Monday, 10 December 2012

University of Stirling

I will be moving to the University of Stirling on the 1st of February. I will post my new details, including my new email address, when I have them. 

UPDATE: I have now moved.  My new email is

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Global Tobacco Control

I co-authored a book called Global Tobacco Control: Power, Policy, Governance and Transfer (Palgrave, 2012) with Donley Studlar and Hadii Mamudu. It raises two key questions: Why is there often such a wide gap between the size of the tobacco policy problem and the government response? Why, if the tobacco problem is the same across the globe, does policy vary so markedly across political systems?

It is hardback only, which means that it costs £57.50 to buy a physical copy. Or, it is a snip at £38 if you only want to own the words). Still, the chances are that you won’t own a copy and only libraries will stock it (perhaps reinforcing a not very good academic mantra: books are to be written, not read). Instead, you can read the introduction for free here or have it read to you in an annoying monotone here. This blog provides a summary of the whole argument.

The starting point for the study is to identify the size of the problem. For example, smoking represents the number one preventable cause of death and disease in the world. There are 1.35 billion smokers in the world, smoking is still rising in many countries, and it contributes to one in ten deaths worldwide (over six million per year and rising). The book discusses various ways in which we can express these figures, including breaking them down according to gender and comparing so called ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries (and discussing the ‘Tobacco Epidemic Model’ in that context – to follow up this point, see Thun et al’s revision) . The latter distinction is highly problematic (some prefer, for example, high-income countries, HICs, and low- and medium-income countries, LMICs) but also quite useful for our purposes (the United Nations Statistics Division lists developed countries as the US, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and certain (generally Western, not ‘transitional’ Central and Eastern) European countries). Indeed, the well-discussed 'tobacco epidemic model' serves partly to describe the smoking equivalent of a ticking time bomb in many ‘developing’ countries.

Our aim is not to complain that governments are not doing enough to address this problem, or to claim that many government actors are in cahoots with tobacco companies to minimise tobacco regulation - largely because the public health literature (and sites such as the Legal Tobacco Documents Library) does a good job of that already. Further, we do not want to get sued and this paragraph is making me nervous enough already (I kid you not – I don’t even want to give the potentially-slanderous impression that tobacco companies are excessively litigious).

Instead, the study seeks to explain why different governments have responded to this problem so differently. Some countries – like Australia, Canada, Finland, Norway, Sweden, New Zealand, the UK and almost the US (it has more limited controls but, generally, played a huge part in the international tobacco control effort) - now have ‘comprehensive’ tobacco control, which means that they combine a large number of mutually-reinforcing policy instruments designed to reduce smoking in the population (see the WHO ‘MPOWER’ report which identifies six key tobacco control measures: 1) ‘monitor tobacco use and prevention policies’; 2) ‘protect people from tobacco smoke’; 3) ‘offer help to quit tobacco’; 4) ‘warn about the dangers of tobacco’; 5) ‘enforce bans on tobacco adverting, promotion and sponsorship’, and 6) ‘raise taxes on tobacco’). Others do relatively little to address the problem. For example, Germany and Japan are often described as ‘laggard’ developing countries while most developing countries (with exceptions such as Brazil, Singapore, Thailand and Uruguay) have relatively limited tobacco controls.

We also want to know why tobacco control in many countries is now so comprehensive when it was minimal until the 1980s. Many countries which now have comprehensive tobacco control regimes did very little to regulate tobacco until the 1980s. In other words, the gap between the initial identification of smoking (and then passive smoking) related ill health and the initiation of a major policy response was, in most cases, 20-30 years, followed by gradual policy change often over a similar period. The book identifies a history of minimal tobacco control, linked to the power of the tobacco industry (careful now), then charts the extent to which governments, aided by public health advocates, have regulated tobacco domestically and internationally in the modern era.

We explain ‘comprehensive’ change in ‘leading developed’ countries with reference to five key factors:

1. Institutional Change. Government departments, and other organisations focused on health policy, have taken the main responsibility for tobacco control, largely replacing departments focused on finance, agriculture, trade, industry and employment.

2. The Problem Is ‘Framed’ Differently. Tobacco was once viewed primarily as a product with economic value, and tobacco growing and manufacturing was often subsidised or encouraged. Now, it is largely viewed as a public health problem; an epidemic to be eradicated aggressively (or, at least, a problem to be minimised).

3. The Balance Of Power Has Shifted Between Participants. The tobacco industry was an ally of government for decades before and after WWII. When policy was coordinated by finance and other departments, tobacco companies were the most consulted. Now, public health or anti-tobacco groups are more likely to be consulted and tobacco companies are often deliberately excluded.

4. The Socioeconomic Context Has Changed Markedly. The economic benefit of tobacco production and consumption has fallen (for example, tax revenue is less important to finance departments once protective of the industry) and the number of smokers and opposition to tobacco control has declined.

5. The Role Of Beliefs And Knowledge. The production and dissemination of the scientific evidence linking smoking (and now passive smoking) to ill health has been accepted within most government circles. The most effective policies to reduce smoking are increasingly adopted and transferred across countries.

Change in these factors has been mutually reinforcing. For example, increased acceptance of the scientific evidence has helped shift the way that governments understand the tobacco problem. The framing of tobacco as a health problem allows health departments to take the policy lead. Tobacco control and smoking prevalence go hand in hand: a decrease in smoking rates reduces the barriers to tobacco control; more tobacco control means fewer smokers.

We explain the lack of policy change in other countries with reference to the same factors:

1. Health departments are often key players, but their voices are often drowned out by other departments, such as agriculture, finance and trade.

2. Tobacco policy arises on the policy agenda rarely and, when it does, the public health frame competes with attempts to frame tobacco as an economic good.

3. Tobacco companies are powerful and the capacity of anti-tobacco groups is often low.

4. Tobacco growing and manufacturing is an important source of jobs, exports and revenue and smoking prevalence is rising.

5. The medical-scientific knowledge has had less of an effect on the policy agenda. Domestic anti-tobacco groups have the motivation but not the resources to ensure the acceptance of tobacco control ideas within their political systems.

