Tag Archives: European Union

We are recruiting a Senior Lecturer/ Associate Professor in International Politics at the University of Stirling

The details are here, and they include this discussion of further particulars:

We seek to appoint a Senior Lecturer or Associate Professor (grade 9) in international politics with an emphasis on the politics and policy of the European Union. International Politics constitutes a core element of both our successful Masters Programme in International Conflict and Cooperation (ICC), our BA programmes in Politics and International Politics, and our professional doctorate in diplomacy. The appointee will contribute to both doctoral, Masters and undergraduate provisions and to our Centre for Policy, Conflict and Co-Operation Research. An ability to deliver the introductory module Introduction to International Politics (POLU9X3) at undergraduate level is essential. The appointee will also play a key role in delivering our ICC Masters and Doctor of Diplomacy programmes. A taught specialism in fields such as European Union politics and policymaking (preferably in the context of international politics), EU in the context of international organisations, and EU public policy – as well as its intersection with concepts such as gender, sexuality, and race – would be particularly welcome. As well as making a significant contribution to our Masters and undergraduate programmes, the appointee would be expected to pursue a programme of research, including research outputs and funding applications, to undertake postgraduate research supervision relevant to their expertise and to undertake administrative duties as prescribed by the Head of Division.

Why do we make reference to ‘gender, sexuality, and race’ in the FPs?

6 of our 8 permanent lecturers are men and 8 are white. We are not interested in simply reinforcing the imbalances that are already there. So, we worded the ‘further particulars’ to make sure that people know we have realistic hopes of producing a more diverse and gender-balanced short list. Usually, job adverts will have a pro-forma statement about equalities, but we are trying to go one step further to signal – albeit with rather subtle cues – that we have thought about this issue a bit more; that we’d like to expand our networks and the ways in which our staff approach the study of politics. We are trying to make sure that our current set up does not put off women or people of colour from applying, recruiting from a subject pool in which there is (I think) a relatively good gender balance, and signaling support for research topics that might help expand our current offering.

The more general advice

I am your pre-interview contact point and recommend that you get in touch with me before you apply. In the meantime, here are some tips on the application and interview processes.

The application process:

  • At this stage, the main documents are the CV and the cover letter.
  • You should keep the cover letter short to show your skills at concise writing. Focus on what you can offer the Division specifically, given the nature of our call and further particulars.
  • Shortlisted candidates at this level will almost certainly be established lecturers with a strong record on publications, income, and leadership – so what makes you stand out? Note that you will have the chance to play an important part of a group which is small enough (about 9 in Politics, as part of a larger Division) to act collectively – to, for example, influence its research direction (as a group, we hold 6 x 90 minute research workshops per year for that purpose).
  • Focus on what you have already done when discussing what you will promise to do over the next five years. Those plans seem more realistic if there is already some sort of track record.
  • We take teaching very seriously. Within our division, we plan an overall curriculum together, discuss regularly if it is working, and come to agreements about how to teach and assess work. We pride ourselves on being a small and friendly bunch of people, open to regular student contact and, for example, committed to meaningful and regular feedback. You might think about how you would contribute in that context. In particular, you should think about how you would deliver large undergraduate courses (in which you may only be an expert on some of the material) as well as the smaller, more specialist and advanced, courses closer to your expertise.

The interview process

By the interview stage, you should almost certainly have a conversation with me to make sure that you are well prepared. For example, here are the things that you really should know at that stage:

  1. The teaching and research specialisms of the division and their links to cross-divisional research.
  2. The kinds of courses that the division would expect you to teach.
  3. Perhaps most importantly, you need to be able to articulate why you want to come and work at Stirling.‘Why Stirling?’ or ‘Why this division?’ is usually the first question in an interview, so you should think about it in advance. We recommend doing some research on Stirling and the division/ faculty, to show in some detail that you have a considered reply (beyond ‘it is a beautiful campus’). We will see through a generic response in a heartbeat and, since it is the first question, your answer will set the tone for the rest of the interview. You might check, for example, who you might share interests with in the Division, and how you might  develop links beyond the division (for example, the Centre for Gender & Feminist Studies in our school) or faculty (such as the Faculty of Social Sciences) – since this is likely to be a featured question too.
  4. Then you might think about what you would bring to the University in a wider sense, such as through well-established (domestic and international) links with other scholars in academic networks.
  5. Further, since ‘impact’ is of rising importance, you might discuss your links with people and organisations outside of the University, and how you have pursued meaningful engagement with the public or practitioners to maximise the wider contribution of your research.

