Monday, 27 June 2011

Draft chapters of 'The Scottish Political System Since Devolution'

The Scottish Political System Since Devolution:
From New Politics to the New Scottish Government

My plan was to share these draft book chapters online so that it could be openly peer reviewed before publication. I received a few comments that way (including useful suggestions by Michael Clancy), but also benefited from more systematic commentary from Neil McGarvey and Barry Winetrobe. Here are the drafts of all eleven chapters and bibliography as sent to the publisher on the 25th August. The book's details can be found here - or, if you want to pay a bit more, here

Comments are still welcome, either here or by email ( I have also clicked the box 'editable by anyone' - let's hope that doesn't end badly.

Just ignore the wacky page numbers (or tell me how to change them).

Monday, 30 May 2011

Class sizes

This is just a list of newspaper articles on class size targets, linked to Fiona Hyslop's departure as Education secretary in 2009. I refer to it in my book 'The Scottish Political System Since Devolution' ( ). Some of the links may no longer work (e.g. The Times has gone subscription-based since I collected them), but the Scotsman has a very good archive.

D. Maddox 16.10.09 ‘Hyslop admits government has failed on class sizes’, The Scotsman,
F. Macleod 12.11.09 ‘Failure on class sizes isn’t my fault ... blame the recession, councils and minority rule – Fiona Hyslop’, The Scotsman,
L. McIntosh 12.11.09 ‘Hyslop blames class size failures on councils’, The Times,
B. Currie 03.12.09 ‘Gray: Salmond misled MSPs with promise on class sizes’, The Herald,
S. Johnson 03.12.09 “Alex Salmond accused of misleading MSPs over ‘unachievable’ class size pledge”, Telegraph,
T. Peterkin 06.12.09 ‘Three codes broken in promoting SNP class size pledge, claim Lib Dems’, Scotland on Sunday,
C. Mackie 08.12.09 ‘Ex-education minister calls for inquiry into SNP class sizes pledge’, The Scotsman,
Herald Scotland 07.12.09 ‘Salmond faces Holyrood inquiry over primary class sizes’, The Herald,
BBC News 08.12.09 ‘Salmond’s class size claim probed’, BBC News,
C. Churchill 10.12.09 ‘Anger as Russell offers up new class size deal’, The Herald,
F. Macleod 12.12.09 ‘Mike Russell admits class sizes will not be reduced in lifetime of government’, The Scotsman,
Scottish Government News Release 11.11.09 ‘Review of class sizes taken forward’
Scottish Government News Release 23.09.09 ‘Action to tackle class sizes’
I. Swanson 01.12.09 ‘Fiona Hyslop sacked as Education Secretary’, The Scotsman,
A. Macleod 02.12.09 “Salmond ‘sacrifices’ his Education Secretary”, The Times,
A. Macleod 01.12.09 ‘Fantasy of education portfolio sealed Hyslop’s fate’, The Times,
A. Macleod 01.12.09 ‘Fiona Hyslop stripped of education role in SNP Cabinet’, The Times,
BBC News 01.12.09 ‘Demoted SNP education secretary endorses successor’, BBC News,
A. Cochrane 02.12.09 ‘It is good news for Scotland’s children that Alex Salmond has finally faced reality on Fiona Hylsop’, Telegraph,
Telegraph 02.12.09 ‘Alex Salmond forced to sack education minister after resignation bluff called’, Telegraph,
T. Peterkin 04.12.09 “Alex Salmond ‘used sacked Fiona Hyslop as scapegoat and misled Holyrood’”, The Scotsman,
A. Macleod 04.12.09 “Salmond accused of ‘sticking knife’ into Hyslop over class size memo”, The Times,
M. Linklater 04.12.09 ‘Alex Salmond is hurt and Holyrood knows it’, The Times,
A. Macleod 02.12.09 “Salmond sacked Hyslop ‘because she had lost support of the party’”, The Times,

