Tag Archives: Regionalism

What is the Future of Scotland’s Political System?

Referendums on constitutional change in Scotland produce ‘windows of opportunity’ to discuss the future of Scottish politics and policymaking. For example, the Scottish Constitutional Convention – an organization comprising political parties, interest groups, civic and religious leaders – formed in 1989 to promote the principle, and operation, of devolved government. It set much of the agenda during the devolution debates in the 1990s, promoting ‘new politics’, or widespread reform based on a rejection of political practices in ‘old Westminster’. Some of the SCC’s broad aims were met, including a mixed-member proportional system designed to reduce the chance of single party majorities, and encourage some bargaining between parties.

However, the Scottish political system is still part of the ‘Westminster family’, producing a Scottish Government which processes the vast majority of policy, a Scottish Parliament that is generally peripheral to that day-to-day policy process, and a public with limited opportunities for direct influence. As in most countries, most policy is processed in ‘policy communities’ or ‘subsystems’, which bring together civil servants, interest groups, and representatives of an extensive public sector landscape, including local, health, police, fire service and other service-specific bodies. This generally takes place out of the public spotlight and often with minimal parliamentary involvement. Indeed, few non-specialists could describe how these bodies interact and where key decisions on Scottish policy are being made.

Further, the Scottish public sector landscape is changing. The Scottish Government has, since 2007, produced a National Performance Framework and rejected the idea that it can, or should, micromanage public sector bodies using performance measures combined with short term targets. Instead, it encourages them to cooperate to produce long term outcomes consistent with the Framework, through vehicles such as Community Planning Partnerships. Further, following its commitment to a ‘decisive shift to prevention’, it has begun to encourage reforms designed to harness greater community and service-user design of public services.

This is important background which should inform the current independence debate, most of which focuses on external relations and neglects Scotland’s internal dynamics. The independence agenda gives us a chance to evaluate the devolution experience so far, and consider what might change if there is independence or further devolution. As far as possible, we should focus on the Scottish political system as a whole, including the relationship between the Scottish Parliament, public participation, the Scottish Government, and a wide range of public sector bodies, most of which are unelected.

Consider, for example, if the system follows its current trajectory, towards a greater reliance on local governance. This development has great potential to undermine traditional forms of parliamentary scrutiny. The Scottish Parliament already lacks the ability to gather information independently – it tends to rely on bodies such as the Scottish Government to provide that information. It does not get enough information from the Scottish Government about what is going on locally. Scotland lacks the top-down performance management system that we associate with the UK Government, and a greater focus on long term outcomes removes an important and regular source of information on public sector performance. Local and health authorities also push back against calls for detailed information. More devolution to local authorities would exacerbate this tension between local and national accountability.

Local decision-making also has the potential to change the ‘subsystem’ landscape. Currently, most Scottish policy is processed by civil servants who consult regularly with pressure participants. Most ‘lobbying’ to the Scottish Government is done by (a) other parts or types of Government and (b) professional and interest groups. Civil servants rely on groups for information and advice, and they often form long term, efficient and productive relationships based on trust and regular exchange. When policy is made at the Scottish level, those groups organise at the Scottish level. The Scottish Government is a key hub for policy relationships; it coordinates networks, referees disputes, and gathers information and advice at a central level.

One consequence of devolving more power locally is that these groups must reorganise, to shift from lobbying one national government to 32 local governments. Such a shift would produce new winners and losers. The well-resourced professional groups can adapt their multi-level lobbying strategies, while the groups working on a small budget, only able to lobby the Scottish Government, will struggle.

Such developments may prompt discussions about three types of reform. The first relates to a greater need to develop local participatory capacity, to take on the functions performed less by these national organisations. For example, the ERS Scotland’s suggestion is that more local devolution could produce a more active local population. Even so, we still need to know more about how and why people organise. For example, local communities may organise in an ad hoc way to address major issues in their area as they arise; to engage in a small part of the policy process at a particular time. They do not have the resources to engage in a more meaningful way, compared to a Parliament and collection of established groups which maintain a constant presence and develop knowledge of the details of policies over time.

The second relates to governance reforms which focus primarily on the relationship between elected local authorities, a wide range of unelected public bodies, and service users. There is some potential to establish a form of legitimacy through local elections but, as things stand, local authorities are expected to work in partnership with unelected bodies – not hold them to account. There is also some scope to develop a form of user-driven public service accountability, but separate from the electoral process and with an uncertain focus on how that process fits into the wider picture.