In this context, the book identifies the role of international action to close the gap between ‘leading’ and ‘laggard’ countries – a gap which is often linked specifically (but not exclusively) to the fortunes of developed/ developing countries. In particular, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention for Tobacco Control has 175 ‘Parties’ (174 countries plus the European Union). The FCTC represents a significant short-term success, because it commits a huge number of countries to comprehensive tobacco control. However, we describe it largely as a tool for agenda-setting rather than a guarantee of long term policy implementation.

Our current work, based on the book and subsequent articles, highlights one of life’s ironies: the countries best placed to deliver on their treaty commitments are the ones which don’t need a treaty so much. They are already well on the road towards comprehensive tobacco control. In contrast, the countries that do need the treaty are the least likely to deliver its aims. This argument is backed up by statistics that we are currently gathering (ooh, the excitement of anticipation) and expert surveys like the one produced by Warner and Tam. We make this argument on the basis of the 5 factors outlined above, which help us identify an unfavourable environment in which to implement the FCTC.

Consider, for example, the experience of China as the world’s largest tobacco using and producing population (one third of the world’s smokers and 38% of tobacco production) (see a paper by Jin). It maintains a state monopoly over tobacco production which provides 8-11% of government revenue. Tobacco control is low on the domestic policy agenda and the health image competes with an unusually strong economic image based on the importance of its tobacco industry and economic growth to the legitimacy of the Chinese government. Tobacco policy (and the implementation of the FCTC) is led by an economic development agency which consults regularly with the tobacco industry, and the health ministry is ‘sidelined’. Public health groups are neither well resourced nor engaged. Public *and physician* knowledge of tobacco harm is low and smoking rates are very high among the police force held responsible for the implementation of bans on smoking in public places. If we combine these factors, we can reasonably expect much slower progress towards comprehensive tobacco control than in (say) the UK even though both have signed up to the same agreement.

Overall, we should not take comprehensive tobacco control for granted. If we live in countries like the UK we are starting to take it for granted, and may even come to accept new measures such as bans on smoking among foster parents and/ or in cars. If we travel elsewhere and smell smoke indoors, we should be quickly reminded that tobacco control varies markedly across the globe, and is likely to vary for decades to come.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Framing Wind Farms

As I was walking along the fields next to my house, I wished that I had a nice smart phone with a decent camera, because I wanted to show you that the view was spoiled, not by the wind farm in the distance, but by the electricity pylons and the phone mast. This, of course, is a political statement masquerading as a throwaway comment before being exposed as a political statement. It reminded me that I had been meaning to write a blog about wind farms after reading a small thing in Private Eye about how images of wind turbines are manipulated to make farms look more or less appealing. It is an interesting case, for students of politics and public policy, where the wind farm debate is almost-literally ‘framed’ (plug: there is a nice little discussion of framing in Understanding Public Policy). Policy images are linked in an unusually literal way to the images of wind farms. In other words, we are used to a framing debate along these lines:

• Economic arguments – renewable energy is heavily subsidised VERSUS other forms of energy, such as nuclear, have hidden subsidies

• Environmental arguments – renewable is the environmentally friendly option VERSUS wind farms are very far away and the pylon infrastructure is damaging

• Public opinion arguments – wind farms are unpopular VERSUS wind farms are popular (except amongst NIMBYs)

Wind farms kill birds, give you cancer, mess with your head, and so on. The unusual added element is the potential to frame the issue with photos, which is why I wish I had the camera. These images will have to do (my advice is to right click, new tab for the full effect):

Here is the famous Daily Mail doomsday image picked up by Private Eye -

Here is another from the Dail Mail about wind farms spoiling the view from your conservatory (although good luck getting planning permission to build one, eh? Back off Brussels)

This one shows you how nice fields look without them

This one has an eery Children of the Corn look

This one is eery more for the site on which it is housed

This one says, hey let’s have a chat about wind farms next to nice old buildings guys

This one is not scary, but perhaps it would have been framed more positively if taken further away  , like this one

This one says that wind energy is better than nuclear meltdowns, the turbines look cool and space age, and they are off in the ocean somewhere anyway

So does this

This one tells you that China and wind farms are cool

This one tells you that manly men are in charge of offshore wind energy safety

This one shows you that wind farms might look better than ‘water-vapour belching cooling towers’ unless you have been looking at the latter for a generation and are used to them

This one says, look how happy this woman is and her hard hat shows she means business, and it’s good clean business too

This one tells you that you can walk past them without having your limbs lopped off

This site has a mini debate, with someone providing a photo and saying ‘they're truly beautiful’ and someone else countering with ‘Are you shitting me?’,747326,756113

This one does not play by the rules because the story tells you to reject wind energy, but how can it be so bad if this little girl with the balloon is so happy

This is a windmill

Monday, 29 October 2012

An SNP Debate on Policy is not Synonymous with Scottish Policy

I read recently that the BBC was getting much better at covering devolved issues, but some things will still fall through the cracks. One important problem is that, sometimes, SNP policy is equated, outside Scotland, as Scottish Government policy. Or, in the case of the future of Trident, an SNP debate at a party conference may be taken to mean Scottish Government policy after a ‘yes’ vote in the Scottish independence referendum. I will confess that I heard this not on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme but, instead, on their news quiz (I just need things to listen to while walking my dog – please don’t judge me), but still I will blame the BBC as a whole, since this is now the done thing.

Another phrase that caught my ear related to the criticism, by HEPI, that the UK Government was calculating the costs of its tuition fee policy on ‘an assumption that the future will be like the past’. If we apply this assumption to a hypothetical independent Scotland considering the Trident issue, what can we say? Let us assume that the SNP still has a small majority and that I am contradicting myself by basing my prophesy on the SNP’s draft constitution (discussed by Bulmer ): (1) the Scottish Government will pass legislation to remove Trident from Scotland (assuming that it needs to do so); (2) there will be enough opposition in the Scottish Parliament (40% is required) to force a postponement of 12-18 months; (3) the SNP Government will feel obliged to trigger a referendum on the issue. Only then can the decision become Scottish policy.

