Introduction: can there be a ‘Scottish approach’ to policymaking? #POLU9SP

A key part of this course is to examine critically the idea that political practices in Scotland are distinctively Scottish. Many ‘Scottish’ practices are often part of more general trends that also occur in Scotland. What we often describe as ‘Scottish’ turn out to be lazy assertions or exaggerations, from the vague ‘wha’s like us?’ suggestion that Scots are a breed apart, to specific assertions about a greater left-wing population in Scotland.

In each case, it is useful to consider the meaning of, and evidence behind, such statements, to separate territorial practices from ‘universal’ trends. So, in Peter Lynch’s course, you can explore the Scottishness of Scottish politics through the study of social attitudes, parties, and voting behaviour. In mine, we focus on Scottish politics and policymaking.

Weeks 1 and 2: theories, concepts, and policy analysis

We begin by discussing a range of theories and concepts to help explain ‘the policy process’. This discussion allows us to identify the elements of politics and policymaking that we would expect to find in all political systems, then explore Scotland-specific aspects.

For example, a key phrase in policy theory is ‘bounded rationality’: policymakers do not have the ability to pay attention to all of the issues for which they are responsible. So, they ignore most issues and promote a small number to the top of their agenda. To make decisions quickly, they use shortcuts to gather information, partly by relying on a small number of sources, and partly by using emotional, gut-level and habitual short cuts to decisions. That is the ‘universal’ aspect of policymaking. The territorial aspect refers to the specific shortcuts and frames of reference that policymakers in Scotland use. In the first lecture, we can discuss what those shortcuts might be.

In week 2, we discuss how you might produce policy-relevant analysis in that context: how do you describe a policy problem and recommend a solution to a ‘boundedly rational’ policymaker?

Weeks 3 and 4: ‘new Scottish politics’

In politics, a ‘Scottish approach’ could relate to several things, including ‘new Scottish politics’. This phrase refers to its opposite ‘old Westminster’. The pursuit of Scottish devolution in the 1990s was accompanied by plans for political reforms in areas such as:

  • Participatory democracy, with a focus on the right to petition parliament and a new civic forum, to reflect a Scottish system with an alleged tradition of civic democracy and the diffusion of power.
  • Deliberative democracy, with the Scottish Parliament at the heart of debate and the hub for new voices.
  • Representative democracy, including a more proportional electoral system and greater representation of women in the Scottish Parliament.
  • Pluralist democracy, including a new focus by the Scottish Government (overseen by Scottish Parliament committees) on not merely consulting the ‘usual suspects’.
  • Consensus democracy, including cooperation between a minority or coalition government with opposition parties, and between the Scottish Government and its ‘stakeholders’.

So, in weeks 3 and 4 we look at Scottish political practices since 1999 and consider the extent to which ‘new politics’ developed.

Week 5: the ‘Scottish Approach to Policymaking’

In policymaking, a ‘Scottish approach’ can refer to one broad and one specific set of practices. The first is called ‘Scottish policy style’ in a lot of the academic literature. The phrase describes the Scottish Government’s reputation for two practices:

  1. A consultation style which is relatively inclusive and consensual.
  2. A ‘governance’ style which places unusually high levels of trust in public bodies.

The second is called the ‘Scottish Approach to Policymaking’ (SATP) by the Scottish Government. It refers to three guiding principles for policymaking:

  1. An evidence-based process driven by an ‘improvement’ method.
  2. An ‘assets based’ approach.
  3. ‘Co-production’ of policy by the Scottish Government, public bodies, communities and service users.

So, in week 5 we try to clarify the meaning of these phrases, and examine critically the Scottish Government’s reputation for making policy in a distinctive way.

Weeks 6 and 7: Multi-level policymaking

Then, we examine the extent to which policymaking in Scotland can be uniquely ‘Scottish’ when key responsibilities are still held by the UK government and many policy areas are ‘Europeanised’. When making policy, the Scottish Government receives its funding from HM Treasury, implements European Union directives, and shares responsibility with the UK government for many decisions. In many ways, further devolution – via the new Scotland Act – will complicate these relationships further.

Weeks 8-10 Scottish policy

Finally, we discuss the extent to which all of these factors help produce distinctly Scottish policies. We note the difference between policy change and divergence, and between a change in policy choices and the implementation of those choices. We identify high profile examples of policy divergence to consider how representative they are of the overall picture. We consider important examples of Scottish policymaking and policy change, to see what they tell us about ‘universal’ aspects of the policy process.

Finally, we consider what effect constitutional change would have on this picture of Scottish politics. For example, would Scottish independence produce a markedly new, Scottish policy process?

1 Comment

Filed under POLU9SP, public policy, Scottish politics

One response to “Introduction: can there be a ‘Scottish approach’ to policymaking? #POLU9SP

  1. Pingback: What we know about consultation and policy-making | Paul Cairney: Politics & Public Policy

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