Friday, 20 May 2011


We all Google ourselves, don't we? When I Google myself I know that I share the name with a Scottish footballer, someone who used to be the contact for bus shelter complaints in MidLothian council, and a US soccer coach - and that's about it. So, how about this for a (not particularly exciting or interesting for anyone else) coincidence? I was called by someone from the Herald asking if I had posted on about Professor James Mitchell being Alex Salmond's election agent. I said 'no' (because I hadn't). Then I checked it out and, sure enough, there is a post here that says, "Mike - James Mitchell was Alex Salmond’s election agent in the 1980’s - so please take anything he says with that in mind! Scottish opinion polls always underestimate the Conservative Party and overestimate the SNP by P Cairney April 8th, 2011 at 09:47”. I was so mortified (more than none) about the thought that I looked like a bitter gossip that I emailed James to deny my involvement! For the record, the comment by P. Cairney is made up, either by someone called P. Cairney or (a slightly more interesting prospect) someone using my name for a laugh.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Political Quarterly - Coalition and Minority Government in Scotland: Lessons for the United Kingdom?

I have an article out in Political Quarterly's next issue. The journal can be accessed here (or you can read a version of the article here). The title is 'Coalition and Minority Government in Scotland: Lessons for the United Kingdom?'. In a nutshell, it argues that strength and stability in Parliament may come at the expense of strength and stability within Government. In other words, UK and devolved governments tend to prefer coalition governments because they provide them with a parliamentary majority and therefore strength in numbers (commanding the parliamentary vote) which ensures relative stability (since, for example, they are not vulnerable to motions of no confidence in Parliament). Yet, coalitions also complicate the machinery of government, whereas a minority government may be able to operate in a more cohesive manner. This certainly seemed to be the experience of the SNP from 2007-11 and its resultant strong image of governing competence is one part of the explanation for its huge win in the 2011 election (see other posts below). However, that huge win has made part of my article look a bit silly. It goes like this (in the conclusion):
"The United Kingdom ... has no equivalent to the Scottish Conservatives: content to make deals in opposition because it has a minimal chance of being part of government (and because it may help the party’s profile in Scotland). Instead, it has a single kingmaker in the shape of the Liberal Democrats, which might analyse the Scottish experience and find no incentive to remain in opposition".
At the PSA conference, Nicola McEwen was - quite rightly - sceptical about the ability of the Liberal Democrats to stop a minority government being formed. In a minority situation, they would have to combine with another party to elect an alternative First Minister or, at least, threaten to do so. Yet, this may not be successful. They may also have little hand when it comes to threatening a vote of no confidence later on because no party in Scotland wants to be seen to be responsible for an early election. Nor can parties afford to finance an extra election. Of course, that discussion became largely redundant when the SNP formed a majority government. That is the silly part – the Liberal Democrats are no longer the kingmakers in Scotland (unless you count selecting Willie Rennie as their new leader, of 5, in the Scottish Parliament). Instead, they have been relegated to the backbenches of the Scottish Parliament. It just goes to show two things: (1) I really need to avoid discussing the future (academics are better at explaining the past); and (2) journal articles are always vulnerable to being dated quickly when they discuss current events. I wrote this thing in January and it is already cracking by May!

Monday, 9 May 2011

Scottish Election 2011 - Holyrood Magazine

Here is something I wrote for Holyrood Magazine on the 2011 Election:

I once met a fellow academic at a conference, who told me that he did not care about the study of public policy at all. It was something along the lines of, ‘as soon as the election is over, I lose interest’. I tend to say the opposite – ‘elections don’t matter; it is what happens between them that matters’ – and don’t get excited at all about elections. Yet, even I was blown away by the nature of the SNP victory in 2011. The SNP managed to do achieve three things that few us (perhaps with the exception of John Curtice and some very optimistic SNP supporters) thought possible. First, they achieved a majority of seats in a system designed to stop that happening (although, perhaps ironically given the rejection of AV, STV might be a better bet to achieve that aim). Second, they did it on the back of a major reversal of fortunes in the constituency vote, winning 53 (73%) of the constituency seats – the figure that Labour reached in 1999 when the SNP won 7 (10%). Third, they won the majority of constituency seats in key Labour strongholds such as Glasgow. They also helped reduce the Liberal Democrats to the status of a small party, keep the Greens down to two, and perhaps only Margo MacDonald’s victory spoiled the perfect night for them.
The effect on the parties may be dramatic. The Conservatives may go back to the peripheral role they enjoyed from 1999-2007. The Liberal Democrats may seek ways to disassociate themselves from their UK counterparts, albeit without Tavish Scott, who resigned as their leader. Labour will also elect a new leader, in the Autumn, following a review of the party initiated by Iain Gray before his departure.
But will the election effect be as dramatic on the Scottish Parliament itself? In a word, ‘no’. The Parliament has been a peripheral part of the Scottish policy process for the majority of its 12 year existence and majority government will only accelerate its declining importance. In the first eight years, the Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition performed the role of a majority government, controlling the vote in plenary and committees and passing so much legislation that most committees devoted most of their activities to scrutiny (instead of agenda setting inquiries). There was little evidence of ‘power sharing’ or ‘new politics’ and much more evidence of a concentration of power in the government combined with an adversarial atmosphere that we associated so much with ‘old Westminster’. We might have expected a big difference in the latter four years, with the Scottish Government finally having to negotiate with opposition parties in the Parliament to secure its policy aims. Yet, with the exception of some high profile government retreats (on the independence referendum, local taxation reform and minimum alcohol pricing – all of which are set to return), there was a muted parliamentary effect. The Scottish Government produced and amended the vast majority of the legislation and found that they could pursue many of their their aims without recourse to Parliament – through public spending, the use of legislation already on the statute books and, most importantly, its new relationship with local government. Committees were no more effective. Indeed, at times, they seemed less effective either because the main opposition parties seemed disinterested in committee business, party politics got in the way of business-like cooperation (a development summed up in the attempts by Labour to make Alex Salmond pay for his association with Donald Trump), or simply because they did not have the resources to find out how local (and health) authorities were spending public money.
Iain Gray has promised to initiate a ‘root and branch’ review of Scottish Labour. Perhaps it is time to take the same long and hard look at the Scottish Parliament. It is time to forget about ‘new politics’ for two main reasons. First, what we have, and have had for some time, is good old fashioned government and opposition. Second, the term breeds complacency. It makes it look like Scotland cracked electoral and intuitional design before 1999 and that it is superior to its London counterpart. Yet, in a promising new development, the Conveners Group of the Scottish Parliament has recently had the courage to suggest that Westminster often does it better. It suggests that committees can be more assertive because they present an alternative career path for MPs (something that Holyrood has failed to provide). It also suggests that Westminster has not stood still, introducing reforms to reduce the influence of parties when committee chairs are selected. Such reforms may not shift the balance of power, but they at least show a willingness to change. I doubt there is much of an appetite for this sort of discussion in Scotland, because the reviews by opposition parties will focus more on how to win votes next time. Perhaps there is more hope for the SNP despite the fact that it needs the Parliament less than it ever has. The SNP Government has shown that it can govern well. Now it is time to show that an independent Scotland can have a Parliament worthy of its proposed (independent or further devolved) status.

Scottish Election 2011 - SPICe Briefing

Here is something I wrote for the Scottish Parliament Information Centre's 2011 election briefing. It has been edited a bit by SPICe so, if you have a lot of time on your hands, feel free to try to spot the differences:

