Tag Archives: scotland

Scottish devolution has been a disaster and Tony Blair’s biggest mistake

So said the UK Prime Minister recently in a call to Conservative MPs according to news reports. This comment has sparked considerable debate over the relative successes or merits of Scottish devolution and the growing calls for a second independence referendum.

I’ve spent the last twenty years or so researching issues of public management and administration. More recently I have focused on aspects of public services in Scotland including health and social care integration, community empowerment and the Scottish Government. Given the current discussions over what the UK Prime Minister is reported to have said I thought it might be useful to consider some of the evidence.

Scottish devolution has led to increasing policy divergence from the rest of the UK (rUK). This has created some challenges and tensions within the devolution settlement itself; for example, in Scottish higher education (which is devolved) the Scottish Government continue to provide free education to Scottish students but many other aspects of policy which also affect Scottish universities (such as immigration policy, REF and research funding) remain under the auspices of the UK Government (reserved powers). This, as with many other tensions in the devolution settlement, is becoming increasingly sensitive as the impact of Brexit becomes clear and debates continue around use of the Sewel Convention.

In my research I have shown how the Scottish Government have, since devolution, developed a more strategic approach to governance. The evidence I have collected through my studies suggests that this has made a positive difference to the inner workings of the Scottish Government. Further evidence shows how confidence in the Scottish Government remains high. Trust in the Scottish Government has fluctuated between just over 50% in 2006 (directly before the development of the strategic approach) to 72% in 2016.

Figure 2.1: Trust in Scottish Government and UK Government to work in Scotland’s best interests ‘just about always’ or ‘most of the time’ (1999-2019)^

Figure 2.1: Line chart showing levels of trust in the Scottish Government and UK Government to work in Scotland’s best interests (1999-2019)
https://www.gov.scot/publications/scottish-social-attitudes-2019-attitudes-government-political-engagement/pages/4/#Tab2.1

There are also a number of polls and surveys which indicate high levels of popularity and approval for Nicola Sturgeon and for the Scottish Government – particularly in how they have handled the Covid-19 crisis. It is hard to see how this would be possible without a competent and well functioning administration.

What remains less clear is the extent to which these changes have had a positive impact on the daily lives of the people of Scotland. For example, a different approach has been adopted in with community empowerment it remains unclear how effective this policy has been in practice. Equally cuts to local government have created significant pressure and adversely affected the working lives of those who deliver these vital services.

The fact remains that there simply isn’t sufficient evidence to either support or rebuke the claims of the UK Prime Minister that Scottish devolution has been a disaster. One of the biggest challenges here is the general lack of academic research. Of course there is some excellent research on public policy and administration taking place in Scotland. My point though is that there are relatively few public administration scholars or university departments in Scottish universities.

Assuming we consider the teaching of public administration as a barometer for the health of the subject. Previously there were many departments of public management and administration in Scottish universities and many degree programmes. Currently there is only one Master of Public Administration (MPA) programme in Scotland and no undergraduate degrees in the subject. Taking a comparative approach, in the US states of Minnesota and South Carolina, which both have comparable population size to Scotland, there are 6 and 5 Master of Public Administration (MPA) programmes respectively. Does it follow that there are more public administration scholars across the US and therefore more public administration research taking place? I think so.

Pressures to publish internationally relevant research and to generate income from degree programmes have arguably contributed to a steady decline of public administration scholarship in Scotland (and indeed across the UK). The consequence of this is that there is a relative lack of independent data with which to explore the impacts of devolution over time. There is also arguably a lack of development of future public administration leaders and managers (including in comparison with rUK).

Has devolution been a disaster? My research would not support this statement. But if Scotland is to gain further devolved powers, or even full independence, we need more academic research in Scottish public administration in order to continue to address this question.

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The Strategic State – a case study of the Scottish Government

There is growing interest, internationally, in developing more strategic forms of government. This is seen as essential in order to tackle complex challenges such as climate change, poverty and numerous public health issues such as rising levels of obesity.

In my latest research I explore how changes made within the Scottish Government around 2007-17 demonstrated the implementation of a ‘Strategic State’. Specifically these changes included development of the National Performance Framework, restructuring of the Scottish Government and significant investment in leadership development.

There are some key lessons from this research, particularly for small countries, in how strategic thinking can be fostered within government settings:

  • The importance of having an appropriate organisational structure to support strategy implementation.
  • The need for advocacy from political leaders to enable change.
  • The need for strong administrative leadership and a clear vision for change.
  • The importance of education and training of leaders at all levels of the organisation.
  • A long-term emphasis on culture change.

My research in this area is ongoing. Projects that I am involved in include aspects of health and social care integration, the nature of work in local government and the nature of distributed leadership in government settings. This builds on previous work which showed how the aspirations for greater community empowerment require investment in communities. In taking forward this work I am looking at recent developments such as the refresh of the National Performance Framework. If you think you could contribute to this research do get in touch with me.