But what will the people of Scotland say? I got briefly excited when I noticed a House of Commons Defence Committee arguing last month that ‘Opinion polls show maintaining Trident is unpopular throughout the UK , but nowhere is it less popular than in Scotland’ before I realised that this argument came from written evidence by the CND . It is also the view of the Scottish Government drawing on polls in 2007 . The debate can be followed on blog sites such as Better Nation , which won't make the synonymity mistake.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Scottish Public Policy Explained

I am co-authoring a 2nd edition of Scottish Politics with Neil McGarvey (2013).  It includes a revised chapter on public policy in Scotland.  I have copy and pasted the introduction below.  This chapter was quite straightforward to revise and I don't think we changed the introduction much at all - which perhaps gives you a sense of the continuity involved in policymaking.  The full chapter can be found here

"This chapter examines the extent to which the new political arrangements in Scotland have produced new policies. Such discussions often focus on the extent of policy divergence and difference between Scotland and England as a key test of devolution. This follows the image before devolution of a ‘back-log’ of policies which built up because Westminster did not have the time for Scottish legislation. On the basis of differing social and party attitudes and the need for ‘Scottish solutions to Scottish problems’, there were widespread expectations of divergence as soon as the Scottish Parliament had the opportunity to legislate. To a great extent, this picture of a ‘rush to policy’ has been confirmed since devolution, with 180 pieces of primary legislation passed in three 4-year parliamentary terms. Yet, there are three main qualifications to the idea of Scotland as a source of fast-paced policy divergence.
First, in the 1980s and 1990s most policy innovation came from the UK Government. Indeed, as noted in Chapter 2, part of the rationale for devolution was the defence of existing state institutions. The ‘Yes, Yes’ vote in 1997 was in part ‘a vote to change institutions in order to stay the same’ (Mitchell, 2005: 26-7). Second, there are as many good reasons to suggest that policy will converge rather than diverge. Factors such as a shared party of government, the role of the Treasury and the Europeanization of policy undermine the idea that Scotland will necessarily go its own way. Third, there is a big difference between making the decision to be different and seeing that decision through to its final outcome.
The evidence supports these qualifications. Policy divergence through legislation has been slower to develop than we might expect, and this picture is reinforced if we extend analysis to the wider policy ‘cycle’. In the relatively small number of cases where significant divergence has occurred in legisla­tion, the incomplete implementation of policy has undermined divergence.
This is not to say that policy change has not been significant since devolu­tion. In many cases, significant policy changes may have a greater effect on Scotland or be missed with a focus on divergence. This suggests that a focus on being different may be inappropriate, particularly since devolution is no longer in its infancy or enjoying its ‘honeymoon’ period. In this sense it is more important to develop and gain support for policies which are appropri­ate to Scotland regardless of the UK government position, particularly since a key aim of devolution was to address the ‘democratic deficit’ (Box 8.1). Yet, the temptation to look across the border is strong and has been reinforced not only by the election of an SNP Government keen to distance itself from its UK counterpart, but also the media reaction in London which suggests that English taxpayers are subsiding Scottish policy divergence (e.g. Browne, 2007; Settle, 2007; Groves, 2011).
This chapter therefore explores:
·           How we identify and measure policy change. For example, although this chapter focuses heavily on outputs such as legislation or funding for services, it also considers outcomes following implementation.
·           Why policies in Scotland may diverge or converge.
·           The evidence for policy change in a range of policy areas - including ‘flag­ship’ policies regarding free personal care, student fees, and the smoking ban – in each parliamentary session.
·           The implementation of those policies."

Friday, 19 October 2012

How Can the Scottish Parliament Be Improved as a Legislature?

I am writing a short article for the first edition of the new journal, The Scottish Parliamentary Review (see Here is a first draft - reproduced below, or follow the link if you want it in a fiddly GoogleDoc.  All comments welcome, unless they are along the lines of 'this looks familiar' or 'stop flogging that dead horse'. 

UPDATE: the article has now been published. The Green Access is here - (or just read the version below - it did not change much from submission to publication)

Paul Cairney, Professor of Politics and Public Policy, University of Stirling,

The Scottish Parliamentary Review

How Can the Scottish Parliament Be Improved as a Legislature?

The prospect of independence or further constitutional change in Scotland might prompt us to reconsider the role and influence of the Scottish Parliament as a legislature. Thirteen years of devolution has also given us plenty of experience on which to make our assessment of the limitations of the new Scottish political system. Yet, the title of this article also has the potential to mislead, because it suggests that the Scottish Parliament is in particular need of improvement. While it is common to hear criticisms of the Scottish legislative process, they do not seem to be more vocal or strong than in other legislatures. For example, there are no particularly strong concerns about the quality of the legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament. Nor do we find relatively strong concerns about the Scottish Parliament’s ability and willingness to scrutinise and help modify legislation introduced by the Scottish Government. Rather, the agenda is set by relatively high expectations for the Scottish Parliament to be a powerful legislature, producing relatively high levels of attention and disenchantment with the results. The first part of this article sets out the reasons for such heightened expectations and disenchantment.

A second part of this agenda relates to the assumptions we employ when we make value judgements about the Scottish Parliament and consider how it can be improved. For example, are we worried about the quality of the legislation produced by the Scottish Parliament, or the origins of the legislation? In other words, we may tend to frame the problem in terms of the imbalance of power between executive and legislature rather than the specific policy outcomes. Or, we may worried about the quality of the legislation, not from a technical drafting point of view, but in terms of the ability of the legislature to provide meaningful scrutiny and make substantial changes to the draft bill. Such an agenda might prompt us to consider, for example, our willingness to trade ‘technical perfection’, based on legislation produced by a well resourced and unchallenged executive, for a technically flawed piece of legislation based on considerable scrutiny, debate and last-minute consensus in Parliament. It is in this context that the main part of the article considers some common current concerns about the Scottish Parliament as a legislature, derived from discussions with practitioners and extrapolated from debates on the Scottish Parliament since devolution: it does not scrutinise government legislation sufficiently; it does not have a sufficiently large professionally trained staff dedicated to their activities; its independent scrutiny is undermined by the party whip; it is particularly peripheral to the policy process when opposition parties do not engage with Scottish Government legislation; and, it would benefit from an upper chamber. In most cases, the concern is that the executive is not sufficiently challenged by a Parliament able to scrutinise and suggest key revisions – not necessarily a comment on the technical quality of the legislation, or the level of popular consent that underpins it, but rather on the checks and balances within the Scottish system. In other words, our focus on ideas regarding democracy may be more prominent than our focus on particular legislative processes or outcomes.