The Scottish Election of 2011 has to go down as the most exciting in its short history (and probably for decades to come). The size of the SNP win was staggering for at least three reasons. First, it achieved a majority of seats (69, 53% of 129) under a system designed to make it unlikely that one party achieves a majority without a majority of the vote (it secured 45.4% of the constituency and 44% of the regional vote). Second, it was built on a reversal-of-fortunes, with the SNP now dominating the constituency vote at the expense of Labour when, in the past, it received most of its seats from the regional lists. Third, it won in key Labour strongholds such as Glasgow.
But what are the wider or longer term consequences? Are they, or will they be, as dramatic?
Public Policy. The most immediate and significant effect is that there is now a clear mandate for SNP policies. It will almost certainly introduce a bill to hold a referendum on independence and pursue policies for which it had insufficient parliamentary support in 2007 – including a minimum price on a unit of alcohol and a replacement for the council tax (it has already promised to maintain a freeze on council tax). However, there are three main qualifications to consider. First, its ability to pursue policy innovation is limited by the financial climate and many of its decisions will relate to which aims to prioritise or drop, rather than which new policies to fund. Second, the SNP Government has built a reputation for governing competence, which is often about the management of people and existing resources rather than constant innovation. Third, its plans for the delivery of policies is perhaps less certain. In particular, a key part of its governing strategy in 2007 was to devolve more responsibility to local government. While it agreed ‘single outcome agreements’ with (and set some national priorities for) local authorities, the emphasis was on reducing ‘ring fenced’ budgets and giving local authorities the space to make their own decisions. This caused a degree of tension at a national level, with many organisations (including the Scottish Parliament) often expressing frustration at their ability to be involved in policy at only one stage of the process, and the Scottish Government under a degree of pressure to deliver on its commitments. We may detect a partial shift back to national direction from 2011. For example, the high profile issue of class sizes will return, with the Scottish Government still only recommending a limit of 18 in P1-3 but now willing to set a legal maximum of 25.
The MSPs. The proportion of new MSPs has risen to 37% (48) from 33% in 2007 and 20% in 2003. Despite some concerns about the departure of key Labour women, and a huge reduction in the parliamentary Labour party (traditionally the source of more than half of the Scottish Parliament’s female members), the gender balance improved slightly at 65% men and 35% women because very similar numbers of women and men left and returned (it is now only the second-worst gender imbalance since Scottish devolution!). The Parliament is now not exclusively white (note that Bashir Ahmad served from 2007 until his death in 2009), with two new Scottish–Asian MSPs representing 1.6% of MSPs (black and ethnic minorities represent 2% of the Scottish population). Yet, more work is required to tell if the occupational background of MSPs has changed. Political parties in many countries have an increasing reputation for recruiting candidates from ‘politics facilitating’ occupations (such as party, interest group and think tank workers) and the Scottish Parliament is no exception.
From Coalition to Minority to Majority Government. The first eight years of devolution showed us that the Scottish Parliament was not the powerful body that it was cracked up to be. The Scottish Executive coalition held a majority of MSPs in plenary and all committees, allowing it to introduce the vast majority of legislation and ensure control over its amendment during parliamentary scrutiny. Four years of minority government showed that, while the Scottish Government passed fewer bills in four years (42, compared to 50 from 2003 and 53 from 1999) and required the support of other parties to pass annual budgets, the balance of power did not change dramatically. The Scottish Parliament’s role is limited largely to departmental and legislative scrutiny. It does not have the resources to present an alternative legislative agenda. For example, committee bills are generally limited to parliamentary reform and standards. Members’ bills either take a long time to produce (the fox hunting ban took two years) or relate to issues in which non-complex legislation can be used (in areas such as dog fouling and the ability of shops to open at Christmas). The committees’ ability to undertake agenda-setting inquires is limited. The election of a majority party may further tip the balance of power to government, with a single party now able to command a majority in plenary and committees.
The Scottish Government and UK Government relationship. From 1999-2007 the Scottish-UK government relationship was low key; discussions were conducted informally and almost entirely through political parties, ministers and civil servants. Formal mechanisms for negotiation and dispute were used rarely and the Scottish Executive played a minimal role in EU policy making. These relationships did not change remarkably following the election of the SNP in 2007 and the coalition government in the UK and 2010. Although there were more instances of high profile disagreements from 2007, there was a still tendency for this charged atmosphere to give way to a more humdrum, day-to-day relationship as different civil servants worked through the details. David Cameron also seemed determined to ‘govern Scots with respect’ from 2010. This process may continue, because both governments recognise the value of a smooth working relationship, or it may not – partly because their relationship will form the backdrop to the agenda on independence from 2013. A UK Conservative government in office during a period of economic retrenchment probably provides the best chance for the SNP Government to demonstrate that it would be better making all of its own decisions, and it would be a surprise if it did not exploit that opportunity.
The Parties. Scottish Labour will elect a new leader in the Autumn, following a ‘root and branch’ review initiated by Iain Gray before his departure. The Liberal Democrats will surely have to do more work to distance themselves from their electorally-toxic UK counterparts (although it is already a federal party and the Liberal Democrats are unlikely to be in government from 2015). The Conservatives may look back on their position in 2007 with a degree of nostalgia since they may return to the peripheral role in the Scottish Parliament that they enjoyed from 1999-2007. From 2007-11 they often propped up the SNP, securing small policy concessions for support on key votes (most notably on the budget, but note that they voted in agreement with the SNP over 70% of the time). Now, Annabelle Goldie is reduced to ‘keeping an eye’ on Alex Salmond rather than holding his hand. Perhaps the immediate future of the SNP will become the most interesting. Minority government, combined with opposition party opposition to an independence referendum, may have produced a strong them-and-us mentality and the coherence of the SNP within both Government and Parliament was remarkable. However, if we remove both constraints (and add the notion that majorities sometimes produce divisions within parties) we may find that the party becomes more difficult to manage.

