"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.