The presentation plus interview format

  1. In our system there tend to be presentations to divisional (and other interested) staff in the morning, with interviews in the afternoon. The usual expectation is that if you can’t make the date, you can’t get the job (although we can make accommodations to help you apply).
  2. We recommend keeping the presentation compact, to show that you can present complex information in a concise and clear way. Presentations are usually a mix of what you do in research and what you will contribute in a wider sense to the University.
  3. The interview panel varies according to the seniority of the role. For senior lecturers, the panel will have five members: one subject specialist from the Division, one other member of the Faculty (not necessarily from our division), the Head of Faculty of Arts and Humanities, a senior manager of the University (in the chair), and a senior academic in another Faculty (by the time of interview you should know what these terms mean at Stirling).
  • So, note that 1 member will be a subject specialist (in Politics). This means that (at the very least) you need to describe your success in a way that a wider audience will appreciate (for example, you would have to explain the significance of a single-author article in the APSR!). It sounds daunting, but we are a friendly bunch and want you to do well. You might struggle to retain all of our names (nerves), so focus on the types of question we ask – for example, the general question to get you started will be from the senior manager, and the research question from the divisional representative. There will be 4 men and 1 woman on the panel.




Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Heresthetics and referendums

Heresthetic(s) describes the importance of the order of choice on political choices. The Scottish referendum process could become a brilliant example ….

William Riker invented the term heresthetics (or heresthetic) to describe the importance of a particular kind of manipulation:

one can help produce a particular choice if one can determine the context of, or order in which people make, choices.

Put simply, if you want to make something happen, it may be better to influence the institutions in which people make decisions, or frame issues to determine which particular aspect of a problem to which people pay attention, than change their minds about their preferences.

The prospect of a second referendum on Scottish independence could provide a nice, simple, example of this process.

Ideally, you would want to know about people’s preferences in considerable detail. After all, life is more complicated than binary choices suggest, and people are open to compromise. Yet, we tend to produce very simple binary referendums because they would otherwise be very difficult for most of the public to understand or for policymakers to interpret.

So, the way in which we simply that choice matters (for example, in Scotland, it led to the rejection of a third option – super dee duper mega max devolution – on the ballot paper, and therefore limited the choices of people who might have that third option as their first preference).

So too does the way in which we make several simple choices in a particular order.

Imagine a group of people – crucial to the outcome – whose main preference is that Scotland stays inside the UK in the EU:

  1. In a referendum in which Scotland votes first, this group votes No to Scottish independence on the assumption that the result will best reflect their preferences (helping produce 55% No).
  2. In a referendum in which Scotland votes after the UK (and the UK votes to leave the EU), many people will change their choice even if they have not changed their preferences (they would still prefer to be in the UK and EU, but that is no longer an option). So, some will choose to be in the UK out of the EU, but others will choose out of the UK and in the EU.

So, the order of choice, and the conditions under which we make choices, matters even when people have the same basic preferences. The people who voted No in the first referendum may vote Yes in the second, but still say that their initial choice was correct under the circumstances (and quite right too). Or, there may not be a second opportunity to choose.

This dynamic of choice is true even before we get into the more emotional side (some people will feel let down by the argument that a No vote was to stay in the EU).

Further reading:

If you want the Scottish argument in a less dispassionate form, read this by Alan Massie. If you want something more concise, see this tweet:

If you want more on heresthetic, google William Riker and take it from there.

Or, have a look at my series on policymaking. In two-dozen different ways, these posts identify these issues of framing, rules, and the order of choice. Search, for example, for ‘path dependence’ which describes the often profound long term effects of events and decisions made in a particular order in the past.

Note, of course, that only some choice situations are open to direct manipulation. In our case, I don’t think anyone managed to produce a Leave vote in the EU referendum to get a second crack at Scottish independence 😉


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

Celebrate the referendum, and celebrate politics, even if it looks crap


It’s hard to find anyone to say a good word about the UK’s referendum on EU membership. Yet, we should take a minute to celebrate, at the very least, the principle of a referendum. In principle, we’ll have most of the voting public coming together to make a decision on a matter of major importance to British politics. Leaders make their pitch, and we make an important choice. It’s as close as we’ll get to direct democracy in action.

Instead, it’s tempting to blame the referendum for such a bad-looking outcome: manipulative campaigners are stirring up division and fear, and lying about the likely outcomes; people with limited knowledge are basing their decisions on their values and emotions in the relative absence of ‘facts’; and, some people are exploiting the opportunity to be abusive or violent in the name of politics. Or, to put it in a far vaguer way, there is a bad ‘climate’ associated with the referendum, and it just doesn’t feel right.

