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 Government. 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). In recent years the SNP Government has sought to reshape Scottish central government’s relationship with local government.


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 has deliberately avoided micro-management and interference in local government affairs. In return the national representatives of local government interests (COSLA, SOLACE and other professional associations) has willingly foregone some aspects of local policy autonomy (including accepting the freezing of council tax) in return for an enhanced policy development and advisory role.
  • 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. Despite being criticized by politicians in opposition (e.g. McLeish, Salmond), most quangos have survived (although many have been re-classified and 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.

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. Evaluate the relevance and utility of theories of governance in understanding governing in Scotland.
  4. To what extent does a regulatory state exist in Scotland ?
  5. Assess the relevance of theories of governance to post-devolution governing arrangements in Scotland.
  6. ‘Devolution radically altered the map of public accountability in Scotland ’. Discuss.
  7. Compare and contrast Scottish central-local government relations during the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition 1999-2007 with those from the SNP Government from May 2007.
  8. ‘Central-local relations is more than a simple story of central encroachment on local autonomy and must be understood as shaped by changing approaches toward the management and control of the devolved welfare state’. (Laffin 2009)

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 see Midwinter (1995), McConnell (2004) and Wilson and Game (2011). On recent developments in Scotland see McGarvey (2009; 2011). On governance see Rhodes (1997; 2000) and Stoker (1998; 2011). For a critique see Marinetto (2003). On regulation see Hood et al. (1999), Midwinter and McGarvey (2001a), Moran (2007) and Lodge and Wegrich (2012). On quangos, see Denton and Flinders (2006), Flinders (2008), Parry (2009) and Tonkiss and Dommett (2013).


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