Scottish Politics

Second edition

by Paul Cairney

Chapter 7: Governance Beyond the Scottish Government


This chapter examines the various organisations and arrangements in place beyond the formal institutions of Parliament and central government in Scotland. The Scottish Government does not ‘execute’ many of the public policies over which it has responsibility for. Public policies in Scotland tend to be implemented by an eclectic mix of different types of institutions, agencies and bodies. These include local councils, local health boards, government agencies, and quasi-autonomous non governmental agencies (quangos).

Key Points

7.1. Local authorities are key public bodies responsible for the delivery of public services. They have an interdependent relationship with the Scottish Government.

7.2 The Scottish Government post 2007 loosened many of the ring-fencing regulations surrounding local government finance in return for a freeze on council tax increases.

7.3 Quangos are other key bodies responsible for public service delivery. They are often criticised as lacking in mechanisms of public accountability due to their unelected status. First Minister Henry McLeish promised a ‘bonfire’ of the quangos in 2000. Some were abolished, some re-classified and some amalgamated. Alex Salmond made similar promises in 2007. Some are being abolished, some re-classified and some amalgamated!

7.4 Scottish public administration now involves a complex set of institutions and actors that are drawn from but also beyond government - new agencies, civic institutions, public-private partnerships, special purpose bodies and the like. Scottish governance is no longer about managing a public bureaucracy but instead managing, steering and influencing these new networks.

7.5 In recent years new regulatory agencies such as public auditors, professional inspectorates and ombudsmen have been created by the Government to give it the capacity to steer institutions and self-organizing networks as well as institutionalise mechanisms of accountability.

7.6 The simplicity of the old political and administrative landscape and the tradition of the self-sufficient government is being directly challenged. Scotland is moving closer to the European norm, in that there is now a wide variety of organisational forms in which public service delivery takes place.

Additional Notes

The first annual meeting between the Scottish Government and COSLA based on their new concordat -

Essay Questions

  1. ‘Bonfire of the quangos: a populist sound-bite rather than a policy’. Discuss.
  2. What are the key functions of local government in Scottish politics?
  3. To what extent does a regulatory state exist in Scotland?
  4. Assess the relevance of theories of governance to post-devolution governing arrangements in Scotland.
  5. ‘Devolution radically altered the map of public accountability in Scotland’. Discuss.

Self-test questions

  1. What are public-private partnerships?
  2. Did a ‘bonfire of the quangos’ take place? If not, why not?
  3. What impact has devolution had on Scottish local government?
  4. Outline and assess the role of regulatory bodies in Scottish politics.
  5. In what ways has Scottish politics become different from UK politics?
  6. Why do governments outsource some of their functions?

Further Reading

On local government the definite text is McConnell (2004). See also Midwinter (1995) for a good review of developments during the Conservative years. On governance see Rhodes (1997; 2000), Pierre and Stoker (2000), Stoker (1998). For a critique see Marinetto (2003). On the hollowing out’ thesis see Rhodes (1994), Black (1999) and Holliday (2000). On regulation see Hood et al (1999), Midwinter and McGarvey (2001a), Moran (2001). On quangos see Denton and Flinders (2006) for the definitive guide to post-devolution developments. See also Hogwood (1995; 1999), Parry (1999), Rosie (2002), SPICE (2000c). On public-private partnerships see SPICE (2001), Ball et al (2000), Coleshill et al (1998), Hood and McGarvey (2002), Hood et al (2006), Scottish Parliament (2001).


    Scottish Arts Council
    Visit Scotland
    Scottish Enterprise
    Details of Scottish Public Bodies
    Convention of Scottish Local Authorities
    Scotland’s NHS online
    Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

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