You can read my latest publication here:

Ian C. Elliott (2020) The implementation of a strategic state in a small country setting—the case of the ‘Scottish Approach’, Public Money & Management, https://doi.org/10.1080/09540962.2020.1714206

Or you can view my full research profile here: https://researchportal.northumbria.ac.uk/en/researchers/ian-elliott(a915f572-1e7b-4812-9325-b2fce9fdd55f).html

Or simply get in touch! Click here to email me

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Brexit and Scottish Universities

I am currently conducting some research with Professor Margaret Arnott from University of West of Scotland on the potential impact of Brexit on Scottish universities. This is clearly a difficult topic to study at the moment as their remains so much uncertainty around what path the Brexit negotiations will take and subsequently when and how (and even if) the UK will eventually leave the European Union. The Scottish dimension adds an extra layer of complexity – this piece of research sets out some of these complexities in more detail.

Scotland, as a constituent nation of the UK, must follow UK policy on all reserved matters including decisions related to Brexit. But at the same time Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain within the EU. Within this debate education is of particular interest as the Scottish education system has always been distinct. With devolution this policy divergence has increased (Keating 2005, 2010) and led to the emergence of the so-called Scottish Approach to Public Services (Housden, 2014; Elliott, Forthcoming).

Source: BBC accessed at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-39317865

Policy divergence is exemplified with the funding of higher education for whilst undergraduate tuition fees were introduced in the UK in 1998, they were soon abolished in Scotland by the Scottish Government who have remained resolutely opposed to tuition fees. This policy has become immortalised in the “Salmond Rock” which sits in the grounds of Heriot-Watt University which is inscribed with his statement that “the rocks will melt with the sun before I allow fees to be imposed on Scotland’s students”.

Source: Flickr (Licensed under Creative Commons)

Although the free higher education policy is seen to be a way to extend educational opportunities it has been found that maintenance grants have declined since this policy was introduced (Hunter- Blackburn 2016) and that students from less affluent backgrounds have suffered as a result. Furthermore the approach to funding of Scottish universities, and the decline in international students following UK Government changes to immigration rules, have contributed to an increasingly difficult financial environment. In 2016/17, 9 of Scotland’s 19 universities reported a financial deficit (compared to just one in eight in England) (HESA 2018).

In relation to Europe, the potential impact of Brexit on Scottish universities may be far greater than on universities in the rest of the UK. Scottish universities have benefited €558m from the Horizon 2020 programme and €64m from the Erasmus programme (Universities Scotland 2018). In total European funding sources account for 9.4% of all research funding in Scottish universities (£94m) in 2014-15 (ibid 2018). Also, Scottish universities have proportionally more EU staff (11% of all staff, 17% academic staff and 25% of research staff) and students (9%) than the rest of the UK (ibid 2018).

The Scottish university sector faces many financial challenges. Despite education being a devolved policy there are many related issues, such as immigration policy and foreign policy, that remain reserved. Thus, the financial sustainability of universities has become precarious both as a result of Brexit but also the UK Home Office ‘hostile environment’ policies. It is unclear how Scottish universities will cope with the potential effects of Brexit but whatever happens this issue has raised significant issues in relation to the devolution settlement.

This will be discussed at the following conference: https://www.regionalstudies.org/opportunities/call-for-papers-the-impact-of-brexit-on-regions-in-europe-essca-angers-france/

References:

Arnott, M.A. (2017) “Jigsaw Puzzle” of education policy?: nation, state and globalised policy making, Scottish Educational Review, 49 (2): 3-14. Available online here.

Elliott, I.C. (Forthcoming) The Implementation of a Strategic State in a Small Country Setting: the case of the ‘Scottish Approach’, Public Money and Management.

Housden, P. (2014) This is us: A perspective on public services in Scotland, Public Policy and Administration, 29 (1): 64-74. Available online here.

Hunter Blackburn, L. (2016) Equity in student finance: Cross-UK comparisons, Special Edition: Widening Access to Higher Education in Scotland, Scottish Educational Review, 48(1): 30-47. Available online here.

Keating, M. (2005) Policy convergence and divergence in Scotland under devolution, Regional studies, 39 (4): 453-463. Available online here.

Keating, M. (2010) The Government of Scotland: Public Policy Making after Devolution, 2nd Edition, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Purchase here.

Universities Scotland (2018) Universities Scotland’s Brexit Priorities, accessed online at: https://www.universities-scotland.ac.uk/publications/brexit-priorities/

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The Scottish Approach to Public Services

I currently have a PhD bursary available on the topic of ‘The Scottish Approach to Public Services’. The Scottish Approach has been defined as encompassing three principles in the design and delivery of public services:

  • Coproduction
  • Assets-based approaches
  • Improvement methodology

Lots has been written on the topic (for example, Cairney 2014, Cairney et al. 2016, Coutts and Brotchie, 2017; Elvidge, 2011; Ferguson, 2015; Housden, 2014) but previous research is often based on explorations of the general principles of the Scottish Approach and understandings of how they influence the policy making process. Less has been written about how the Scottish Approach influences practice in localised contexts such as, for example, local government, higher education or social work.