Scottish Election 2011 - The Monitor

Here is something I wrote on the election for the UCL's Constitution Unit Monitor:
"The Scottish Election of 2011 has to go down as the most exciting in its short history (and probably for decades to come). The size of the SNP win was staggering. The size of its majority (it has 69, 53% of 129 seats) is not the notable part. The most staggering part is that it gained a majority at all – given that the system was designed to stop one party winning in this way. Indeed, ironically, the talk before devolution was that proportional representation was chosen by Labour to stop the SNP ever the getting the majority it needed to push hard on the independence agenda. Put more positively, the system is designed to make it unlikely that one party achieves a majority unless it gains a majority of the vote. PR is supposed to produce a different kind of party system in which the largest party forms a coalition government with at least one other party (as Labour did with the Liberal Democrats in 1999 and 2003) or a minority government (as the SNP did in 2007, performing the unlikely task of fulfilling a full 4-year term with 36% of the seats). However, the Mixed Member Proportional (or ‘additional member’) system clearly does not make it impossible to gain a majority of seats without a majority of the vote because it is not entirely proportional. The explanation for the SNP’ s win comes from the role of first-past-the-post to elect 73 of its 129 MSPs. The SNP secured 73% (53) of those seats from 45.4% of the vote. While it received only 16, or 30%, of regional seats from 44% of the regional votes, this was not enough to offset its constituency majority.
The second surprise is how well the SNP did in the constituency vote. In the three previous elections it came behind Labour: in 1999 Labour won 53 constituency seats to the SNP’s 7; in 2003 the split was 46 and 9; and, even in 2007, the split was 37 to 27, with the SNP becoming the largest party on the back of its 26 regional seats (to Labour’s 9). Now, 53 SNP compares to 15 Labour. The third is that the SNP did well in areas that, in the past, were Labour strongholds. One of the most notable areas is Glasgow, where Labour won 10 of 10 constituencies in 1999 and 2003, then 9 in 2007. Nicola Sturgeon was the SNP’s exception and, at the time, this seemed like a symbolic blow to Labour’s dominance. In 2011, the SNP took the majority (5 of 9) of the constituency seats in Glasgow – a result that must seem like a crushing blow to Labour. The result for the Scottish Liberal Democrats is more predictable. It suffered from its association with the UK coalition government, securing only 5 seats (17, 17, 16 in 1999, 2003, 2007). The Scottish Conservatives did comparatively better, securing 15 (18, 18, 17). The small parties were, again, marginalised – the Greens secured 2, only one more than independent Margo MacDonald.
The short term future seems clear: the SNP goes on with a clear mandate for a referendum on independence and to continue its wider policy agenda (for example, by returning to its aim to set a minimum price for a unit of alcohol); Scottish Labour will elect a new leader in the Autumn, following a ‘root and branch’ review initiated by Iain Gray before his departure; the Liberal Democrats work to distance themselves from their electorally-toxic UK counterparts; and the Conservatives may return to a peripheral role in the Scottish Parliament. From 2007-11 they often propped up the SNP, securing small policy concessions for support on key votes (most notably on the budget). Now, Annabelle Goldie is reduced to ‘keeping an eye’ on the SNP".

