In this page, I list a series of my posts on the Scottish Parliament election in 2016.

Outside of this blog, there will be loads of posts – e.g. What Scotland Thinks – which use the latest opinion polls to track the fortunes of each party.

My attempt to provide ‘added value’ is to invite you to step back and consider the context in which this election takes place, with topics including:

  1. The Scottish Parliament election 2016: the talking points so far
  2. The meaning of accountability in Westminster-style elections. Can we hold the Scottish Government to account, in a meaningful way, when there is such a gulf between (a) what it can reasonably do and (b) what parties promise to do when competing for office? I discuss the contradiction between the language of elections (let’s blame or praise the central government because it is in control and has the levers to make things happen) and ‘governance’ (let’s recognise the limits to the central control, and the pragmatic ways in which the centre shares policymaking responsibility with local bodies). We can use our knowledge of this contradiction to get beyond simplistic debates in which the SNP gets all the praise or blame for outcomes in devolved areas in Scotland.
  3. The meaning of accountability in multi-level systems. Can we hold the Scottish Government to account, in a meaningful way, when it shares policymaking responsibility with UK and EU-level authorities? I discuss the extent to which we can separate the effects of Scottish Government policies from those of other governments.
  4. The competition to frame issues and tell convincing stories. The debate on the Scottish Rate of Income Tax (SRIT) is a great case study of the importance of ‘framing’ and storytelling in politics. It can show us the importance of a competition to turn (a) a complex world with many causes of good or bad outcome, into (b) a simple world with heroes, villains and single causes. This discussions seems particularly apt when Scottish politics seems so divided, so that even our discussion of the mental arithmetic underpinning the SRIT is subject to the ‘devil shift’.
  5. What happens when we don’t pay attention to policy? It is common for people to argue that our obsession with the constitution distracts us from the day to day business of policymaking. But what actually happens when we pay minimal attention? I discuss the concept of ‘policy communities’, or the enduring relationships between policymakers and the groups most interested and active in specific issues.
  6. What happens when policymakers have multiple, potentially contradictory, objectives? The new ‘fiscal framework’ seems like a good case study.
  7. Would the Scottish Conservatives provide ‘strong opposition’? Not really

I’ll add to this list as the election unfolds (or if you send me suggestions for topics).

I’ll also write up some standard discussions of key part of the process (to feed into an article for Scottish Affairs):

  • The nature of the debate. For example, which issues dominated the election?
  • The unusual nature of this election. The key explanation for SNP success in the 2007 and 2011 elections relates to ‘valence politics’: the SNP does well in relation to its image of ‘governing competence’, leader, and its party’s ‘vision’ for the future. One’s constitutional preference matters, but successive studies have shown the importance of people voting SNP even when they support the union. Following the referendum, its success seems to relate more strongly to the constitutional preferences of its supporters.
  • The role of the constitutional question. We are waiting to see how the SNP’s manifesto will describe the conditions under which it will propose a second referendum.
  • The effect of SNP dominance on Scottish politics. I will discuss critically the idea that Scotland now has a ‘one party state’, but it clearly faces limited opposition despite the potential for its electoral system to oblige cross-party interaction.
  • The effect of SNP dominance on policy. What is the SNP’s domestic policy agenda?

(so far, a lot of this is covered briefly in The Scottish Parliament election 2016: the talking points so far)

Please see below

Previously, this page only held my posts on the Scottish independence referendum and its aftermath. I updated the order of the list to reflect the No vote and the limited relevance of some (but not all) of the ‘if Yes’ ones. Most of the newer posts will relate to the policy process (life goes on, after all).


The result of the Scottish independence referendum and the future of British politics

The Smith Commission on accountability: I don’t think it means what they think it means

The Smith Commission: will greater powers come with greater democratic accountability?

3 reasons why devo max won’t happen

Public Lecture: ‘Will life go on after the Scottish Independence referendum?’

Life goes on after the Scottish independence referendum (the 3000 word version)

The Scottish political system and policy process share the same ‘complex government’ features as any country (the LSE 1200 word version)

What will devo-max mean? (the 2000 worder on devo max)

Scots should forget devo max, it’s not possible and wasn’t offered – here’s why (the shorter, more provocative, Conversation 1000 worder on devo max)

(read along with When People Talk About Media Bias, What Do They Mean? What is the Evidence? which also discusses the coverage of devo max)

A surge of SNP support – what does it mean?

Scottish independence: don’t try to explain the wrong thing


The Vow: what is the significance of the Barnett formula announcement?

Scottish Independence: beware the Constitutional Convention?

Devo-Max: Does it mean the maximum you WANT or the maximum you CAN HAVE?

Under ‘Devo-Max’, ‘Fiscal Autonomy’ is an illusion

The Scottish Conservative plans for tax are about as good as you can do under devolution, but that’s not saying much

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

Fracking in Scotland: maximum devolution versus a quadruple lock?

What is the Barnett Formula?

Potted History of Needs Assessment and Barnett

Scottish Public Expenditure Explained

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

Crisis of the Union?

Background on that West Lothian Question story

The Calman Commission Report on Scottish Devolution

POLICY AND POLICYMAKING – the most relevant ‘life goes on’ posts are:

The language of complexity does not mix well with the language of Westminster-style accountability

Social investment, prevention and early intervention: a ‘window of opportunity’ for new ideas?

