn that commitment into something fully implemented
  • Their ‘environments are not conducive to tobacco control

5 factors involved:

  1. Defining the problem – economic or public health?
  2. Institutions – is the department of health in charge?
  3. Networks – do policymakers exclude tobacco companies from policymaking?
  4. Socioeconomic – what is smoking prevalence? Public attitudes? Contribution to the economy?
  5. Ideas – how much of the evidence is accepted in government (smoking, passive smoking) in a meaningful way.

The answer to those Qs is very different in ‘leading’ and ‘laggard’ countries.

See: https://paulcairney.wordpress.com/public-health/

Q2. How can the gap between the evidence of a major problem and a proportionate response be narrowed?

  • The answer, for most countries, is to implement the FCTC they signed up to
  • FCTC measures include:
  1. Tobacco taxation policy – price and tax measures to reduce demand for tobacco
  2. Smoke-free policy – protection from exposure to secondhand smoke
  3. Tobacco product regulation – regulation of contents of products (toxic ingredients)
  4. Ingredient disclosure – regulation of public tobacco product disclosures
  5. Health warning labels – at least 30% of the package of tobacco products should be a health warning
  6. Education and advocacy – to improve health education, communication, training and public awareness
  7. Banning tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship
  8. Smoking cessation services
  9. Prohibiting the illicit trade in tobacco products
  10. Banning tobacco sales to minors (under 18)
  11. Litigation against tobacco companies
  12. Research to monitor and evaluate tobacco control
  13. Support for economically viable alternatives to tobacco growing

Q3. How would you assess smoking controls in South Korea? 

  • 3 kinds of key context:
  1. When income rises, smoking rates may go up as tobacco becomes more affordable
  2. The shift from (a) smoking being mostly a male activity, with very low rates of smoking among women; to (b) reduced smoking among men, but increased among women, until they converge (as in the UK). Currently its 47% in men and 7% in women (UK now is 21% men, 20% women).

See: http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/21/2/96.abstract

  1. World trade liberalisation from the 1980s gave tobacco companies the chance to enter new markets See: http://researchonline.lshtm.ac.uk/768502/

Tobacco control may be geared specifically towards addressing those 2 first predictions and the third new issue

  • In short, you might say that South Korea has (a) fewer controls than the UK now, but (b) potentially stronger controls than the UK had when its income levels and smoking rates were comparable
  • g. ‘compliance score’ on smoking in public places is 10/10 for UK and 5/10 for SK (more public places; a fine on owners), more support in the UK for cessation treatment, more health warnings on packs, more bans on advertising, and cigarettes appear to be 3x as expensive in the UK
  • The potential is there to learn from countries with stronger controls while the ‘epidemic’ is less visible

See: http://www.who.int/tobacco/surveillance/policy/country_profile/kor.pdf?ua=1 (SK)

http://www.who.int/tobacco/surveillance/policy/country_profile/gbr.pdf?ua=1 (UK)

Q4. You mentioned in the article you wrote that UK is one of the few countries that has a “comprehensive” tobacco controls. Please explain to us on UK’s main policy instruments designed to reduce smoking in the population. 

  • As above, in regard to FCTC – but UK has mostly gone ahead of it
  • Top of the European ‘Tobacco Control Scale’ (one of 4 leaders) – based on its high prices/ tax, ban on smoking in public places, ban on advertising tobacco in most places, treatment services (smoking cessation/ support) plus health warnings on packs and information campaigns

See: http://www.europeancancerleagues.org/images/TobaccoControl/TCS_2013_in_Europe_13-03-14_final_1.pdf

Q5. Then, what are the international agencies’ efforts to address global tobacco problems so far? 

  • To take that broad commitment to the FCTC, monitor implementation, help spread the evidence on ‘good practice’, help countries fulfil their commitments (and challenge the role of tobacco companies in each country)

Q6. You mentioned that there is a key irony of the WHO’s framework convention on tobacco control. Could you elaborate on that? 

  • One aspect of the FCTC is that it can be used by many countries to avoid the experience of others
  • Countries like the UK are acting because historic smoking rates were high and the problem is highly visible – in smoking-related illnesses – after a significant time lag
  • Countries with historically lower smoking rates (especially among women) could avoid those problems
  • In other words, they stand to benefit most from the FCTC
  • However, they are also, in many cases, far less likely to implement the FCTC
  • The irony is that the countries that could benefit most from the FCTC are often the least likely to act to implement it
  • Many commentators describe this problem in terms of the role of tobacco companies – they see their markets fall in the ‘West’, so they seek markets in the rest of the world; and many countries have limited experience in challenging that behaviour

Q7. At the end of the day what would be the remaining challenges facing the global community to achieve a more cohesive tobacco control policy? 