The third relates to parliamentary reform. So far, the Scottish Parliament has not responded significantly to governance trends and a shift to outcomes focused policymaking. Its main role is to scrutinise draft Scottish Government legislation as it is introduced. Its committees devote two to three months per year to the scrutiny of the annual budget bill. In general, this scrutiny has a very narrow focus, with a limited emphasis on pre- or post-legislative scrutiny, and its value is unclear. It has the potential to change its role. It can shift its activities towards a focus on Scottish Government policy in broader terms, through the work of inquiries in general and its finance and audit functions in particular.

Yet, while there are many issues still to be resolved, they are unlikely to be addressed before the referendum in September. Proposals for political reform only make sporadic appearances on the referendum agenda, and developments in governance tend to take place beyond the public spotlight. Scotland has its own political system, but it is one which is developing in a piecemeal way. A Yes vote in September may mark a radical shift in constitutional politics, but not in the way Scotland does politics.

Full paper: Cairney 2015 Political Quarterly Scotland Future

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Filed under ESRC Scottish Centre for Constitutional Change, Scottish politics

What Can Japan Learn from Devolution in the UK?

NDL ppt front page

Japan’s interest in regionalism relates primarily to economic aims. Some policymakers want to reduce government spending and pursue a kind of ‘fiscal federalism’ in which central government devolves taxes and economic strategies to regions. The UK has minimal experience in this field. Devolution was driven more by local demand for representation. So why would policymakers in Japan be so keen to learn from the UK? That is the context in which Professor Yamazaki and I have written this paper, to be presented to the National Diet of Japan next month. This example reinforces the idea that ‘lesson-drawing’ is not straightforward – it requires a meaningful conversation between those who want to learn and those reflecting on their own experience.

The full paper is here – Cairney Yamazaki What Can Japan Learn From UK 23.10.13 – and the bullet point summary is below. Here is a link to one of the events, and here is my mug shot surrounded by some impressive looking writing – NDL Cairney poster. Here is the 2-language powerpoint – Dr. Cairney’s Presentation (it doesn’t match up entirely because I amended the version sent to me).

Policy Transfer in Theory and Practice: What Can Japan Learn from ‘Regionalism’ and Devolution in the UK?

  • ‘Regionalism’ can be defined broadly as the creation of a governing tier between central and local government.
  • The UK experience could provide important lessons for Japan
  • However, we can only use the UK experience to give relevant insights to policymakers in Japan if we understand why they seek, and how they will use, that information.
  • Lesson-drawing will not be successful unless the borrowing government understands how and why policy developed in the lender – and if that experience is comparable to its own.
  • Our comparison of the UK and Japan identifies major differences in their politics and policymaking. These differences should be borne in mind when policymakers in Japan seek to learn lessons from the UK’s regionalism policy.
  • The main difference is in their respective reasons for pursing regionalism.
  • In the UK, devolution to Scotland and Wales reflects an attempt by the centre to address growing demands for self-government. In Northern Ireland, it reflects an uneasy compromise between unionist and nationalist actors.
  • Only in the English regions can we see an economic frame of reference. Further, the economic frame did not help sustain support in the English regions.
  • In Japan, it is difficult to identify equivalent levels of regional identity and popular support for regionalism.
  • The economic driver is much more significant. Regionalism is often presented as a way to promote more effective economic development and to reduce the size of the state and public debt.
  • In that context, the UK experience has limited information to offer. Instead, it can only offer negative lessons about the inability of an economic frame alone to provide sustained support for regionalism.
  • More relevant lessons can be found when we identify the likelihood of asymmetric regionalism in Japan.
  • Devolution may be extended primarily to Hokkaido, Okinawa and the Osaka/ Kansai region.
  • The UK has extensive experience of asymmetric regionalism, with varying levels of support for devolution translating to different arrangements in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions.
  • The most sustained and significant level of devolution can be found in Scotland.
  • Scotland’s experience demonstrates that policymaking can be directed, and meaningful networks formed, at the regional level.
  • The Scottish Government has developed its own policymaking style which often seems to benefit from its size and the ability of policymakers to develop relatively personal networks with actors such as interest groups and bodies such as local authorities and quangos which implement (and seek to influence) policy.
  • It has also developed meaningful relationships with business groups, albeit in the context of an economic policy reserved to the UK.
  • However, this style has taken some time to develop – it is not a quick fix to an immediate economic crisis.
  • The UK experience also shows that the centre can maintain smooth relationships with devolved governments. Their interactions almost never produce a need to engage in formal dispute resolution.
  • However, part of the explanation is that the UK centre has largely disengaged from devolved policymaking (a situation aided by its devolution of discrete policy areas – such as health and education – with relatively low levels of overlap in central/ devolved responsibilities).
  • There is considerable evidence of policy divergence (or, at least, similarities) but largely because each government understands and seeks to address policy problems in similar ways, or because UK policy for England puts pressure on the devolved governments to respond.
  • Meaningful learning and transfer between regions, or from regions to the centre, is unusual.

