Scottish Politics

Second edition

by Paul Cairney

Chapter 10: Inter-Governmental Relations and Multi-Level Governance

This chapter explores the issues which arise from the Scottish Government’s external relations. It outlines and assesses the processes of intergovernmental relations and multi-level governance, exploring the most common areas of overlap between devolved, reserved and EU powers. It also examines the means used to address the areas of overlap. This includes discussion of formal measures such as concordats, Sewel motions and Joint Ministerial Committees (JMCs), as well as informal channels through the civil service and political parties. For Scotland in Europe there is a combination of low formal status (since Scotland is not a Member State) and a variety of informal mechanisms to exert policy influence. The chapter compares events before and after the election of an SNP Government.


Key Points

  • 10.1 From 1999-2007 most issues of blurred boundaries between reserved UK and devolved Scottish policies were addressed informally within the civil service and, more importantly, within the Labour party (usually the links were between ministers).
  • 10.2 Legislative issues were largely addressed using Sewel (Legislative Consent) motions.
  • 10.3 Some issues (such as free personal care, dawn raids, NHS compensation/ hepatitis C, airguns, fishing rights, nuclear power) remained contentious.
  • 10.4 Scottish influence in Europe became a touchy subject following a leaked Scottish Executive report (the Aron Report) suggesting that the UK Government often ignored Scottish issues.
  • 10.5 Since 2007, not surprisingly, the Scottish Government has amplified territorial concerns over many new and longstanding disputes.
  • 10.6 However, the ‘day-to-day’ relations are much better than the headlines suggest, and most issues are dealt with quietly.
  • 10.7 The SNP’s relationship with a Conservative-led UK Government are also surprisingly smooth, with the exception of the high profile independence debate

Essay Questions

  1. Explain why intergovernmental relations in Scotland tend to be informal.
  2. To what extent did the election of an SNP government change IGR in Scotland ?
  3. What are Sewel Motions? Why have they been used so much since devolution?

Self-test Questions

  1. What mechanisms of intergovernmental relations exist?
  2. What is a Sewel motion?
  3. Outline policy areas with devolved and reserved ‘boundary’ issues.
  4. What is the ‘ West Lothian question’?
  5. Why were formal intergovernmental mechanisms so rarely used in the early years of devolution?
  6. What impact does the EU have on Scottish politics?
  7. What has been the SNP effect on IGR?

Further Reading

There is an eclectic mix of literature dealing with issues of MLG and IGR in Scotland. On IGR, see the special issue of The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 14(2), May 2012; Cairney (2011a: ch. 5) and Keating (2010, ch. 6). See also Bulpitt (1983), Mitchell (2003a; 2003b), Agranoff (2004), Horgan (2004) and Keating (2005a) as well as the annual publications from the Constitution Unit – Hazell (2000; 2003), Trench (2001; 2004b; 2005). On MLG see Cairney (2012a: ch. 8) and Bache and Flinders (2004a; 2004b). On Sewel motions see Winetrobe (2001; 2005) and Cairney and Keating (2004). For a history of the regions in Europe with reference to Scotland see Mazey and Mitchell (1993), Harvie (1994) and Kellas (1991a). On EU policy-making and funding see Burrows (2000), Bache and Bristow (2003) and Bulmer et al. (2002; 2006). On the Scottish Parliament and Europe see Salmon (2000), Baker et al. (2002), Heggie (2003) and European and External Relations Committee (2007). On Europe’s impact on the Scottish Office/Executive see Smith (2003). On the Europeanization of British public policy, see Morphet (2013). The most informed and up-to-date blog is produced by Alan Trench, while Lallands Peat Worrier (described by his critics as a nationalist sympathizer!) also covers issues such as third-party actions and the UK Supreme Court.


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