Friday, 6 May 2011

Scottish Election 2011

I have joked for a long time about being so wrong about election (and other) predictions that you should place a bet on the opposite of what I say. Now, I am convinced that you would make a fortune if you did so. My favourite mistakes are the ones I do with newspapers (luckily, I think they only publish John Curtice’s predictions for obvious reasons (if they are not obvious - it is because he is almost-always correct)). So, for example, I said that Wendy Alexander would ride out the storm and remain Scottish Labour leader. Then, I made an accumulator prediction of sorts from 2007: that the Conservatives would win the 2010 election (that is the closest I have come to being right), the SNP would use it to full effect in the referendum campaign (there was no referendum), the referendum would produce a ‘no to independence’ vote (or a ‘more devolution’ vote if the 3rd option was given) and the SNP would then lose in 2011 because the wind would be out of their sails. I also reckoned, even after the non-referendum, that Labour would be the biggest party (and might form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats!) just because of the incumbency effects: the SNP were the incumbents and would lose a few votes accordingly, plus Labour were not in government in the UK or Scotland anymore (so wouldn’t be punished at the polls for Iraq and the economy in the same way). This has to go down as my most spectacularly wrong prediction to date (John Curtice is now predicting an SNP majority). In my defence, I am not a psephologist and do not have any expertise to draw on here. My expertise is in other things: coalition/ minority government and the Scottish Parliament, public policy, intergovernmental relations, and so on (and I will publish a few posts in the next week or so). But you would think that I would get some of these correct, even by the law of averages, wouldn’t you? My latest prediction is that there will be a referendum in 2 years or so (surely this has to be right!) but that it will not produce enough support for independence. So, of course, that means independence tomorrow. Place your bets.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Rational Choice - full section.

My book Understanding Public Policy: Theories and Issues (Basingstoke: Palgrave) has a section entitled 'The Main Debates between Rational Choice Advocates and Critics'. For the sake of space, I shortened this section and referred the reader here for a fuller discussion. Well, here it is (see the book for the references) ...

The complication to rational choice defences is that they are often stated too provocatively by their advocates. For example, the ‘instrumentalist-empiricist’ (MacDonald, 2003: 553) claim that models should be assessed not by the realism of their assumptions but by the accuracy of their predictions is ripe for abuse and misinterpretation. Friedman (1953: 14-15) argues that the assumptions of hypotheses must be ‘descriptively false’ (because they assume, for the purposes of the inquiry, that other causal factors are unimportant) when he means that they are ‘good approximations’ whose worth should be determined by ‘one test’: whether the theory ‘yields sufficiently accurate predictions’. The aim of rational choice theory is not only to produce predictions that are consistent with the evidence but also to explain why; to argue that things happen because people act in the way described (Laver, 1997: 5). Therefore, much extraneous debate could be avoided if we stuck to describing assumptions as parsimonious rather than unrealistic; as an extraction of one essence of individual behaviour (Tsebelis, 1990: 32 uses the term ‘subset’; compare with Hindess, 1988: 113). As Ward (2002: 69) argues, models are ‘simplified representations of reality constructed with a view to improving our understanding’. Similarly, one aim of modelling is to explore the consequences of behaviour under particular conditions that may not have occurred but could occur in the real world (Laver, 1997: 4-5). This is not a claim that the assumptions of a model are deliberately unrealistic in the way we would commonly understand the phrase.