However, if this is what we think of political elite behaviour, and of the limits to the knowledge and deliberative capacity of the public, I can’t think of any political mechanism that would help. For example:

  1. With representative democracy, we’d have 5-year elections in which people make uninformed choices about parties doing anything to get elected.
  2. With pluralist democracy, we’d have governments selling favours to vested interests.
  3. When developing new forms of accountability, we’d have fat cat quango chief executives lining their own pockets at the public’s expense, local community councils and partnerships manipulating processes to make sure that nothing bad happens in their own back yard, and service users cheating the system to get better public services than other people – and all of this would be overseen by parliamentarians and other politicians who don’t give a shit.

Consider the consequences of rejecting referendums

I think we often think the worst of people, and despair of certain political mechanisms, when they don’t deliver what we want. We fear the consequences of political outcomes that don’t reflect our values or interests and – particularly during a heated referendum in which so many people are involved – get a bit of a shock when we see how many people hold opposing views so passionately. For the people most engaged in debate, this can be a visceral experience that reduces our ability to take a step back and give us more time to consider events and their meaning.

Perhaps a small part of us thinks that our opponents are idiots, or at least that they would change their minds if they were more informed, less stupid, less emotional, and less vulnerable to manipulation by political leaders (and that the people who share our views are heroic deliberators basing their decisions on evidence).

If so, it might be safer and less worrying to hold on to political mechanisms which limit such debates, but only when the status quo suits us. When it reinforces a position to which we oppose, we are more likely to be up in arms, decrying the ability of a political class to close off debate, for their own interests, using institutions, biased arguments, and other resources to boost their power.

Instead, I recommend two things:

  1. Blame the worst offenders by name, rather than the mechanisms they use to get what they want.
  2. Consider how to make decisions by combining emotions and evidence.


Of course, this has been a big set-up for further reading:

There are some good concepts which help us think through these issues:

On the links between power and policymaking

On ‘framing’ to manipulate political debate and policy choices

On the role of institutions and ‘standard operating procedures’ to (for example) help close off debate

On the networks of influence in which only some people are members (in any political system)

On multi-level governance, complexity, and complex government (to show us that, while the EU looks distant and hard to understand, the UK suffers many of the same problems)

On the role of emotion and ‘irrationality’ versus evidence in politics and policymaking

(If you just want a source for the picture see here)


Filed under agenda setting, UK politics and policy

The EU referendum: How do you decide?

Andrew Glencross and Paul Cairney give some advice on how to wade through all the information on ‘Brexit’ to make an informed choice. Andrew offers a more thorough discussion in Remain or Leave? A MOOC on the UK Referendum on EU Membership.

We often hear that citizens don’t have enough information to help them make a decision about the EU referendum. Yet, there is too much information. Most people don’t have the time or inclination to  wade through all the campaign claims and evaluate them

We also hear that what we need is an ‘objective’ guide; someone to pull together all the evidence so that people can read it and make an informed decision. This will never happen. There is no objective guide. Indeed, the whole idea of objectivity is misleading. Anyone presenting ‘evidence’ on the debate is giving a partial story. This is clear when you hear people making the best, most optimistic, cases for or against evidence. If you want a well-rounded case, you don’t ask David Cameron or Boris Johnson.

It’s less clear when alleged experts join in, but the biases are still there. Everyone tells you some things and leaves out the rest; they describe to you one simple part of a complicated picture. Then, another expert will tell you the direct opposite. So, there will never come a point when you read enough to make a decision based on ‘the evidence’.

What can you do instead? We suggest two strategies.

Strategy 1: engage critically with any information you receive

Don’t take it at face value. Instead, consider:

Who is giving me the information and to what extent can I trust them?

This is relatively easy when you read a Remain or Leave pamphlet or listen to campaigners in debates. Set your trust levels to low (often, these messages simply reinforce what you believe, or annoy you). Or, at least, try to combine their accounts to see if there is any middle ground (which is not always possible).

It’s harder when people are brought in as ‘experts’. For every business guru, lawyer or university professor on one side, there seems to be an equivalent on the other (although, in some cases such as economic matters, there seems to be an imbalance towards Remain).

Still, it is not a good idea to assume that, just because Professor Something said something it is true. What you should think about professors is that they have excellent reputations based on research and scholarly excellence in a particular field – not that everything they say is gold. Beware, in particular, the Professor with expertise in one field (such as law or economics) trying to give you his/her views of another (such as economics or law).

What do people really mean?

