Chapter 6: The Scottish Government
This chapter looks at the evolution of Scottish Government. Prior to 1999 the Scottish Office was a territorial department devoted in the most part to implementing and adapting UK policies. Devolution has involved a shift in power and status between executives as well as the creation of a new Parliament. In many ways the shift in corporate titles from Scottish Office (1885-1999) to Scottish Executive (1999-2007) and finally to Scottish Government (2007- ) captures the story of recent Scottish political history. This chapter outlines in detail what the Scottish Government is and does – first, by making the distinction between Scottish Government ministers and the civil service and, second, by outlining their respective structures and responsibilities.
6.1 Before 1999 since the Scottish Office was a territorial department devoted in the most part to implementing and adapting UK policies. Devolution is therefore as much about a shift in power between executives as it is about new forms of public and parliamentary participation.
6.2 In many ways the shift in corporate titles from Scottish Office (1885-1999) to Scottish Executive (1999-2007) and finally to Scottish Government (2007- ) captures the story of recent Scottish political history. It is a body which began as a UK territorial department, developed into a relatively autonomous executive with its own policymaking capacities under the Labour/ Liberal Democrat coalition, and then began to assert its (albeit qualified) independence from the UK under the SNP.
6.3 Although the First Minister requires formal parliamentary approval for ministerial choices, s/he effectively makes the final decision when choosing cabinet members.
6.4 From 1999-2007 most of the big decisions were made during the production of the Partnership Agreement between the coalition parties.
6.5 The Scottish Government has a relatively weak ‘centre’ and so significant power still resides within individual departments.
6.6 The Scottish Government’s civil service is key to its ability to research, develop, consult on, and implement policy. The civil service was often characterised as a force of inertia or a ‘stumbling block’ to change.
6.7 SNP’s hopes for an independent civil service would not represent a complete break from the past, since the power of Scottish ministers to recruit already exists, the mobility of civil servants is already quite low, and intergovernmental relations has already become more formal in recognition of the potential for party conflict.
6.8 The Scottish Government’s ministers and civil servants stand at the centre of the Scottish policy process. Ministers are the focal point for this power in relation to Parliament and wider society, but the resources (e.g. expertise, knowledge, networks) held by civil servants are crucial for the development, legislation and implementation of policy over the long term. This makes them powerful actors in Scottish politics.
- Evaluate the notion that the civil service has acted as a break on devolution in Scotland.
- Outline and assess the role of the Scottish Office pre-devolution.
- To what extent does the Scottish Government warrant the label ‘Government’?
- What is ‘cabinet government’?
- Which policy areas are reserved to the UK Parliament?
- How are Scottish ministers recruited?
- Outline the key differences between majority, coalition and minority government.
- Has devolution resulted in more cohesive cabinet government?
- What role does the civil service play in Scottish politics?
- What impact would an independent civil service have on Scottish politics?
The chapter on Scotland (usually by James Mitchell) in the yearly edited books – Hazell (2000; 2003) and Trench (2001; 2003; 2005) are also very useful summaries of developments in Scottish government and politics. On coalition governments see Lijphart (1999) and Seyd (2002, 2004). On the civil service Richard Parry’s publications are the key guides to developments – see Parry and Jones (2000), Parry (1999; 2001; 2002; 2003). For the definitive history of the Scottish Office and its role in Scottish politics read Mitchell (2003a). Pre-devolution literature on the Scottish Office and government worth exploring are Pottinger (1979), Kellas and Madgwick (1982), Gibson (1985), Parry (1987; 1993), Midwinter et al (1991), Kellas (1989; 1991b), Hutchinson (1996).
Scottish Government Central Research Unit
UK Cabinet Office
Scottish Ministerial Code