Overall, our analysis demonstrates the need to be clear about how and why one country can learn from the experience of another. It is not enough to transfer programmes. One must understand how and why policy was made in one country to understand if that process can be replicated in another successfully, or if it can only take broad inspiration.

See also:

What Can Japan Learn from ‘Regionalism’ and Devolution in the UK?

‘Representing’ Scotland and the UK at Japan’s PSA

Stereotyping Political Systems

The World is Watching the Scottish Independence Debate http://www.futureukandscotland.ac.uk/blog/world-watching-scottish-independence-debate

20131110-211630.jpg

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Filed under Japan, public policy, Scottish politics, UK politics and policy

What Can Japan Learn from ‘Regionalism’ and Devolution in the UK?

I can’t give you an answer yet, but here is a draft abstract and then an explanation for the question.

Abstract

‘Regionalism’ can be defined broadly as the pursuit or creation of a governing tier between central and local government. The experience of regionalism in the UK – and Scottish devolution in particular – has attracted significant academic and policymaker attention in Japan. It has the potential to provide important lessons, particularly if the regionalism agenda is expanded in Japan. However, the policy transfer literature suggests that lesson-drawing will not be successful unless the borrowing government understands how and why policy developed in the lender – and if that experience is comparable to its own. Consequently, we must first consider the comparability of their political systems and their reasons to pursue regionalism. In the case of Scotland, devolution arose largely from local demand for a degree of governing autonomy. Unlike in Japan, there was minimal impetus from the centre and minimal discussion by central government of an economic development or public sector reform imperative. It is therefore difficult to assess regionalism as an economic project directed by the state (the experience of English regions may be more relevant). However, we can identify two relevant issues. First, the UK experience shows what it takes to create and sustain popular support and legitimacy for regionalism: it has been possible recently in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but not until the 1990s and not in England. Second, the Scottish experience demonstrates the ability of the Scottish Government to develop its own policymaking networks (‘territorial policy communities’) and governing styles – and both may contribute to the ability of regions to coordinate policies promoting social and economic development.

The draft paper came from this series of events: (1) I was asked by the National Diet of Japan to go there in November to talk about regionalism in Europe, and the UK/ Scotland in particular; (2) I knew, from my work on policy transfer, that I could only give relevant advice if I knew why they wanted the information and how comparable were the Japan/ UK experiences – i.e. there is no point in learning lessons from others if they don’t apply to you; (3) I knew that I knew very little about Japanese politics and policymaking; (4) I got together with Mikine Yamazaki to produce a more meaningful paper based on his knowledge of Japan (and Scotland) and mine of the UK. I’m in Hokkaido just now (to give a paper at the Japanese Political Science Association annual conference), so that has given us the chance to talk it through in person (which proved very valuable indeed).

I recommend this sort of thing. It’s very much like interdisciplinary work – the need to know so much about how to explain your specialist area (in my case to MPs, National Diet research staff, and members of the public) really forces you to think – in a more fundamental way – about the things you would ordinarily take for granted when communicating with a smaller group in your familiar networks. This is high bar work which, I think, will also improve the more straightforward work.

More information on the National Diet of Japan: http://www.shugiin.go.jp/itdb_english.nsf/html/statics/english/kokkaiannai_e.pdf/$File/kokkaiannai_e.pdf

See also: ‘Representing’ Scotland and the UK at Japan’s PSA

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Filed under Academic innovation or navel gazing, Japan, public policy, Scottish politics, UK politics and policy