What tends to happen in this debate is that no-one wants to give any ground; on both sides, the goal is to win at all costs. As a result, the debates tend to be very limited and partial, producing more heat than light before another topic has its moment in the limelight. Simple examples include the debate on how many EU migrants actually work in the UK (should we rely on national insurance numbers issued or exit surveys at airport?) or the question of whether the EU has secret plans for a common army (more cooperation in defence can go ahead without UK participation, but that does not mean the outcome will be an EU army).

How much of the information is based on what they claim to know versus what they predict?

Some problems are easy to spot: beware any prediction of Armageddon or of a better world. If a prediction for a new world seems too good to be true, you know to reject it. If someone says that everything will be unambiguously terrible, you can dismiss them quite easily. It’s harder to spot expert predictions based on one part knowledge and nine parts soothsaying. A good general rule is that a prediction becomes less useful for every year into the future it goes. If the future involves people, it is not easy to predict.

How does this information compare with other information?

One way to deal with information from one source is to compare it with as many other information sources as possible. So, for example, if you hear a point made in a debate, or read it in a leaflet, you can compare it with the thoughts of, say, critical media commentators and academics (e.g. UK in a Changing Europe, or the Centre on Constitutional Change). Or, you can simply ask yourself: is this an assertion, with no evidence, or can they back up what they are saying?

Unfortunately, this is not a good enough strategy on its own, largely because:

  1. Much of the relevant information is not available. We don’t know how people will behave after the vote – how, for example, the negotiations with the EU would progress after a Leave vote, how businesses and ‘the markets’ would react, or even if the vote prompts a further referendum in Scotland.
  2. There is too much information to process.
  3. We have to trust some people to give us useful information; to give us an account of the evidence on which we can rely.

Strategy 2: find ways to simplify your decision, to make it ‘good enough’.

So, we need an additional strategy to act intelligently but quickly. Forget the usual bunkum about some people thinking with their hearts and other people with their heads. Forget the idea of staying awake from now until the vote to make sure you’ve considered every Leave and Remain statement.

Instead, we all use short-cuts to make sure that we pay attention to some information and ignore the rest – and, for all of us, those short cuts include our established beliefs (we tend to reject some information if it contradicts our beliefs) and our emotions. Don’t feel bad if you feel passionately about something and can’t quite explain why. Don’t feel inadequate if someone else tells you that their decision is somehow more ‘rational’. Instead, seek simple ways to combine emotions with ‘rationality’:

  1. Work out your priorities. For some, it’s about the future of immigration. For some, it’s about the economy and certainty over trade. For others, it’s about ‘sovereignty’ and a desire to have policy decisions made in Westminster. For you, it may be about all of these things, but they may not be as important as each other. It is worth considering these priorities before you engage with the information.
  2. Work out what you are willing to give up. There is no realistic scenario in which everyone will be better off after a certain vote, or that everything will improve in each area. Rather, we are making important choices about what we are willing to give up to secure something else. For some, the uncertainty about the economy seems to trump all else. For others, it is about a principle that is more important than a guaranteed outcome.
  3. Identify your ‘gut feeling’ about which way to vote and ask yourself why you feel that way.
  4. Don’t be too annoyed. It is easy to decide to vote one way or another because someone in the Leave or Remain camp annoys you, or they appear to present misleading material, or give you a message in a patronising way. It’s not about them – otherwise, I think that most of us would spoil our ballot papers.

Then vote. It really is that simple.


Filed under UK politics and policy

Policy Concepts in 1000 Words: Policy Transfer and Learning

(podcast download)

‘Policy learning’ describes the use of knowledge to inform policy decisions. That knowledge can be based on information regarding the current problem, lessons from the past or lessons from the experience of others. This is a political, not technical or objective, process (for example, see the ACF post). ‘Policy transfer’ describes the transfer of policy solutions or ideas from one place to another, such as by one government importing the policy in another country (note related terms such as ‘lesson-drawing’, ‘policy diffusion’ and ‘policy convergence’ – transfer is a catch-all, umbrella, term). Although these terms can be very closely related (one would hope that a government learns from the experiences of another before transferring policy) they can also operate relatively independently. For example, a government may decide not to transfer policy after learning from the experience of another, or it may transfer (or ‘emulate’) without really understanding why the exporting country had a successful experience (see the post on bounded rationality). Here are some major examples:

BOX 12.1

It is a topic that lends itself well to practical advice; the ‘how to’ of policymaking. For example, Richard Rose’s ‘practical guide’ explores 10 steps:

Rose 10 lessons rotated

The descriptive/ empirical side asks these sorts of questions:

From where are lessons drawn? In the US, the diffusion literature examines which states tend to innovate or emulate. Some countries are also known as innovators in certain fields – such as Sweden and the social democratic state, Germany on inflation control and the UK on privatization. The US (or its states) tends to be a major exporter of ideas. Some countries often learn consistently from the same source (such as the UK from the US). Studies tend to highlight the reasons for borrowing from certain countries – for example, they share an ideology, common problems or policy conditions. ‘Globalization’ has also reduced practical barriers to learning between countries.

