Scotland

EVEL is less a threat to the Union than a reflection of the threat it is under. Today’s proposals shows that the UK is moving, almost blindly, towards an ad hoc, muddled and unofficial federalism. This is why, despite its dryness, EVEL is incredibly important, and together with the forthcoming Scotland Bill, part of the most significant constitutional changes since devolution.  Read more

One of the more eye-catching statistics I have come across in recent months is that the rate of “stop and search” in Scotland in 2013 was nine-times higher than that in New York City. The use of the police tactic has become increasingly controversial north of the border, in part due to the empirical research of Dr Kath Murray, a research fellow in the school of law at the University of Edinburgh. Her findings are important, not only because they should improve accountability in policing, but also because they reveal some of the broader flaws in Scottish public policy-making.

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During both the independence referendum and the general election, the state of the National Health Service in Scotland was a big issue north of the border. This was slightly odd: health is one of the many areas of public policy devolved to Edinburgh and therefore it should be a more a natural subject for debate during elections to the Scottish parliament. What is more, while politicians in the Scottish National party and opposition outfits were speculating about what could or would happen to the NHS under independence/staying in the UK/the Tories/a Labour-SNP coalition (remember that one?), few people stopped to look at what was actually happening.


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Earlier this month I wrote about how the Scottish National party’s policy on student financing has let down Scotland’s poorest students. In that post, which drew on the work of Lucy Hunter Blackburn, I tried to explain how the Scottish government has cut means-tested grants while raising the amount available to students in loans. In other words, the SNP’s totemic “no tuition fees” policy is in effect paid for by having students take on more debt to pay for living costs. Because poor students are the ones who receive grants, cuts to bursaries hurt them more than middle-class Scots.

Student financing in Scotland is an estoeric area of public policy. But I think it is important because only by looking at the details of the Scottish government’s policies can one start to have an informed view of the SNP’s record and, by extension, the political culture of Scotland. Remember that the SNP came to power in 2007 promising to wipe out Scottish students’ debt. Quite clearly, this has not happened.

And yet members of the Scottish Government too often say things that are not true. On May 13, the cabinet secretary for education, Angela Constance, was asked in parliament by Michael McMahon, a Labour MSP, about the points made in my post. Read more

In trying to explain the rise of the Scottish National party, one possible explanation is that it was a growing sense of Scottish national identity that led 45 per cent of Scottish voters to vote Yes in the independence referendum and more than half of them to opt for Nicola Sturgeon’s party in the general election earlier this month.

But in an excellent post at the London School of Economics policy blog, Jan Eichhorn, Chancellor’s Fellow (Social Policy) at the University of Edinburgh, argues that data from social attitudes surveys do not support this argument. He uses the chart below to suggest that Scots’ sense of personal identity has not shifted in a more Scottish direction since devolution — if anything, the opposite is true.

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On Saturday, Jim Murphy announced he will resign as leader of the Scottish Labour party, calling Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite union, the “kiss of death”.

On Sunday, Mr McCluskey said his union would rethink its support (it helps fund the party and many of its members are Labour affiliates) for Labour if it doesn’t show it is the “voice of ordinary working people, that they are the voice of organised labour”. Read more

Where now for this weary union? After the general election triumphs of the Scottish National party and the Conservatives, voices in both parties are calling for the UK government to find a new constitutional settlement. But what might this mean?

I think there are four possible – but not equally possible – options for what might happen in the short-term, roughly taken to mean the next year, before the 2016 elections to the Scottish parliament in Holyrood. They are not necessarily exclusive. Read more

Okay, the US vice-president hasn’t directly commented on the Scottish National party. But in any analysis of public policy it is important to keep his words in mind:

“Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”

In a piece for FT Weekend, I try to kick the tires (as Joe might put) of the Scottish government. So naturally, I started by asking: how does it spend its money?  Read more

At the 2007 Holyrood elections, the Scottish National party campaigned to “dump the debt” accrued by students at Scottish universities. It promised to service the existing loan debt for Scottish graduates “by meeting their annual loan repayments, re-introduce grants instead of loans and scrap the graduate endowment fee”.

A look at its record shows that most of this didn’t happen. In England, the Liberal Democrats were punished for their broken pledges on tuition fees, but in Scotland, the SNP has been able to use its policies as “evidence” of its progressive credentials.

The reality is, however, very different.  Read more

Beyond the immediate political battles being fought by the Labour party against the Scottish National party, and the Conservatives against both of them, there is a more fundamental tension north of the border. It is between politics and economics.