As such I thought it would be interesting to investigate how the Scottish Approach may influence practice. I didn’t want to be prescriptive about which practice setting the research should focus on but I have provided a few examples which will hopefully spark some thoughts. Previously I have written about why do a PhD (click here to go to the blog post) but ultimately if you are passionate about education then doing a PhD is a fantastic opportunity to study a topic in great depth over a three year period.

The QMU PhD Bursary covers:

  • a full waiver of tuition fees;
  • an annual stipend of £14,553 lasting 3 years for full-time study; and
  • a research budget of £2,000 to cover project expenses and travel.

For more information on the bursary see here: https://www.qmu.ac.uk/study-here/postgraduate-research-study/graduate-school-and-doctoral-research/phd-bursary-competition/ 

For more information on the research topic see here:  https://www.qmu.ac.uk/media/4209/cass-phd-bursary-topics-2018.pdf 

My own research on this topic can be accessed here: https://doi.org/10.1080/09540962.2020.1714206 

References:

Cairney, P. (2014) “The Territorialisation of Interest Representation in Scotland: Did Devolution Produce a New Form of Group-Government Relations?”, Territory, Politics, Governance, DOI: 10.1080/21622671.2014.952326

Cairney, P., Russell, S. and St Denny, E. (2016) “The ‘Scottish approach’ to policy and policymaking: what issues are territorial and what are universal?”, Policy & Politics, Vol. 44 (3), 333–50.

Coutts, P. and Brotchie, J. 2017. The Scottish Approach to evidence. A discussion paper.
Alliance for Useful Evidence. Carnegie UK Trust.

Elvidge, J. (2011) Northern Exposure. Lessons from the first twelve years of devolved
government in Scotland. Institute for Government. London.

Ferguson, Z. (2015) What is the ‘Scottish Approach’?, Alliance for Useful Evidence, London. Available online at: https://www.alliance4usefulevidence.org/what-is-the-scottish-approach/

Housden, P. (2014) “This is us: A perspective on public services in Scotland”, Public Policy
and Administration, Vol. 29 (1), 64-74.

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The Sustainability of the Scottish Approach to Policy-Making

The Scottish Approach to Policy-Making involves a focus on: Improvement; Assets; and Co-production. This has been widely written about elsewhere (see here, herehere and here).

But how was this approach developed? And what does it mean for the implementation of policy (as opposed to policy-making itself)? In other words, is there an equivalent Scottish Approach to Public Administration? And how might this develop in the future?

In ongoing research I have interviewed ten key players in the development of the Scottish Approach. All are, or were, civil servants within the Scottish Government (previously Scottish Executive). Through this research it is clear that the development of a Scottish Approach to Policy Making was a deliberate move to create a more strategic form of government in Scotland. This involved 1) internal restructuring of the Scottish Government with the establishment of strategic Directors-General and cross-cutting directorates; 2) the development of the National Performance Framework, Scotland Performs; and 3) significant investment in leadership development with a particular focus on Adaptive Leadership and Public Value.

The rationale for much of this was based on a recognition that the managerial approach to public administration of the 1980’s and 1990’s had not led to a significant improvement in the tackling of ‘wicked issues’ such as child poverty, climate change and health inequality. Importantly, this was linked to a growing recognition that addressing these challenges would require partnership-working across the public sector and beyond. That Government could not solve these problems on it’s own but that they would require a whole-of-society approach.

Initiatives such as the strengthening of community councils, the community planning partnerships, and the Community Empowerment Act are all part of a shift towards enhancing the role of communities in the design, delivery and ownership of public services.

Interestingly, the development of the Scottish Approach has been characterised as, in part, a conscious effort to move away from the old approach which was characterised as based on top-down; paternalism; working in silos; acute focus on curing problems after they arise (Mitchell, 2015). Ten years on has anything changed? Is the Scottish Government more strategic? More collaborative? More prevention-focused?

As noted above a key part of the ‘Scottish Approach’ was a focus on Adaptive Leadership. This is a leadership style developed primarily by Heifetz (his key texts include ‘Leadership on the Line‘ and ‘The Practice of Adaptive Leadership‘). Put simply, Heifetz argues that leaders face technical problems and adaptive challenges. Technical problems have a clear solution whereas adaptive challenges may have multi-faceted causes and require a multi-agency approach. Hence the focus on collaboration and prevention (examples include the Early-Years Collaborative and Health and Social Care Integration). Clearly an adaptive approach has particular relevance in public services in the face of the above mentioned ‘wicked problems’ such as child poverty, climate change and health inequality.

But can adaptive leadership work in the public sector? My ongoing research is exploring some the challenges in adopting Adaptive Leadership in a public context. In doing so a number of important questions are being raised about the sustainability of the Scottish Approach itself. Undoubtedly there is a solid rationale behind the adoption of adaptive leadership in a public services context. The extent to which this can, or even should, be maintained over time will be uncovered through my research.

 

 

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