Who is involved? Apart from the usual suspects (elected officials, civil servants, interest groups), we can identify the role of federal governments (for states), international organizations (for countries), ‘policy entrepreneurs’ (who use their experience in one country to sell that policy to another – such as the Harvard Business School professor travelling the world selling ‘new public management’), international networks of experts (who feed up ideas to their national governments), multinational corporations (who encourage the ‘race to the bottom’, or the reduction of taxes and regulations in many countries), and other countries (such as the US).

Why transfer? Is transfer voluntary? The Dolowitz/ Marsh continuum sums up the idea that some forms of transfer are more voluntary than others. ‘Lesson-drawing’ is about learning from another country’s experience without much pressure (see the book to explain why I scribbled out some of the text!). At the other end is coercion. They place ‘conditionality’ near that end of the spectrum, since the idea is that countries who are so desperate to borrow money from the International Monetary Fund will feel they have no choice but to accept the IMF’s conditions – which usually involves reducing the role/ size of the state (although note the difference between agreeing to those conditions and meeting them). ‘Obligated transfer’ is further to the left because, for example, member states sign up to be influenced by EU institutions. Indirect coercion describes countries who feel they have to follow the lead of others, simply to ‘keep up’ or to respond to the ‘externalities’ or ‘spillovers’ of the policies of the other country (they are often felt most by small countries which share a border with larger countries).

figure 12.1 DM continuum

What is transferred? How much is transferred? Transfer can range from the decision to completely duplicate the substantive aims and institutions associated with a major policy change, taking decades to complete, to the vague inspiration (or the very quick decision not to emulate and, instead, to learn ‘negative lessons’).  It can also be a cover for something you planned to do anyway – ‘international experience’ is a great selling point.

What determines the likelihood and success of policy transfer? For an importing government to be successful, it should study the exporting country’s policy – and political system – enough to know what made it a success and if that success is transferable. Often, this is not done (governments may emulate without being particularly diligent) or it is not possible, since the policy may only work under particular circumstances (and we may not always know what those circumstances are). Much also depends on the implementation of policy, particularly when the transfer is encouraged by one organization and accepted reluctantly by another (such as when the EU, with limited enforcement powers, puts pressure on recalcitrant member states).

These questions are best asked alongside the general questions we explore in policymaking studies, including:

  • Bounded rationality and Incrementalism – do governments engage in trial-and-error and learn from their own mistakes first?  Is learning and transfer restricted to the ‘most similar’ regions because there is no point in learning from countries radically different from our own?  Do some governments emulate without learning? Is transfer from another, more innovative, government a common rule of thumb?
  • Multi-level Governance – does the existence of more policymaking arenas produce more innovation and a greater demand for learning? Or, does the diffusion of power undermine the ability of a central government to adopt policies from others?
  • Punctuated equilibrium – is transfer a rare opportunity produced by the sudden and unpredictable attention to new ideas?

Further Reading:

I explore these issues (and Rose’s advice) in a paper examining what Japan can learn from the UK’s experience of regionalism. It includes a discussion (summarised from Keating et al – Paywall Green) of the extent to which policy converges in a devolved UK and how much of that we can attribute to transfer and/ or learning:

Keating et al 2012 summary from japan paper


Filed under 1000 words, agenda setting, Evidence Based Policymaking (EBPM), Japan, public policy, Scottish politics, UK politics and policy

Policy Concepts in 1000 Words: the Westminster Model and Multi-level Governance


(podcast download)

A stark comparison between the ‘Westminster Model’ (WM) and Multi-level Governance (MLG) allows us to consider the difference between accountable government and the messy real world of policymaking. The WM may be used as an ideal-type to describe how power is centralized in the hands of a small number of elites:

  • We rely on representative, not participatory, democracy.
  • The plurality electoral system exaggerates the parliamentary majority of the biggest party and allows it to control Parliament.
  • A politically neutral civil service acts according to ministerial wishes.
  • The prime minister controls cabinet and ministers.