The conclusion of the article considers the implications of this discussion for a further-devolved or independent Scotland, since the prospect of more constitutional powers may prompt us to wonder about the adequacy of Scottish legislative powers For example, if the Scottish Parliament has more responsibilities, should (and could) it have more resources? Or, should we be focusing on more fundamental or principled discussions regarding, for example, the need for a written Scottish constitution? Much will depend on the type of further constitutional change Scotland chooses, since only Scottish independence provides the ‘window of opportunity’ for major institutional change.

1. The Scottish Parliament did not live up to expectations

The Scottish Parliament was allegedly designed to be a powerful and effective legislature with committees at the heart of its work. This aim was sketched out briefly in the final report of the Scottish Constitutional Convention (1995; see also McGarvey and Cairney 2008: 11-2; Cairney and McGarvey 2013), which expected a ‘parliament to operate through a system of powerful committees which are able to initiate legislation as well as to scrutinise and amend government proposals, and which have wide-ranging investigative functions’. According to the Consultative Steering Group - the organisation set up to design the Scottish Parliament’s standing orders - it was designed to ‘embody and reflect the sharing of power between the people of Scotland, the legislators and the Scottish Executive’ (Scottish Office 1998: 6).

As such, it was invested with a range of powers and functions that we associate with relatively strong legislatures. It has combined standing and select committee functions, to help develop expertise within the committees responsible for scrutinising legislation. Most committees are permanent and not subject to government dissolution. They have rela¬tively few members, to allow them to develop a ‘businesslike’, not partisan, culture. The number of convenors (chairs) is proportional by party and they are selected by each committee. Committee deliberation takes place before the initial and final plenary stages. Committees can invite witnesses and demand government documents. They have an unusual role which involves the monitoring of the Scottish Government’s pre-legislative consultation (although its power, to oblige the removal of legislative sections based on insufficient consultation, is used rarely). Further, if all else fails, they have the ability to initiate their own bills (as can individual MSPs, in a much more straightforward way than in Westminster). These are all indicators of unusually high committee strength according to Mattson and Strøm’s (2004: 100-1) crite¬ria. As Arter (2002: 99) suggests, the Scottish committee system was designed to be the ‘motor of a new politics’ and, ‘extraordinarily deliberative, rationalistic, open and consensual’.

The Scottish Parliament also has an electoral system that tends to produce coalition or minority government (the 2011 election result notwithstanding) and, potentially, the need for parties to cooperate with each other on a regular basis. Further, the ‘architects of devolution’ introduced a series of measures, such as the initiation of a civic forum and new petitions process, to allow the Scottish Parliament to operate as a hub for popular participation. Overall, the institutions and organisations became associated with heightened hopes for a powerful legislature at the heart of Scottish politics. Consequently, they became associated with heightened disillusionment when it became clear that no legislature could live up to those hopes.

However, it is clear that the Scottish Parliament was not designed to be a powerful legislature in the way that we associate with political systems such as the US. Crucially, there are not the same divisions of powers, and checks and balances, between executive, legislature and judiciary. Instead, the executive operates at the heart of the legislature and, when enjoying a single or coalition party majority, has the ability to control its procedures (the judiciary is more difficult to judge; it plays an often-important role, particularly in relation to its interpretation of Scotland’s ECHR commitments – see Tierney 2001; Murdoch 2012). Further, there is a clear expectation that the Scottish Parliament will not ‘share power’ in the way we would understand that phrase in the US. Rather, this is a traditional Westminster-style relationship in which the Scottish Government is expected to produce most policy (including legislation) and the Scottish Parliament performs a scrutiny role (with a small number of important exceptions, such as Tommy Sheridan MSP’s bill on abolishing poindings and warrant sales to settle debts to the government – Henderson 2005: 280). Or, as the CSG puts it, we must ‘recognise the need for the Executive to govern, including enacting primary and subordinate legislation’ (Scottish Office 1998: 7).

On this basis, it is difficult to recommend anything other than the possession of realistic expectations about, and a mature understanding of, the role the Scottish Parliament performs. Put broadly, the Scottish Government derives its legitimacy from the Scottish Parliament (see Judge 1993), allowing it to partly solve the perceived democratic deficit of Scottish politics. Few question the accountability and legitimacy of the outputs of government in Scotland, in the way that they did before devolution, largely because of the existence of the Scottish Parliament (Cairney and McGarvey 2013). As Mitchell et al (2001: 50; see also Winetrobe, 2001: 66) note, ‘the Executive has been scrutinised in a manner and to an extent unknown before in Scottish history’. Scottish policymaking is more ‘visible and transparent’ (Bonney 2003: 460) and committees have played their part in ensuring more consultation with affected interests (Paterson 2000; although the ‘Scottish Policy Style’ would still be open and consultative in the absence of this committee role – Cairney 2011: 76).

