Scottish Politics

Second edition

by Paul Cairney

Chapter 9: Public Policy in Scotland Since Devolution

This chapter explores how we identify and measure policy change in Scottish politics. For example, although this chapter focuses heavily on outputs such as legislation, it also considers outcomes following implementation. It examines why policies in Scotland may diverge or converge as well as the evidence for policy change in a range of policy areas, including ‘flagship’ policies regarding free personal care, student fees, and the smoking ban.


Key Points

  • 9.1 ‘Policy’ can range from a vague statement of intent to a long term outcome
  • 9.2 A range of factors suggest that Scottish and UK Government policies may diverge, including different social attitudes, political parties and policy problems.
  • 9.3 There are also factors that might constrain divergence, including financial limits to innovation, shared parties of government and UK Government influence
  • 9.4 Between 1999 and 2007 the overall picture is of limited (legislative) divergence – tuition fees, free personal care, mental health, local elections, NHS structures - further undermined by the process of implementation.
  • 9.5 However, there was also significant policy change – the smoking ban, housing stock transfer, ASBOs.
  • 9.6 Since the SNP were elected in May 2007 the ‘quick wins’ have been the abolition of graduate endowments and road tolls plus reduced prescription charges.
  • 9.7 In its second term, it completed significant legislation to control alcohol sales and consumption.
  • 9.8 However, the emphasis of the SNP government has been governing competence – in the lead up to an independence referendum (which it passed when securing a majority government).

Essay Questions

  1. Describe and explain the main policy developments in Scotland since devolution.
  2. What are the factors that encourage and constrain policy divergence between the Scottish and UK Governments?
  3. Compare the nature and style of policymaking between 1999-2007 and from 2007.

Self-test Questions

  1. Outline alternative definitions of public policy
  2. Why might policy divergence occur between Scotland and England ?
  3. Has devolution resulted in ‘Scottish solutions to Scottish problems’?
  4. Outline the Scottish Government’s flagship policies from (a) 1999-2003 (b) 2003-2007 (c.) 2007-11 and (d) 2011-
  5. What are implementation gaps in public policy?

Further Reading

Key readings on initial Scottish policy change post-devolution are Adams and Robinson (2002), Greer (2004), Keating et al. (2003), Keating (2005a; 2005b), McLean (2003), Stirling and Smith (2003), Mooney and Poole (2004), Mooney and Scott (2004), Mitchell (2004; 2006) and Cairney (2007a). See also a special issue of the Political Quarterly journal 74(4) in 2003 with articles on Scotland , devolution and welfare reform. Modern developments can be traced in Keating (2010), Cairney (2011a) and Mooney and Scott (2012). See also Sanderson (2011) on ‘intelligent policy making’ in Scotland .


Online Sources


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