Scottish Politics

Second edition

by Paul Cairney

Chapter 13: Conclusion

The electoral success of the SNP placed constitutional change at the top of the agenda. It has utilised the institutional platform of elected office to re-shape the parameters of the constitutional debate. The 2012 Scotland Act (which emerged from unionist party co-operation) contains provision for some minor adjustments to the 1999 devolution settlement. The 2014 Referendum could potentially result in more radical change. However, even if Scotland came to be independent any appreciation and understanding of Scottish politics would require an appreciation of the legacy pre-existing structures of governance and politics.

Key Points

  • 13.1 A focus on the broad economic and societal parameters, institutions and the historical legacy is a useful starting point for any student of Scottish politics.
  • 13.2 The expectations engendered by the campaigns for home rule pre-devolution represents a good case study of the role of idealism in political change. There were some rather expectations that, when set against the contemporary reality of Scottish politics, look unrealistic.
  • 13.3 Although the evidence suggests that the Scottish Government is the key player within Scotland , this does not mean that it is necessarily the biggest player in Scottish politics. A focus on multi-level governance reveals not only interdependence during the implementation of policy, but also in the formulation of policy when devolved areas intersect with reserved and Europeanised aspects of policy.
  • 13.4 The Scottish constitutional debate still remains pivotal in Scottish politics. Contrary to former Labour Shadow Scottish Secretary, George Robertson’s prediction, nationalism has not been killed ‘stone dead’ by devolution. Indeed, the SNP has emerged as Scotland ’s pre-eminent party. The current devolution settlement no longer appears (in the late John Smith’s oft-cited phrase) ‘the settled will of the Scottish people’.
  • 13.5 The existing settlement is about to change. Whether than change will be a relatively modest adjustment along the lines of the 2012 Scotland Act or
  • 13.6 An understanding of Scottish politics requires a breadth of knowledge of many different levels of government, the many different stages of the policy-making process and the myriad of institutions beyond government.

Essay Questions

  1. ‘Devolution is the settled will of the Scottish people’ (John Smith) Discuss.
  2. ‘The Scottish Parliament is a halfway house, and one built on a slippery slope [to independence]’ (Ian Lang). Discuss.
  3. ‘Public opinion has become detached from the union but not attached to the nationalist alternative’ (Keating 2009). Discuss.
  4. To what extent do you think that Scottish politics is best conceived as a subsystem of United Kingdom politics and government?
  5. ‘Scottish politics post-devolution represents a test-bed for new ideas and practices that many advocates of change at a UK level have long argued for’. Discuss.
  6. Do you agree with Henry McLeish that the present Scottish political system “is a world away from the Westminster-Scottish Office model”?
  7. ‘Scottish politics … has in many respects begun to transcend the simple Unionist versus nationalism binary mentality. In Scotland, despite much of the rhetoric, Unionism and nationalism don’t sit as two antagonistic, separate tribes at war with each other as in Northern Ireland’ (Hassan 2011). Discuss.
  8. The experience of Scotland since 1999 represents a classic study in the interplay between high constitutional ideals on the one hand, and the reality of everyday politics on the other’ (McMillan 2009).
  9. There is a general agreement that Scottish politics is shaped by a widespread, moderate social democratic ethos, which sees a significant place for state-led action in regard to economic and social policies and wealth redistribution’ (Hearn 2002: 17). Discuss.

Self-test Questions

  1. Why has devolution not killed Scottish nationalism ‘stone dead’?
  2. What is the difference between legal and political authority?
  3. What was the national conversation’?
  4. How should the success of devolution be evaluated?
  5. What is the ‘English Question’ and why is it relevant in Scottish politics?
  6. What was the Calman Commission? Why did its stated remit cause some consternation among nationalists?

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