2. The Scottish Parliament does not scrutinise government legislation sufficiently

Of course, the rise in Scottish scrutiny was from a very low base. There is good reason to suggest that it is still insufficient and that this lack of scrutiny undermines the perceived legitimacy of Scottish Government outputs. This scrutiny gap can be divided into four main areas. First, from 1999-2007, the Scottish Executive coalition dominated the legislative process. It presided over a punishing legislative schedule, producing the sense in which committees became part of a ‘legislative sausage machine’ (Arter, 2002: 105). Various accounts by Shephard (in Cairney 2011: 45) suggest that ‘Parliament has had very little time to consider anything else but Executive bills’ and it became a ‘conveyor belt for passing legislation ... at the expense of quality scrutiny and influence’. The same sentiment was expressed by several ‘legacy’ reports of committees ‘bemoaning the lack of time for inquiries because of the amount of legislation’ (Cairney 2011: 45). While there is some evidence of parliamentary influence during the scrutiny of government legislation (Shephard and Cairney 2005; Cairney 2006), the Scottish Executive produced and amended the majority of bills (McGarvey and Cairney 2008: 106), reinforcing the rule of thumb by Olson (in Arter, 2006: 250) that executives initiate 90% of legislation and get 90% of what they want. The minority Scottish Government from 2007-11 produced fewer bills but the 90% rule still applied, largely because most bills were innocuous and received cross-party support (with key exceptions: the bills to enable a referendum on independence and to introduce a local income tax, both of which were not introduced when it became clear that they had insufficient parliamentary support; and some provisions within bills, such as the minimum price on a unit of alcohol).

Second, Scottish Parliament committees rarely set the agenda for future Scottish Government action by, for example, identifying gaps in existing policy and prompting (successfully) further action. From 1999-2007 the usual reason given for this lack of influence was that committees were tied up in the scrutiny of legislation. However, from 2007 (until perhaps 2009) they did not use the opportunity to assert their position at a time of low Scottish Government legislative output (Cairney 2011: 50). Although they engaged in short and ‘snappy’ inquiries with the potential to provide timely advice to government, many inquiries were charged with partisanship and unlikely to produce meaningful advice and engagement with government (as, for example, when one committee simply tried to embarrass ministers for their role in the development of the Donald Trump golf course – Cairney 2011: 51). Third, the Scottish Government is able to pursue many of its policy aims without particular recourse to Parliament. For example, the minority Scottish Government pursued a range of policies – such as introducing a new relationship with local authorities, pursuing a new model of public private capital finance projects and phasing out prescription charges – without the use of primary legislation. Finally, the Scottish Parliament does not enjoy a sufficiently good relationship with key public bodies such as local authorities, health boards and non-departmental public bodies. We can detect a general sense of parliamentary frustration with such relationships, particularly when public bodies appear to be unwilling to share information with committees – either because they feel accountable to their own electorates (local authorities), accountable to Parliament only indirectly through Scottish Government ministers, or they seek to maintain a ‘hands off’ relationship with ministers and Parliament to maintain a sense of independent legitmacy.

A realistic recommendation in this context is that committees should continue to seek short and timely inquiries on which most parties can cooperate. More realistic still is to suggest that they make recommendations that will find agreement within the Scottish Government, since the most effective pressure may be to encourage the Scottish Government to modify its priorities rather than its policies. Of course, such recommendations also remind us of the limits to parliamentary influence under the Scottish system.

3. The Scottish Parliament does not have a sufficiently large professionally trained staff

A further recommendation is that the Scottish Parliament should employ more staff with the ability to gather policy relevant information, or at least help committees oblige public bodies to provide it. However, one consequence of maintaining the current culture, in which the government governs, is that the vast majority of staffing and related resources are devoted to the Scottish Government and the wider public sector. The Scottish Parliament employs relatively few relevant staff. MSPs employ 516 staff, but most activity is geared towards their constituency offices and elections. The Scottish Parliament employs 476 staff, but the vast majority are employed to run the Parliament rather than scrutinise public policy (Scottish Parliament, 2012: 125). The research unit, Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe), has 46 staff and the committee office has 46, which translates roughly into one clerk and two assistant clerks for each of the (currently) 15 committees. There is also a small number of relevant staff in other areas, such as 8 in the Presiding Officer‘s Office and 3 in the Office of the Solicitor to the Scottish Parliament. In turn, it oversees the work of a Scottish public sector with around half a million employees (Scottish Government, 2012: 6), including a Scottish Government with 16,520 civil servants (including agencies but not the 10,460 in non-departmental public bodies/ quangos) and a budget of around £30 billion (most of which is spent by local authorities, health authorities and Universities). Consequently, there is a marked imbalance of resources which undermines the idea of a strong legislature holding the executive to account.

Effective scrutiny requires the Scottish Parliament to have a sufficient number of staff able to devote their time and attention to the policy work and legislation of the Scottish Government. However, any recommendation to increase the resources of the Scottish Parliament is likely to fall on deaf ears. Members of the Scottish Parliament are acutely aware of the sensitivities associated with increasing parliamentary resources. It would be too difficult to make the argument, in the current economic and political climate, for two main reasons. First, successive expenses scandals have made MSPs sensitive to the charge that they are feathering their own nests; they may struggle to establish, in the minds of the public, the divide between resources devoted to committees and resources devoted to individual MSPs. Second, the economic climate has prompted public organisations to seek ‘efficiency savings’ and the Scottish Parliament has made a commitment to reduce its staff. Further, there will be voices inside the Scottish Parliament arguing that it would not know what to do with the additional staff, since it is designed to do little more than scrutinise legislation in which many MSPs are not particularly interested. Consequently, we have faced, for some time, a frustrating situation in which only academics and a small number of other sympathetic voices can call for an enhancement of Scottish Parliament resources.

4. The party whip undermines independent scrutiny, or parties do not engage with the legislative process

By far the most significant constraining factor to the ‘independent’ role of the Scottish Parliament is the centralising role of political parties. This was particularly the case during the coalition years. From 1999-2007, the Scottish Labour and Scottish Liberal Democrats governing coalition (backed by their ‘partnership agreements’ that tied both to a detailed programme of legislation) had enough MSPs to control the parliamentary business bureau and ensure a voting majority on all committees. Further, the lead member for Labour in each committee acted an informal party whip, with parties agreeing a line before the official meetings. The parties also appoint their own convenors (chairs) and decide which MSPs sit on which committees (also note that there is no Scottish equivalent to the relatively independent ‘senior backbencher’ with an alternative career path in committees). Consequently, the coalition produced the closest thing possible in Scotland to majority government (Cairney 2006; Cairney 2011: 29-30; McGarvey and Cairney 2008: 85; Mitchell 2008: 77). Further, although the main parties were not particularly divided on ideological lines (Bennie and Clark 2003), the Scottish Parliament reproduced a form of Westminster government-versus-opposition politics (Arter 2004: 83) based, generally, on a mutual antagonism between the two largest parties (Labour and SNP). As described above, the governing coalition dominated the legislative process and most executive-legislative compromise was negotiated within the two governing parties rather than in the Scottish Parliament as a whole.