We may also identify an adversarial style of politics and a ‘winner takes all’ mentality which tends to exclude opposition parties. The government is responsible for the vast majority of public policy and it uses its governing majority, combined with a strong party ‘whip’ to make sure that its legislation is passed by Parliament.  Power is centralized and government policy is made from the top-down. In turn, the government is accountable to public, via Parliament, on the assumption that it is powerful, responsible and takes responsibility for public policy.

In contrast, MLG suggests that power is spread widely across the political system:

  • Vertically – at supranational, national, regional and local levels ((hence multi-level).
  • Horizontally – shared between government departments and a range of non-governmental and quasi-non-governmental (quango) bodies (hence governance rather than government).

The hook is that we are witnessing a major transformation: from national governing institutions to supranational and sub-national governing institutions; and, from central government to the different levels of government and non-governmental organizations that interact with them. MLG identifies blurred boundaries between formal and informal sources of authority which make it difficult to identify clear-cut decisions or power relations.

In the international arena, MLG suggests that it is difficult to identify sovereignty within national governments. Rather, they are tied increasingly to the policies agreed between states and implemented by international organizations. In the domestic arena, the interdependence between public and private actors (and levels of government which share responsibility) suggests that governments do not rely solely on formal decision-making powers. Instead, they may choose (or be forced) to ‘steer’ rather than ‘row’, negotiating the delivery of public services with a range of organizations, when in the past they delivered them directly.

table 8.1

We can think of these contrasts in two main ways. The first approach is a specific empirical look at countries such as the UK, considering how we got to this point. Much of the UK governance literature suggests that governments created their own domestic governance problems through things like:

  • Privatization. The sale of public assets, break up of state monopolies, injection of competition, introduction of public–private partnerships for major capital projects, and charging for government services.
  • Quasi-markets. One part of the public sector competes with another for the ‘business’ of commissioning agencies.
  • Reforming the civil service by giving them more responsibility to manage their own budgets, and separating the policymaking and delivery functions in government departments.
  • The increased use of quangos (often to bypass local government as a delivery body) – public bodies sponsored by government, but operating at ‘arm’s length’ from elected policymakers and administratively separate from government.
  • Contracting out – commissioning non-governmental bodies to deliver public services.

People like Rhodes have argued that the overall effect of these ‘new public management’ reforms, combined with a process of devolution and Europeanization, is a decline in the capacity of central government to control public policy. The rise of new ways to deliver policy – from a unified civil service and accountable local government to a ‘patchwork quilt’ of quangos and non-governmental organizations – has produced service fragmentation and barriers to effective communication. It has also diminished accountability to Parliament via ministers, with much responsibility devolved to agencies, quangos and the private sector or lost to European institutions. The counter-case is that the government was never effective at controlling peripheral functions of the state such as the nationalized industries. Governance changes, such as privatization and civil service reforms, mark a return to core competencies, with the centre making strategic decisions and creating accountability and regulatory mechanisms to ensure that these functions are carried out by others.

The second approach is conceptual, considering the extent to which any system can concentrate policymaking power in the ‘core executive’ even if it tried. ‘Governance’ can be traced to a universal problem in which policymakers have to find ways to deal with the disconnect between their huge responsibilities and their ability to pay attention only to a tiny proportion of the things for which they are responsible. Policymakers devolve the responsibility for policy management to civil servants. Unelected civil servants, unable to secure the attention of ministers, tend to seek legitimacy through consultation. They also depend upon groups for information and advice. The result is policy networks/ communities, or policymaking relationships between those in formal positions of responsibility and those who seek to influence them. It is difficult to attribute responsibility solely to the former. Decision-making authority is dispersed and policy outcomes are determined by a series of negotiations between various levels of government and interest groups. Our focus shifts from formal powers and the capacity to make and enforce decisions, to the much more messy systems in which the distinction between formal and informal sources of authority becomes less meaningful. With decision-making responsibility shared across multiple levels of government (and with non-governmental actors), formal responsibility may be less important than a willingness to engage in policymaking and negotiate with other jurisdictions. In effect, MLG continues and extends a policy networks focus on the move from government sovereignty to a loss of decision-making control and the need to negotiate and share decisions rather than impose them.

This conceptual focus allows us to make connections between our study of different countries. Consider, for example, how this discussion of MLG (largely in Europe) compares to my description of punctuated equilibrium as it began in the US.


Filed under 1000 words, public policy, UK politics and policy

Scottish Independence: How and Should You Vote?

Modern Studies Day, University of Stirling, 2013

If you are a Modern Studies student in Scotland, the independence referendum presents an unusual opportunity to take part in the very thing you are studying. You can look into the background of the referendum and the main issues in the debate and then use that information to make a choice. This is rare. The added bonus is that you can vote if you are under 18 (and at least 16). This is also a rare opportunity. In that context, three main questions arise: should you vote; should you be allowed to vote; and, what should you consider when you vote?