Can the Scottish Government pursue ‘prevention policy’ without independence?

A ‘decisive shift to prevention’: how do we turn an idea into evidence based policy?

Preventative Spending and the ‘Scottish Policy Style’

Scottish Independence: Should You Use the Powers You Have Before You Ask For More?

Scotland’s Policy-Making Capacity: Background and Summary

Some of these are still highly relevant (I put them in order), but you now have to look beyond the indy lens a bit:

Scottish Independence: Will Anything Really Change?

Would an Independent Scotland Make Policy Differently?

Would an Independent Scotland Become a Consensus Democracy?

Scottish Independence: What are the implications for health policy?

Vote Yes to Save the NHS?

Would Scottish Independence Save the NHS and Keep Education Free?

Scottish Labour and Independence

GENERAL & DEBATES – some of these are still highly relevant, since they discuss UK and Scottish politics

Scottish Independence: a rejection of Westminster politics?

Scottish Independence and the Devil Shift

What Do People Know About Scottish Politics and the Independence Referendum?

Would an Independent Scotland be More Left Wing (in a meaningful way)?

Perspectives on the Scottish independence referendum

So what if many SNP voters don’t support independence? (this may link to new work on the rising membership of the SNP, Scottish Greens and SSP)

The Scottish Independence Debate (Stirling)

Some are more about issues that arose during the debate:

Scottish Independence: How do you decide? (this is still relevant to life’s big decisions)

If there is a Yes vote in the #indyref, will you be deported?

Who won the second #Indyref Debate? Ask the audience

Who won the first Salmond/ Darling #indyref debate? How can you tell?

McBusted has been to the Year 3000 and it predicts a higher income tax in Scotland relative to the rest of the UK

10 Reasons Why You Should Vote For/ Against Scottish Independence

Scottish Independence: How and Should You Vote?

Book Reviews: Scottish Independence

Everything would be shite in an independent Scotland

Testing, testing, podcast on independence

CONSTITUTION AND PARLIAMENT – a lot of these are still highly relevant, including discussions of the size and capacity of the Scottish Parliament if more powers are devolved:

The Scottish Independence Debate: a missed opportunity for political reform?

What is the Future of Scotland’s Political System?

Democracy Max

Consider the Unintended Consequences of Local Devolution

The Role of the Scottish Parliament in a Devolved or Independent Scotland

If the Vote is Yes: What Will Be the Size of the Scottish Parliament?

Addressing Academic Assumptions: Revisiting That Presentation (on the Scottish Parliament)

How Can the Scottish Parliament Be Improved as a Legislature?

The IndyRef and the Scottish Parliament

Similarly, these posts are about things that won’t happen now, but the broader issues remain relevant:

How do governments promote democracy to secure legitimacy for their actions?

Accountability and oversight of the security services in an independent Scotland

Scotland, Independence and the European Union

Mental Health and a New Scottish Constitution

Most of the rest are discussions of independence plans or post-referendum negotiations:


If there is a Yes vote to Scottish independence, what is ‘the UK interest’?

Scottish independence: what is the next step in the currency union debate?

Was it really a ‘Black Wednesday’ for Alex Salmond and the Yes Campaign?

Will Scotland Keep the Pound? A speech for two audiences


Scotland’s Future: A Summary of the White Paper in Slightly Fewer Words Than The White Paper’s Own Summary

Scotland’s Future: For People Who Live and Work Here With Certain Values

In the future, SNP policy may not be Scottish Government policy

An SNP Debate on Policy is not Synonymous with Scottish Policy


Scottish Independence Explained

What does Scottish independence mean? (this might still be handy to compare with ‘devo max’)

Indy Light part 1

Indy Light part 2


What Can an Independent Scotland Learn From Other Countries?

The World is Watching the Scottish Independence Debate

The International Image of Scottish Devolution: a view from Japan

What Can Japan Learn from Devolution in the UK?

Canada and the indyref


The Independence Referendum – annoyance is important

Independence Referendum: One for the Trainspotters

‘Does my accent matter?’



The #indyref ruined my holiday

Private Eye Independence Question

“Shut him up”

David Cameron’s Phone Conversation

Let Me Bore You About the Scottish Independence Referendum

Independence: how no, eh?

How Scottish Are You?
When I do a post based largely on new research, it appears on the Future of the UK and Scotland site: http://www.futureukandscotland.ac.uk/about/people/paul-cairney

See also:

The Scottish push towards local democracy carries potential unintended costs (Democratic Audit)

Will a ‘Yes’ vote save the NHS? (LSE)

Scotland, Independence and the European Union (E-IR)

Scotland special: NHS (New Healthy Scotland) (Total Politics)




6 responses to “SP16

  1. Pingback: British Politics and Policy at LSE – Will a ‘Yes’ vote save the NHS?

  2. Pingback: Scottish Independence: beware the Constitutional Convention? | Paul Cairney: Politics & Public Policy

  3. Pingback: Scottish Independence: interest from Canada | Paul Cairney: Politics & Public Policy

  4. Pingback: Life goes on after the Scottish independence referendum | Paul Cairney: Politics & Public Policy

  5. Pingback: British Politics and Policy at LSE – The Scottish political system and policy process share the same ‘complex government’ features as any country

  6. Pingback: Brexit and the inevitability of Scottish Independence | Paul Cairney: Politics & Public Policy

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