Although the party whip remained strong, this dominance of the Scottish Parliament was not possible during the SNP’s minority government years (2007-11). However, 2007 did not mark the beginning of a new and consensual relationship based on the potential for new parliamentary influence and the need for the government to negotiate with other parties. Rather, the high levels of partisanship were played out in different ways. First, opposition MSPs used points of order to suggest that ministers were making untruthful and misleading statements to Parliament (Cairney, 2011: 49). Second, few committees found enough common ground to make good use of their time. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the former governing parties (Labour and Liberal Democrats) appeared to disengage from the executive-legislative process, engaging minimally in pre-legislative activities and any inquiries on their own policies. Instead, most debates were played out in plenary discussions.

Consequently, in both periods, partisanship has effectively undermined the role and influence of the Scottish Parliament and its committees. In this context, it is difficult to make a meaningful recommendation, since political parties reserve the right to compete with each other in elections – which, in keeping with UK political culture, may also mean competing in parliament. A cultural change in this regard may take generations to achieve, if parties come to believe or accept that they should cooperate within a system containing so many institutions associated with ‘consensus democracies’ (Lijphart 1999; compare with the political cultures in Denmark and Germany – Green-Pedersen 2001; Svensson 2013; Steinack 2013).

5. The Scottish Parliament would benefit from an upper chamber

There will always be concerns expressed about a unicameral political system without the ability of a second chamber to revise legislation over a relatively long period. This concern was drowned out in Scotland by the argument that Scotland should not follow the UK in having an unelected second chamber (also note that Scotland had a unicameral system before 1707). The SCC’s argument – ‘Scotland's Parliament will be a single-chamber legislature. There will be no role in its legislative process for the House of Lords’ – was questioned rarely and few attempts were made to argue that a second chamber need not be the Lords. Instead, the Scottish Parliament was designed at a time when politics was in crisis (although when is it not?) and there was no appetite for expensive new institutions beyond the introduction of a single legislature. Consequently, there is no potential for a ‘ping pong’ between chambers, in which the second chamber obliges the first to reconsider its proposals. Nor is there a direct sense of the checks and balances culture that we might associate with the diffusion of power between legislative arenas and institutions.

As the Constitution Unit (1998: 3) argued before devolution, a unicameral system can possess adequate checks and balances if designed accordingly. For example, a sense of power diffusion can be developed with: an electoral system that ensures no overall majority (Scotland uses the Mixed Member Proportional system); a bill of rights (the Scottish Parliament acts in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights); and, perhaps even a supreme body overseeing Scottish institutions and their conduct (a role which can be performed by Westminster, although few UK politicians like to be seen to interfere in Scottish affairs). Further, the Scottish system has a range of ombudsman bodies and financial accountability arrangements (via the Accounts Commission, Auditor General and Audit Scotland). The Scottish Parliament’s committee system is also ‘comprehensive’, allowing committees to scrutinise the work of departments, assess legislation at each stage before plenary and approve the Scottish Government’s budget. Overall, ‘The comprehensive range of checks present in the Scotland Bill obviate the need for a second chamber as part of the parliamentary design’ (1998: 4).

Perhaps, based on the experience of Scottish devolution, we might envisage a ‘perfect storm’ of factors that undermines most of these checks on executive power: the move to an independent Scotland with no Westminster oversight; the repeat of the 2011 election which produced a majority single party government; and, the control of Scottish Parliament procedures by the majority party. However, Scotland is also likely to remain a member of the EU and Council of Europe, maintain its committee structure and maintain its systems for wider financial accountability. Consequently, it is sensible to recommend that an independent Scotland introduce some form of written constitution outlining the new roles and responsibilities of institutions, but it may be based on the revision of existing functions rather than the inevitable introduction of new bodies.

Concluding Comments: The Future of the Scottish Parliament

As in the 1990s, the promotion and development of constitutional change is likely to influence the further development of legislative and institutional design. We can envision two main scenarios. The first is major change following a ‘yes’ vote on Scottish independence. Indeed, the prospect of Scottish independence has the potential to encourage the same sort of unrealistic expectations about Scottish policymaking institutions that we witnessed in the lead up to devolution in the 1990s. It is certainly likely to prompt debate on a fundamental redesign of Scottish institutions to reflect its new responsibilities for ‘high politics’, or the key economic, foreign and defence policy areas. This push for reform may be aided by the unlikely but realistic prospect of a majority governments in the future (perhaps unless Scotland introduces the single transferable vote or a more proportional version of MMP) and the image of the Scottish Parliament and its committees as ineffective, producing calls for more effective checks and balances in the new Scottish system and, perhaps, the prospect of a Scottish Parliament with more than 129 MSPs and better resourced committees.

So far, public and academic discussion of the prospect of a Scottish constitution has been rather limited (Bulmer 2011). This is perhaps because the likelihood of Scottish independence still seems low. Further, the most-discussed plans for a constitution contain measures that have been addressed, to some extent, by Scottish devolution (both are based on a rejection of the ‘Westminster model’ – Bulmer 2011: 3; McGarvey and Cairney 2008: 23). In other words, the SNP’s draft plans, developed before devolution by key figures such as Professor Neil MacCormick, should be viewed in a new context in which many recommendations have already been anticipated by the architects of devolution, including: a unicameral system with proportional elections (although the SNP has long recommended STV, not MMP), a legal separation between the ‘Crown’ and Scotland’s governing body (the Scottish Government or Executive), fixed-term parliaments not subject to dissolution on the whims of the government, and a commitment to a bill of rights associated with the ECHR (Bulmer 2011: 6). Consequently, a new Scottish system may be very similar to the old. For example, the present SNP plans do not include the call for a second chamber. Rather, the passing of legislation could be subject to a rule in which a bill can be delayed for 12-18 months if the delay secures 40% of the vote. In such cases, the Scottish Government would have the option of introducing a referendum on the issue. However, such measures have been subject to such little public debate that their fate remains uncertain.