Should You Vote?


Should you be allowed to vote?

The debate about voting from 16, rather than 18, does not cause fights to break out in pubs or supermarkets, or even come up very often in polite conversation – but it can often seem like a polarised discussion. The issue became party political in Scotland (briefly) because the vote-at-16 proposal came primarily from the SNP Government, prompting some to wonder aloud if the measure was being used to boost the Yes-to-independence vote. However, the evidence seems to suggest that 16-18 year olds are no more likely to vote for independence than (many) older people; the under 18 population looks likely to produce a No vote (you can track these polls on the website run by John Curtice – What Scotland Thinks). Further, this move has since been proposed by other major figures, such as UK Labour’s leader Ed Miliband (calling for 16 year olds to have the vote in UK General Elections).

The handy thing about this kind of polarised discussion is that it is based on (albeit well-reasoned) simple assertion on both sides. Some of the arguments are set out in a Democratic Audit post – and I summarise them below*:

On the one side is the argument that people are not knowledgeable or mature enough to make important decisions at that age.

On the other side is the argument that voting is a fundamental human right.

On this basis, the debate revolves around making these claims consistent with this sort of evidence:

  • The age of maturity. People can make other major decisions (such as join the army) and do important things (such as pay tax) when they are 16, so giving them the right and responsibility to vote is consistent with their other rights and responsibilities. However, in many cases, under-18s need parental permission to make major life choices (although in Scotland you can marry at 16) and tend not to pay meaningful amounts of tax at that age. Further, 18 seems like the major symbol of maturity in this regard – voting at 18 may be the ‘international norm’, and recent decisions by the UK and Scottish Governments (such as raising the smoking age to 18, the same as the buying-alcohol and buying-fireworks age) suggest that they see 18 as the dawn of maturity. The choice of 18 may be both an arbitrary and consistent position supported by the majority of the public.
  • Many people are disengaged from politics. So, lowering the voting age may encourage a sense of citizenship at an earlier age. It may also encourage younger people to seek a political career, which might help reduce the average age of elected representatives. Or, in the absence of a fundamental shift in culture/ attitudes, in which voting and other political participation feels like a civic duty, it will just exacerbate low voting rates and low participation in politics. Much of the argument may relate to the symbolism of extending the franchise. Social groups given the vote for the first time (such as women, social classes and ethnic minorities) may have given it great symbolic value and felt compelled to use it wisely as a result – but would this feeling apply to young people in the same way? Can we identify the same demand for representation based on a widespread perception of injustice?

If I were you, I’d use this discussion to be quite chippy. When I voted, I’d feel like I was sticking it to someone making half-baked claims about my maturity. Ironically, it’s not a mature approach to life, but you can’t have everything. The half-handy thing for you is that you only have to worry about this issue when you study it, not when you engage in politics. Like anyone else, you can now vote even if you have no knowledge of Scottish politics and/ or no maturity whatsoever. The only major difference with over-18s is that, legally, they may vote after getting quite drunk in the pub and/or buying sparklers for the walk home.

What should you consider when you vote?

Let’s say you want to make a mature, well informed, decision. How would you decide? What should you consider? We can identify a range of issues, from the philosophical to the self-interested to the psychological.

The philosophical questions

What does independence mean? In the olden days, independence used to refer to the autonomy to direct all domestic affairs within a well-defined territory**, ***. Now, we are much less certain about where domestic affairs end and international affairs begin. For example, an independent Scotland would be subject to a wide range of binding international commitments, particularly if it was part of the European Union (examples include migration, agriculture, fishing, environmental policy, and rates of many taxes – all determined largely at the EU level). If it kept the pound, or joined the Euro, it would rely on a central bank (almost certainly outside of Scotland) to direct monetary policies (such as setting interest rates).  In an age of ‘globalisation’, it would also be unable to simply ‘direct all domestic affairs’ since national governments rely upon other governments to produce collective, international, policy solutions. They might even make domestic policy with one eye on their neighbours, since it is difficult to contain policy effects within one’s borders (think, for example, about the effect of independence on HE tuition fees – what would happen?). They are also influenced by major transnational corporations which tend to prioritise minimal government regulations and corporation taxes when they seek to invest in countries. These complications are currently a big feature of the independence debate (and we tend not to focus on the, often messier, complications to further devolution, largely because we don’t have to worry about that just now). People sometimes argue that we shouldn’t bother with independence (or ‘indy lite’), since we’ll just be keeping the Queen, the pound, the BBC and inheriting international commitments. Other people argue that it’s OK to vote for independence because we’ll be keeping the Queen, the pound, the BBC and inheriting international commitments.

