Constitutional Futures and Models of Policy Making

Lead Research Organisation: University of Aberdeen
Department Name: School of Social Science


The constitutional debate in Scotland is focused on three options: independence; devolution-max; and incremental under the new Scotland Act. From a legal point of view, these are distinct, but regarded as forms of self-government, they are points on a single spectrum. They are even converging, as the independence proposals envisage a monetary union and common institutions, while the Scotland Act provides for incremental increases in powers. This reflects a modern world, in which sovereign independence has been attenuated and polities are interdependent. Lessons can be drawn from other small jurisdictions.
It might be argued that external pressures are so strong that small autonomous units have little scope for manoeuvre over taxation, spending and welfare. Yet they have responded in different ways to external pressures. Two ideal types are the market-led strategy based on low taxes, deregulation and fluctuating wages and spending levels; and the concerted-action model based on social partnership and negotiation. The latter is often associated with the social investment state, in which public expenditure is focused on growth-inducing activities, and social democracy, which implies high levels of taxation. These are not merely policy choices taken by governments of the day, but embedded policy orientations, dependent on a particular institutional configurations. The shape of government, and a capacity for strategic thinking and reallocation of resources, is also important.
Some voices in Scotland argue for a market-led strategy for independence or devolution-max. Yet public and political opinion are strongly social democratic. Previous research has shown that Scotland has some of the characteristics of a concerted policy mode but lacks others. Either mode would thus imply changes in institutions and policy modes. The alternative would be to shadow policy in the rest of the United Kingdom.
The aim of the research is not to show which model is best in a normative sense, but to explore the institutional foundations and implications of each and examine what Scotland might be adaptable to the Scottish case.
There will be a selection of comparator cases, some of which are independent states and others autonomous regions. Key features to be examined include shared identities; long-term consensus; social partnership; labour market regulation and wages; the strategic state; and tensions among the elements. Additional material will come from the ESRC-funded project on the territorialization of interest groups, currently finishing.
The time-scale constrains the scope for original original research but does allow for systematic comparison. The project will be based on secondary literature, supplemented with field visits and discussions with academic colleagues and policy makers.
There is an emphasis on dissemination of the findings from an early stage. There will be two seminars, with short, user-friendly papers. For the first, academic colleagues will be invited to present key features of the comparator cases, for discussion. At the second, project findings will be presented to stakeholders in politics and civil society, to inform the debate and to stimulate a response on their part to the implications for internal institutional change of constitutional development. Summaries of the conclusions of these seminars will be posted on the web site ScotHub. Short briefing papers will be posted on line at each stage of the research. Briefings will be given to civil servants and other interested parties. Contact will be maintained with the media and press releases will be put out regularly. The proceedings of the first seminar will be revised for an academic edited book. The overall project findings will be summarized in a practitioner-friendly publication.
The project will run for a year from 1 January 2013 and should lead into a more in-depth comparative study of the adaptation of policy systems to constitutional change.