  • Some countries now talk about smoke-free policies
  • Some focus on challenging the role of tobacco companies – to exclude them from policymaking
  • Some face rising levels of smoking that could possibly be averted
  • The challenge is to recognise how different each country is, and to support tobacco control groups operating in very different policy environments

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Filed under Public health, tobacco, tobacco policy

Q: How can you select the perfect MPs? A. You can’t.

Imagine a thought process in which you were trying to select the right mix of MPs. Where would you start?

Maybe you would start with social background because you want this group of representatives to represent people in a direct way:

  • Start with the easy one: let’s have a roughly 50/50 balance of men and women.
  • Things get a bit trickier from then on, but you would also likely want a similar process to ensure adequate representation for black and minority ethnic populations.
  • Then you might think about other things that seem trickier, but important, such as sexuality and disability.
  • Then you might want some sort of representation by class, particularly since the ‘working class’ doesn’t seem well represented.
  • By this stage, if you express such thoughts on twitter, it won’t be long before someone complains that all MPs will soon be black lesbian trade unionists in wheelchairs – but don’t let it put you off just yet.

Maybe, instead, you would start with geography because you want individual MPs to represent their constituents. You want someone local. Not some mercenary party worthy jetting in to the next available seat.

Or, maybe you would start with merit: what does it take to be a skilful and effective MP and potential future leader? This is tricky too. Would they need to be thoughtful, intelligent, and articulate? Would you value obedience; someone to toe the party line for the greater good, rather than a maverick that will get the party into trouble? Would you want someone with valuable experience in the ‘real world’? What would it be – science, business, the law? Is this more ‘real’ than someone with experience of working in a supermarket, cleaning toilets, collecting tickets, and/ or looking after children?

Or, maybe you would want someone new? Maybe you are tired of corruption, adversarialism and a sense that metropolitan politicians don’t represent you. Maybe you want to reject the ‘political class’ and want someone who has not yet been in politics. Someone that hasn’t spent years training to be a politician. Someone that hasn’t gone to a private school, Oxford or Cambridge, and worked for the party until the right seat came up. Someone completely different. A reluctant politician. Someone that you could rule out if they said they wanted to be a politician.

In short, maybe you want The Amazing Mrs Pritchard. She is fictional, though. That is a major problem. Other real world problems include:

  • Politics is, in many ways, a shite job. Maybe it pays well, but not compared to the less-shite jobs that many MPs or candidates will be qualified to do. You are expected to work every day, for long hours, and take crap while you are doing it. In many cases, you have to do it as a candidate – taking shit for free and working full time, somewhere else, to keep it going – with no guarantee that you’ll be elected any time soon (or keep your seat).
  • People aren’t falling over themselves to come forward. There might be a brief honeymoon period in some cases (as with the SNP right now, and maybe Scottish Labour in 1999) but the choice will still not be great.

Most importantly, you face a major problem when you try to combine many of these MP-qualities to produce a collection of MPs:

  • How can you pick new faces if you need to choose people that you know are committed to the party enough to toil away as a candidate?
  • How can a party try to select a group of people, using some sensible criteria, without looking like control freaks when they reject some candidates (the SNP right now, Scottish Labour in 1999)?
  • How do you prioritize between, say, gender, geography and experience of the ‘real world’? Labour is the most likely to prioritize all women shortlists (AWS), the Liberal Democrats the most likely to go local (and describe AWS as illiberal), while the Conservatives and UKIP seem to favour people with ‘proper jobs’ before entering politics. In each case, something tends to suffer as a result: the Liberal Democrats often have relatively few women, Labour looks like the control freak party imposing women and professional politicians, and the Conservatives struggle to be local.
  • How can you select someone based on ‘merit’ if you haven’t tried someone out as a candidate? And did we even work out what ‘merit’ means in politics?
  • Are you willing to select a crapper candidate if they live locally or just thought about entering politics 5 minutes ago?

I say all this because we are now into a Westminster election year, which is already producing the usual arguments about who should be selected (this is quite a good one though). It would be a mistake to portray one’s position on these things simply as principled when, in practice, we have to choose between a range of several principles that might guide selection.

I’ve been writing about these things in longer (draft) papers:

With Michael Keating and Alex Wilson on the backgrounds of MPs, MEPs, MSPs and AMs https://paulcairney.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/cairney-keating-wilson-31-10-14.pdf

With Peter Allen on the ‘political class’ Peter Allen Paul Cairney 10.12.14

See also What is the problem with the British political class?

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Filed under Scottish politics, UK politics and policy