Do I feel Scottish and/ or British? People often argue that the independence vote is not about national identity, partly because a reference to nationhood is portrayed, by many, as some sort of reflection of bigotry. One might be invited to picture a large, dirty-bearded, ginger man in a kilt telling the English to get out of their country (let’s call this ‘ethnic nationalism’).  A more subtle strategy is to brand people as ‘nationalist’ to mean parochial and extremist. The more acceptable form of nationalism is ‘civic’. It suggests that, if a clear nation exists, it should share a boundary with the state; if we feel that we live in the Scottish nation, we should have a Scottish Government to represent us. This is where national identify comes in – surveys have suggested for some time that Scots’ primary identity is Scottish rather than British (however, you ask the question – click on the table in this post).**** However, surveys also suggest that most people favour devolution (current or further devolution) over independence. They may feel Scottish and British, seeking some kind of governing autonomy and inclusion within a wider Union.

The self-interested question: would independence benefit me?

A lot of the debate surrounds the idea that independence will save or cost people money. I have seen reports that it will either make everyone at least £500 better or worse off (the Scottish Daily Mail, 26.3.12, wins the prize for hyperbole – ‘Breaking up Britain will cost every Scot £20,000’). I have heard one ridiculous suggestion that it will cost everyone £1 each. Each and every calculation seems a bit shifty to me, but they are based on things like: Scotland’s future share of North Sea oil revenue; its share of UK Government debts and assets; and, the effect of independence on economic behaviour (such as foreign investment in Scottish business, Scottish trade with other countries, and the Scottish Government’s credit rating). John Curtice’s research suggests that this economic question is often at the forefront of peoples’ minds when they think of independence. However, given that we don’t know the economic effect of independence, people are basing their preferences on their perception of an uncertain future. It presents one of those classic causality problems: perhaps you are more likely to vote for independence if you think you will benefit; or perhaps you are more likely to think you will benefit if you plan to vote for independence.

The psychological question: how should I deal with the uncertainty?

Much of the debate is driven by various attempts to worry or assure people about the uncertainty of Scottish independence. Questions include:

  • How would Scotland be a part of the European Union and a member of international organisations?
  • What would an independent Scotland look like? For example, might it become a high-tax-high-spending social democratic state (something we associated with some of the Nordic countries)? Or would it simply inherit the culture and institutions of the UK?
  • Could an independent Scotland have survived the economic crisis?
  • What currency would Scotland adopt?
  • How would independence affect Scotland’s security (from its defence, to its supply of energy and other resources)?

To a large extent, this uncertainty is a better resource for people arguing for the maintenance of the Union as a ‘security blanket’ (have a look at that term again – it’s loaded with double meaning, isn’t it?). However, we can also see the potential to exploit the uncertain future of the UK. This is key feature of the debate on the ‘bedroom tax’ and other welfare reforms – people may argue that only an independent Scotland would have the powers to maintain the welfare state as a ‘security blanket’.

So what can we conclude?

I reckon that, if you have read this far, you have already paid more attention, and given the issue more serious thought, than most people. If so, I wouldn’t worry about being mature enough to make the right decision.


*Please note that, if you were using this kind of material to produce coursework, you would give more credit to the individual authors, not just list the website.

** I lifted that phrase from a book I helped write. You shouldn’t do that – we frown upon that sort of thing when marking your essays.

***in fact, just to be safe, don’t use this blog post as a model for any sort of assessable writing. Especially all that ‘some people think’ nonsense – that’s just annoying.

**** ah, you might say, but what is Scottish? Do you have to be born and / or raised in Scotland? What if one or both of your parents or grandparents are Scottish? Is it enough to simply live in Scotland to be Scottish? All I can offer is a hopefully-dull, pragmatic answer: the issue of Scottish independence may not have arisen without these self-identified perceptions of Scottishness (even though there are other reasons to want more local government – for example, it might be more flexible and responsive to local demands, or you might – and maybe 7% of people living in Scotland would describe themselves as English). However, a shift away from ethnic to civic nationalism is reflected in the referendum rules: if you live in Scotland, and are registered to vote, you can vote. You do not need to have been born or raised in Scotland. Instead, by living in Scotland, you have a stake in its governing arrangements. Then I’ll offer you this post from Jo Shaw.

Leave a comment

Filed under Scottish politics