Planned Impact

Given the nature of the initiative, there is an unusually strong emphasis on non-academic users. The aim is to inform the debate on Scotland's constitutional future by clarifying options and exploring their implications.
The first set of beneficiaries are the policy-makers who will prepare the options and define the details of what is meant by independence, or extended devolution. It is difficult to influence politicians and political parties directly, as their positions will be increasingly entrenched and they will look to defend them. The research, however, will provide ideas that can be used to challenge the parties and force them to define their proposals more rigorously. The research will also be communicated to MPs and MSPs and to parliamentary committees in the form of written and oral evidence. The second group of policy influentials are the civil servants. It is not for them to define policy goals but they do need to translate them into practical proposals and advise politicians on their implications. There will be succinct briefing papers and the researchers will be available for consultation on all aspects of the research and the findings. This builds on practice developed in recent years of developing links with policy practitioners, recognizing the conventions of civil service neutrality, discretion and anonymity.
The second set of beneficiaries are people and groups in civil society. There is a number of organizations, think tanks and forums devoted to debating the constitutional issue in Scotland and exploring the options, some of them challenging the terms of debate set by the main parties. They are always looking for new material and evidence presented in a user-friendly manner. Given the nature of this project, there is also a strong interest on the part of business, trades unions and the voluntary sector in the implications of change for their role, status and influence.
The third set of beneficiaries are the citizens, who will be asked to make a decision in the referendum of 2014 and in subsequent elections. There is a strong public interest in the independence question but a lack of understanding which is a result of the fact that citizens have got their information from the political parties, who have their own motives for presenting their case in particular ways, and from the media, who have not always done a good job in clarifying the issues. The way to reach the public is via the media by providing good analysis in a readily comprehensible form. Some sections of the media are highly partisan and sensationalist, but there are also responsible journalists looking for good analytical material and prepared to take the time to read and use it. It is also important to communicate the findings to the media and public outwith Scotland, in other parts of the United Kingdom as well as abroad.


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Keating, M. (2015) The Scottish Referendum and After in Revista d'Estudis Autonomics i Federals

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Michael Keating (Author) (2014) The Political Economy of Small European States in National Institute Economic Review

Description Small states can be viable in modern Europe. We identify two models of adaptation, the market-liberal and the social-investment models. There is an aspiration in Scotland to adopt a Nordic-typle social investment model. This is possible but it would require internal institutional change. After the No vote in the referendum this issue is still relevant as Scotland needs to develop its own tax-welfare balance and social model.
Exploitation Route We are currently working with Scottish Government officials on taxation and welfare options for Scotland. This will continue for the next year.
Sectors Government, Democracy and Justice

Description The research was part of the ESRC's Future of the UK and Scotland programme and so had a large emphasis on impact. This worked at several levels. 1. We worked with both the UK and Scottish Governments at civil service level in the two years before the Scottish referendum. The latter were particularly interested in what small states might do, but also what Scotland might do under enhanced devolution. Civil servants attended our conference in March 2013 and we organized an academic practitioner seminar in Edinburgh in May 2014. I also made two presentations in the offices of the Scottish Government and have discussed our findings with officials of the government of Catalonia. We are continuing to work with Scottish civil servants on taxation and welfare in the context of further devolution and the small state examples feature in this. 2. I have addressed meetings organized by the voluntary sector and the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organizations. They are interested in the lessons from the Nordic countries about social policy and welfare. I also addressed a meeting organized by the Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce. 3. We targeted the general public with a short, reader-friendly book, Small Nations in Big World. There were public launches of the book in Edinburgh and Aberdeen and a presentation during the Edinburgh Festival. The book sold 300 copies and a second edition is about to appear. It is being translated into Catalan and the president of the Catalan government personally requested a copy to read. The book has also attracted interest in Ireland. The small nations work was a theme in our public meetings around Scotland during the referendum. Details of these activities are given in the appropriate section. 4. We have worked with the media and between this project and the following large grant project on the referendum, I did over 200 interviews in English, French, Spanish and Italian, reaching a Scottish, a UK and an international audience. 5. On the academic side, I organized two meetings, in Oslo and Berlin, in collaboration with Harald Baldersheim of the University of Oslo. The result is an edited book on small states, in press with Edward Elgar publishers.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Small States in the Modern World. Vulnerabilities and Opportunities 
Organisation University of Oslo
Country Norway 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This is a collaboration with Harald Baldersheim, University of Oslo. We organized a small conference in Oslo in January 2014 and second one in Berlin in October 2014. A book has been completed and the manuscript is in press with Edward Elgar publishers.
Collaborator Contribution Keating and Baldersheim directed the project. The university of Oslo made a financial contribution to the organisation of the two workshops.
Impact Harald Baldersheim and Michael Keating (eds), Small States in the Modern World: Vulnerabilities and Opportunites (Edward Elgar, in press).
Start Year 2014