Relatedly, Shepsle and Bonchek’s (1997: 16-7) argument that we do not need to know why individuals hold particular preferences (instead, we entertain ‘hunches and intuitions about that person’s motives’) requires qualification. The argument is not that such things are unimportant, but that their explanation is problematic when we analyse the ‘behaviour of large numbers of people’ (Elster, 1986: 16). There are two main solutions. The first is practical: set up a division of labour, with some models treating preferences as exogenous (caused by factors outwith the realms of the model) complemented by other models that explain preference formation (Dowding and King, 1995: 5; Parsons, 2005: 8-9; although Hampsher-Monk and Hindmoor, 2010 suggest that attempts to link the two are rare). The second is methodological: highlight the difference between ‘stated’ and ‘revealed’ preferences and argue that it is at least as legitimate to observe behaviour and impute motivations as it is to ask people why they behaved as they do. Since both methods are problematic on their own (people lie or may be mistaken when they explain their motives; people may act strategically and misrepresent their preferences when acting), neither should be relied on exclusively (Dowding and James, 2004: 188; Hampsher-Monk and Hindmoor, 2010: 57).

Finally, we may see unconvincing responses when substantive models are assessed for their usefulness. In particular, Green and Shapiro (1994: 34) identify a tendency in the literature for ‘post hoc theorizing’ when the limits of models’ predictions become clear. While the modification of original models can be legitimate in the light of empirical evidence, this should be done in a particular way: the modified model should explain everything the old model explains and more, and/ or produce new predictions ‘at variance’ with the old model (Dowding and James, 2004: 189; see box 7.4.2 and 7.4.3). One of the most striking attempts is the concept of ‘nested games’ (box 7.3).

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Scotland, The Monitor January 2011

This is for the UCL Constitution Unit's January 2011 edition of 'The Monitor':

There has been a number of stories vying for attention in the latter part of 2010, including the US report on Lockerbie (suggesting economic pressure on the UK to free the Lockerbie bomber), the date of the referendum on AV (the Lords process may push it past the Scottish Parliament election date), the resignation of Stewart Stevensson (blamed for motorists being trapped on the M8 overnight during the cold spell), the non-story regarding the lapse of the Scottish Parliament’s powers to modify Scottish income tax (the power would not have been used) and, of course, Tommy Sheridan. However, the biggest issue relates to the economy and the budget. Legislation, based on the Calman report (see previous monitors) is currently going through Westminster to devolve a range of taxes to the Scottish Parliament (despite opposition by the SNP). We are also gearing up for the annual budget bill which has generally proved controversial. There are two added elements this time. First, it is the first budget bill in the new era of austerity, with the Scottish Government faced with finding ways to reduce budgets across the board. This is the context for most coverage of issues with, for example, Scottish Labour linking C difficile related deaths to NHS cost cutting, the Auditor General warning that further cuts in the NHS have to be made, Education Secretary Mike Russell accused of interfering in the schools closure agenda in his constituency and challenging the opposition parties to state their position on charging tuition fees, and Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill considering the move to single fire and police services. Second, Alex Salmond’s threats to resign and force an early election may have a bit more bite this time (although SNP support is not that high) because we are within six months of May (meaning that another election would be unnecessary; the new government would operate for over 4 years). Much centres on Finance Secretary John Swinney’s proposal of a ‘supermarket tax’ (or rise in business rates for large businesses) which has been opposed by the three main opposition parties. Swinney has also begun to play hardball with local authorities, linking funding to a commitment to maintain police and teacher numbers and to freeze council tax (or face a reduction in budget settlements).