The second scenario is incremental constitutional change, with more powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament in the absence of Scottish independence. In this case it is unlikely that we will hear many serious calls for more parliamentary resources and the number of MSPs is likely to remain at 129 to reflect, broadly, the path dependent nature of politics and, more specifically, the sense in Scotland that its institutional design was broadly correct (perhaps in contrast to Westminster which is in the process of slow renewal and has introduced, for example, new rules on the election of committee chairs – Kelso 2009; 2010; Russell 2011). The resources available to committees are likely to continue to be limited. The balance of power between the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament is likely to tip further, as the former takes on more resources and responsibilities while the latter is expected to provide more efficient scrutiny for the same cost.

As stated, these two scenarios might present legislative reformers, quite fond of devolution rather than independence, with a potential new dilemma: would they rather see an independent Scotland with the potential for a new relationship between the executive and legislature; or, would they prefer the unusual checks and balances afforded by a quasi-federal system with a potentially weakened legislature? It would be reasonable to reject this binary narrative of executive-legislative relations and their links to constitutional change. However, it is harder to reject the argument that institutional change, like all public policy, involves hard choices based on personal preferences rather than a technical solution on which we can all agree. The reform of the legislature is as much a political issue as the reform of the constitution.


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Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Let Me Bore You About the Scottish Independence Referendum

Media attention to academics is generally prompted by events.  In my case, the signing of the agreement - between the UK and Scottish Governments - on the independence referendum to take place in Scotland in 2014 (here) prompted a brief flurry of media work for me.  My party trick is to turn something that might look exciting into something rather dull, simply by talking about if for a few seconds before they cut me off:

Here is how to dull-up the referendum for Australians (at the end) -

A bit more exciting, but less informative, in USA Today -

They are also talking about it in Holland, but the article is difficult to get without learning Dutch and signing up for online access

TO VIMA (a Sunday paper in Greece) -

Radio 4Today show -

The National -

Sadly, I got more media attention by being the father of someone stuck in New York during Hurricane Sandy.  I would have been on TV for longer, but could not manage to look worried enough.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

A path dependent run around the lake

Here is a story of how I managed to inadvertently (or accidentally or mistakenly) run a two-thirds marathon mostly in the dark when all I wanted to do was run a 5k in daylight.  There is a (n albeit tenuous) academic link, since it was during a work trip that it happened and I will segue neatly into a discussion of path dependence at the end of the story.  I went to the Australian Political Studies Association conference to give a public policy paper (as part of the UK-Australia PSA exchange, host Richard Eccleston) in Hobart, then up to Brisbane to give a policy paper at the University of Queensland (host:  Alastair Stark) and, finally, to give a paper on Scottish minority government at the Australian National University in Canberra (hosts: Ian Marsh and John Wanna). This thing happened on my first night in Canberra. 

I was staying one night at the Diplomat hotel in Canberra before heading to University House at the ANU (yes, it sounds warm, but think Scottish weather on this day). I went for a run from the hotel down by the lake (Lake Griffin Burley).  So far so good.  I ran past some black swans (which, of course, always remind the (pretentious ) me of Popper) and then ran past what I think is the national portrait gallery (which is a lovely looking building surrounded by flags; on this day there was a wedding taking place inside and out).  I was generally marvelling at how beautiful the lake and its surroundings were.  So, my 2-3k each way run soon turned into maybe 6k, one way, so far.  Then I got to a sign which said that I could run on a nice loop round a part of the lake.  It was called the ‘west’ loop.  The sign told me that I had 2 main choices: run the west loop on its own (a mere 16k, or 10 miles in old money) or the whole lake, consisting  of the west, central and east loops (28k).  I had been to the gym to do some weights, so decided to keep it short.  The sign told me that the ground was marked with the distance (good, because I didn’t take my GPS watch) and, I thought, since I had already run about 6k along the west route,  I only needed to run another 10k to do the full loop (incorrect).  When I got to the marked 10k spot, I initially thought ‘any minute now’ but the distance kept going up and up.  It was also dark by now. To cut a long story a bit less long, it turned out that the 6k I had already run was on the central loop, meaning that I had to run the 6k, then the 16k, then the 6k back to the hotel.  This is about two-thirds of a marathon.  Perhaps the only saving grace is that it was not 32k (20 miles), which is the point at which my legs generally start to give up (it was also cold, so good for keeping the sweat down).

Here are the various thoughts that went through my head on this route (think maybe 3 hours of running – I am not quick – with one hour of light and the rest in fading light then darkness punctuated by a full moon):

1.      This is really nice.

2.      What a beautiful lake.

3.      Hey, black swans (must remember to tweet something about Popper).

4.      Hey, nice flags at that museum (and it that a wedding?  How uplifting – maybe run some more to celebrate life).

5.      Hey, an interesting loop with landmarks and signs telling you what they are.  Why not?  I’m on my own and no-one is waiting for me to get back (yes, that is a double edged sword).

6.      Those birds are beautiful – bright blue and red.

7.      Oh dear, those other birds look like vultures and they sound pretty vicious (I am told they were probably cockatoos).

8.      It’s getting dark, but I should be OK – nearly there (I wasn’t).

9.      Oh, there’s Government House.  It’s almost dark but I wonder if can go in (no.  At this point I also daydreamed about a secret service officer offering me a lift to my hotel, but that didn’t happen either).

10.  10K?  I should be back by now.

11.  Why does the map say that I am getting further away? Should I turn back (yes, but I didn’t)?

12.  It is really dark now.  Thank goodness for the moonlight.

13.  Can I really hear lions roaring (yes, I was running past the zoo – but it is only less worrying in retrospect)?

14.  Well done, Paul – all that marathon training is coming in handy now, eh?

15.  Tut – another interesting landmark. Another  museum. So what? I want to go home.

16.  Why can I only see hills – where did all the lights and buildings go?

17.  Quick pee while no one is around (yes)?

18.  I wonder how long it takes for your body to give up on your hands/ arms and just heat up the rest.

19.  I wonder if I can get a blog out of this (yes).

20.  Oh good, there’s something that looks like CN Tower (it turns out you can see this from anywhere in Canberra, so not as much help as I thought).

