This is the first of two lectures in which we consider MLG, as the diffusion of power from central government to other governments and non-government actors, and IGR, as the ways in which those governments share power and cooperate. These concepts can represent two different ways to study the same thing: MLG often describes fluid and unpredictable policy processes, while IGR often focuses on formal powers, the role of institutions, and the resolution of disputes. Referring to MLG and IGR, the subsequent two lectures examine Scottish public expenditure (and the ‘Barnett formula’) and the likely effect of the new Scotland Act.
When I describe multi-level governance (MLG) in the UK, I contrast it with the ‘Westminster model’. The comparison allows us to identify a diffusion of power in two ways:
- Vertically – at supranational, national, regional and local levels (hence multi-level).
- Horizontally – shared between ministers/ government departments and many non-governmental and quasi-non-governmental organisations (hence governance rather than government).
An initial focus on the UK allows us to challenge (again) the idea that its policy process is ‘majoritarian’, in which power is concentrated at the centre, and governments tend to make policy in a ‘top down’ and uncompromising way. Our previous discussions of policy networks/ communities/ styles already helped us question this image and the idea that its political system contrasts with Scotland’s alleged ‘consensus democracy’. A focus on MLG reinforces this argument, by identifying a tendency of many governments to share power and policymaking responsibility with other actors in and out of government.
MLG also helps us understand the wider context of Scottish policymaking. We have already discussed the idea of ‘horizontal’ power diffusion by identifying the role of interest groups in territorial policy communities, and one aspect of ‘vertical’ diffusion by identifying:
- the links between a ‘Scottish approach to policymaking’ and new forms of governance and accountability, based on the Scottish Government sharing power with local public bodies and encouraging them to form new strategies with their stakeholders
- complexity theory and the idea of ‘emergence’ from local level activity.
So, imagine MLG as the formation of policy networks that span more than one level of government, and the ‘emergence’ of policies and practices from multi-level activity. It is important to identify which actors are responsible for those outcomes in theory, to inform discussions of accountability, but difficult to know who to blame in practice when there are blurry boundaries between the actors who make or influence policy.
As we discuss next week, this problem may be exacerbated by further constitutional change, which is built on a level of shared responsibility, between the UK and Scottish Government, not envisaged in the original devolution ‘settlement’.
Multi-level policymaking: the division of responsibilities
For now, let’s start with the original settlement, set out in the Scotland Act 1998, which stated which policy areas would remain reserved to the UK Government (why does it matter if the legislation sets out reserved or devolved responsibilities?). Reserved areas are in the left hand column, which allows us to work out the main responsibilities of the Scottish Government (which it inherited largely from the old Scottish Office – devolution did not prompt a major review of its responsibilities). In the middle are some examples of UK/ Scotland overlaps, followed by examples of policy issues that are devolved and ‘Europeanised’.
If we simply compare the left/ right columns, the divisions seem fairly clear. Indeed, compared to many other systems – in which, for example, national and regional governments might share control over healthcare or education – they are.
The ‘Europeanisation’ of policy
Yet, many policy areas were becoming controlled or influenced increasingly by the European Union as they were being devolved. Further, the UK Government is the Member State, with three main implications:
- It is responsible for the implementation of EU directives across the UK, which gives it a monitoring role on Scottish policy in devolved areas.
- It tends to treat the EU as an extension of foreign affairs/ international relations – a reserved issue – rather than a collection of policy areas which can be reserved or devolved.
- It is difficult to consider constitutional change without taking into account key EU rules, in areas such as corporation tax and renewable energy obligations (next week).
Outside of the obvious areas, such as EU rules on free trade and the free movement of people, the most Europeanised and devolved areas tend to be in:
- Agriculture and fishing. The Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy are negotiated and set at the EU level, often with minimal Scottish Government involvement but with some discretion during implementation.
- Environmental regulation. Similarly, Scotland’s environmental policies begin with the need to be consistent with EU rules in areas such as water quality and environmental protection.
Then, there is a miscellany of EU advice and regulations with the potential to have a major impact on otherwise devolved policies. For example, the ‘working time directive’ (do you know the details?) has an impact on doctors’ working conditions, while the habitat directive impacts on planning processes. This is on top of a more general sense that EU rules on trade and the free movement of people have a major impact on any policy area.
The blurry boundaries between reserved and devolved issues
There are many examples of areas in which at least two levels of government are involved. In some cases, this potential for multi-level involvement produced uncertainty about how to act:
- In the very early years, Scottish ministers expressed uncertainty about their role in issues such as industrial policy and a register of sex offenders.
- The ‘smoking ban’ raised interesting issues about the ‘purpose test’ to determine who is primarily responsible for key policies. It is part of a larger set of tobacco control policy instruments produced by Scottish, UK, and EU policymakers.
- Scottish Parliament legislation to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol has been delayed by court action (it is currently being considered by the ECJ).
In some cases, there were tensions about the overlaps of responsibilities:
- The Scottish Government’s policy on ‘free personal care’ for older people reduced many people’s entitlement to UK government social security payments. It faced similar issues when proposing a local income tax.
- The UK’s Home Office policy on ‘dawn raids’ on unsuccessful asylum seekers was carried out in Scotland by a devolved police force.
In others, an overlap of responsibilities seems inevitable, since many policy areas are ‘cross-cutting’; they involve many policy instruments and government departments:
- Fuel and child poverty are addressed with a mix of taxes, benefits, and public services.
- Cross-cutting UK initiatives – such as the New Deal and Sure Start – require a degree of cooperation with devolved public services.
- The Scottish Government’s ‘Fresh Talent’ initiative required Home Office approval.
In other words, overlaps are inevitable when any government tries to combine devolved discretion with national control. In the next lecture we can discuss how the UK and Scottish Governments dealt with these overlaps.