Scottish Politics

Second edition

by Paul Cairney

Chapter 1: What is Scottish Politics?

This chapter introduces Scottish politics in the contemporary context. The election of the SNP Government in 2007 and its re-election in 2011 could signal the end of a long period of Labour dominance in Scottish political and institutional processes. It also examines alternative definitions of both ‘politics’ and ‘Scottish’. It also emphasises that we may be amidst a period of the reconfiguration of Scottish politics - the beginning of the end of Scotland ’s membership of the United Kingdom, or the end of the beginning of devolution.

Key Points

  • 1.1 The executive, bureaucratic and legislative branches of government are usually the arenas where political control, influence and authority are located in any political system. In Scotland, however, the institutional picture is complicated by the existence of separate branches of government at both Scottish and UK levels.
  • 1.2 Scotland is a nation, but not a state.
  • 1.3 Decisions that impact of Scottish politics may be taken at many levels of government and in many different environments, often out-with Scotland.
  • 1.4 Scottish politics has in recent decades developed its own agenda, separate from that of UK politics.
  • 1.5 ‘New Politics’ refers to the hopes expressed by the Scottish Constitutional Convention (SCC) report in 1995. These hopes were amongst other things, less political partisanship, more public involvement and greater pursuit of consensusbased on a widespread critique of the existing procedures in UK politics commonly expressed as ‘the Westminster Model’.
  • 1.6 Scottish politics today takes place within a context shaped by history, economics and society. The influence of each is embodied in institutions such as the Scottish Government, the Parliament, political parties, quangos and local councils as well as policies themselves. Scottish politicians are constrained by inherited commitments as well as economic and societal pressures, make incremental adjustments to the historical legacy.

Essay Questions

  1. Evaluate the suggestion that Scottish politics post-devolution is different in character to politics in Westminster and Whitehall.
  2. Outline and assess the relevance of the old ‘Scottish political system’ debate to Scottish politics today.
  3. Critically assess the notion that there was highly autonomous control of domestic policy by the Scottish Office in the pre-devolution Scotland.
  4. To what extent do you agree with Mitchell (2004) that moves towards a more participatory democracy in Scotland post-devolution ‘appear more symbolic than real’?

Self-test Questions

  1. What does the phrase ‘Labour Scotland’ mean?
  2. Can politics be defined? If so, how? If not, why not?
  3. Which policy areas are reserved to the UK Parliament?
  4. Which policy areas are not reserved to the UK Parliament?
  5. Outline different levels of governance in Scottish politics.
  6. In what ways has Scottish politics become different from UK politics?
  7. Outline and assess the notion of ‘a Scottish political system’.
  8. In the context of Scottish politics, what is ‘new politics’?

Further Reading

For general discussions on the nature of politics and power see Crick (1993), Dahl (1961), Lasswell (1936), Lukes (1974) and Leftwich (1984). On conceptualizations of Scottish politics pre-devolution see Brown et al. (1998), Kellas (1989), McCrone (2001b), Midwinter et al. (1991) and Paterson (1994). On territorial politics see Bulpitt (1983), Mitchell (1996b), Bogdanor (1999) and Bradbury (2006). For post- devolution books on Scottish politics see Keating (2005a), Lynch (2001), Wright (2000) and Hassan and Warhurst (2002). On ‘new politics’ see Arter (2004), Brown (2000), Keating (2005a), McGarvey (2001a), Mitchell (2000), Miller (2000), Scottish Constitutional Convention (1995) and Shephard et al. (2001). For modern developments, see Cairney (2011a) and Keating (2010).

Online Sources

<< back to Resources page