21.  People cycling past with lights on – good sign.

22.  A guy running past me at twice the speed – even better sign (this is usually quite dispiriting, but not tonight).

23.  Another gallery or library?  Yes, very interesting.

24.  Oh, so that’s where the ANU (Australian National University ) is.

25.  I have definitely run too much.  Brainwave – I must have run along the central route, so it’s 16k and the rest.

26.  Oh good, there’s the central route.  22k down and only 6k to go.

27.  There are the flags.

28.  Is that really a disco going on, on the boat going round the lake (yes – I think it was part of the life-affirming wedding)?

Sadly, one other thought was this: ‘this would be a good way to explain the idea of path dependence’ (often discussed by scholars studying historical institutionalism).  Probably the most cited article on this is by Paul Pierson, who describes the idea of increasing returns; that an initial policy decision may have long term consequences; institutions develop and it becomes increasingly valuable to maintain that policy rather than reject it and begin again (a relatively costly process).  Or, as I say in Understanding Public Policy: “Path dependence suggests that when a commitment to an institution has been established and resources devoted to it, over time it produces ‘increasing returns’ and it effectively becomes increasingly costly to choose a different path. 

To use the usual example, as soon as the QWERTY keyboard became popular, better options were not adopted because it would be a too-expensive process to replace the current stock and persuade people to use something else. The term ‘path dependence’ is apt, because it highlights an image of going down a path and finding it difficult to consider going back in the opposite direction.  This is exactly what I was doing – questioning at various points if I should just turn round and go back, but always answering to myself that it would be better to keep going forwards.  Note the psychological aspect to this process.  I was invested in this particular path and would, at least, have felt silly for going against my original decision.  At various stages, it would have made sense to go back, but I never did, so I ended up running 28k to get back.  In policymaking or institutional terms, there may not be the equivalent sense of personal investment in a chosen path (in fact, a change of government might often produce the opposite effect), but institutions are really collections of rules and norms which maintain some sort of commitment to an initial policy decision.  This is often akin to a personal investment in an outcome (indeed, many members of organisations may reproduce rules to maintain their own position). Consequently, they are often difficult or costly to challenge and the initial decision is costly and difficult to reverse (particularly if organisations reproduce rules and behaviour without many people paying attention).   After a few days, I went to the same lake and did a quick 5k in the sunny daylight, but I’m afraid I don’t know what theory or concept that would demonstrate (policy learning?).

Friday, 14 September 2012

Scottish Public Expenditure Explained

I am co-authoring a 2nd edition of Scottish Politics with Neil McGarvey (2013).  It includes a revised chapter on "Money and Power: Public Expenditure in Scotland".  It still argues that nothing much has changed regarding the system used to determine the Scottish Government's budget.  Of course, what has changed is that there is less money now than before - but, come on now, let's be careful with this sort of statement.  As the chapter remarks:

"Overall, the real rise in spending in Scotland from 2000-11 has been 53% – a figure that gives some important context to current discussions of economic austerity below (but note that the cash rise, close to 100%, is a very (and increasingly) misleading figure often used by elected politicians to reinforce the importance of the Union dividend).  The first drop in real spending (2010-11) follows a series of very large real rises in annual budgets since devolution". 

Now, if you don't plan to read the whole thing, note that this is a discussion of all identifiable spending in Scotland, not the Scottish Government budget. 

I will copy and paste the introduction below and you can find the rest here - .  If you have any polite comments on my numerical skills, please make them politely.  Thanks to Richard Ashcroft (the academic, not the singer) for helping with the equations necessary to work out future spending using the GDP deflator in table 11.2 (although I don't show my working in the chapter). 

"In this chapter we discuss what may be the most important area of Scottish politics. Public finance is a key aspect of the political process, and the issues raised in this chapter inform most of the themes discussed in this book. Yet, despite the importance of finance to Scottish politics, and long running debates producing calls for reform, the system of raising and distributing money has not changed since devolution. Post-devolution Scotland contin¬ues to receive almost all of its funding for public expenditure from the UK Treasury in the form of a block grant. The arrangements for the transfer of this money are almost identical to those which existed pre-1999 and reflect the continued use of the Barnett formula to alter the block grant at the margins.

[Barnett formula: A mechanism used by the Treasury to determine the adjustment in devolved public expenditure (Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland) following changes to expenditure in England (in certain policy areas).]

This formula, and its history, is the main focus of the chap¬ter since it is central to an understanding of power relations between Scotland and the UK. These relations are often linked to the idea of Scotland’s ‘financial advantage’ compared to the rest of the UK and the ability of the Scottish Government to spend, but not raise, its money (the issue of finance also informs our discussion of power within Scotland, but the Scottish Government relationship with the Scottish Parliament and local authorities is discussed in chapters 5 and 10).

There are perhaps two main threats to the current settlement. First, the debate on constitutional change has produced renewed calls for some form of fiscal autonomy even if Scotland does not vote for independence. Chapter 12 examines such future proposals in more depth. All we note just now is that, despite this new agenda, the Barnett formula remains. Second, the global economic crisis has contributed to the UK’s new ‘age of austerity’ and a reduction in UK and Scottish public expenditure. Consequently, devolution has been marked by significant rises in Scottish funding settlements approximately for the first eight years, followed by minimal rises and then reductions in the Scottish Government budget. This chapter:

• discusses the issues of fairness, advantage and power in relation to Scottish public finance;

• outlines in detail what the Barnett formula is and why it was adopted;

• considers why the Barnett formula has endured to this day and what this tells us about power and IGR;

• highlights the role of the Treasury, examining Scotland’s unusual inability to determine its budget but discretion on how it is spent;

• highlights trends in Scottish Government spending.

• examines the consequences of the global economic crisis and the UK’s new ‘age of austerity’."