The pro-independence SNP has the political momentum. Not only is it set to win the vast majority of Scottish Westminster seats, its rise has provoked the sort of reaction among senior Conservatives such as Sir John Major that serves its cause. The more the SNP playing a role in Westminster is seen as somehow illegitimate (a ridiculous notion), the more it fosters the belief that Scotland and England are drifting apart.  Read more

One of the smartest moves Alex Salmond ever made was to swiftly pass on the leadership of the Scottish National party to Nicola Sturgeon after the independence referendum. She personifies the generational shift in the party’s support base from an eclectic group of often conservative nationalists to Scots who would historically be expected to vote Labour. According to opinion polls, she has successfully overseen the transfer of Yes votes in the referendum to likely SNP votes on May 7. At the launch of the SNP manifesto on Monday, Ms Sturgeon’s speech was peppered with cheers from the party’s besotted activists. She appears alone on the manifesto cover.

Inside, the word “independence” appears only once. Instead, the manifesto is full of miscellaneous pledges to spend more money than Labour. If the SNP were to play a role in the next Westminster government, what its manifesto suggests is not that the party would mount a sudden push towards independence, or even “full financial responsibility”, but that it is geared for opportunism and grinding negotiations. This is because for the SNP, independence is a process, not an event. Read more

I was asked if I had any suggestions for reading in Scottish politics. I thought I’d share the following non-exhaustive list of good articles from the last few months.  Read more

The Scottish National party could, after all, wield power in an independent state. It just happens to be the state from which it wants to secede. Less than a year after the referendum in which Scots voted against independence, the SNP is projected to win more than 40 of Scotland’s 59 seats at the British general election. Such a bloc would make it the most formidable nationalist group since Charles Parnell’s Irish Parliamentary party of the 1880s. And since neither the Conservative nor the Labour party is forecast to win an overall majority at the polls on May 7, the new SNP MPs could be the most troublesome Westminster Scots since the Lords who took the then nascent union to within four votes of dissolution in 1713. Read more

Some supporters of Scottish independence believe in the conspiracy theory that MI5 was working against a Yes vote. Others have so much optimism bias about the economics of independence that I worry there is dopamine* in their Irn-Bru.

And let’s not mention the secret oil fields.

In the aftermath of the referendum Scotland feels beset by an asymmetric tribalism. Crudely, No voters, almost by definition, do not want the general election to be about independence. Yes voters, almost by definition, believe it’s still the defining issue.

The coverage of the SNP’s high poll ratings and what the party might do if it held the balance of power in Westminster often gives the impression that a madness has taken over Scotland and kilted Jacobites are set to invade from north of the border.

But in a very important sense, Scottish voters are behaving entirely rationally.  Read more

Given the Scottish National Party’s imperious poll ratings it easy to conclude that, despite the Yes side’s defeat in last year’s referendum, independence is inevitable.

But the release on Wednesday of annual fiscal figures from the Scottish Government suggest that, at least when it comes to the economic case for independence, 2014 was an unusually good year for nationalists, one that may not repeat itself anytime soon.


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The independence referendum is still being fought in Scotland, but this time the nationalists are winning. This is one implication from 16 constituency polls commissioned by Tory peer Lord Ashcroft and released on Wednesday.

They support what has been increasingly obvious ever since Scots voted No on September 18: there is a new landscape in Scottish politics. The Scottish Nationalist party is projected to replace Labour as the dominant force north of the border.

Here are the headline results of Lord Ashcroft’s polls (click to expand):

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The general election in May is one of the most difficult to predict in British history. The result will undermine old certitudes. An incumbent’s share of the vote typically dwindles from one election to the next. An opposition has never won with Milibandite ratings on both the economy and the strength of its leader. Two-party politics, injured in 2010, could be confirmed dead in 2015. Six parties could have a critical role in deciding the allocation of seats. The 650 constituency races each have their own dynamic; it doesn’t make much sense to think of this as a single election.

Scotland is a case in point. Since the independence referendum on September 18, the Scottish National party has taken a big opinion poll lead over the Labour party:

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Since Scots voted against independence on September 18 the Scottish National party has surged in opinion polls and appointed a new, popular leader; pro-independence journalists have launched a newspaper, The National; and the Scottish government is preparing to wield more power than any other devolved parliament in Europe.

“No” voters could be forgiven for considering theirs a pyrrhic victory. After all, 55 per cent of Scottish voters opted against independence. Nevertheless, this was not a vote for the status quo. A majority of Scots want more devolution. The leaders of three biggest (for now) UK political parties belatedly then rashly promised as much on the eve of the independence referendum. On Thursday, the Smith Commission, charged with working out the details of further devolution, will issue its recommendations.

Although the comparison is imperfect, the recommendations will mark the point when Scotland becomes, in fiscal terms, the Basque Country of the United Kingdom.


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Pollsters would have been confounded by a Yes, instead they were mildly surprised by differential turnout.

The “shy Nos “were not so shy. The “missing million” went missing. Read more

On Thursday, Scots will vote on whether Scotland should be an independent state. Such a referendum seemed unlikely 10 years ago. A Yes vote would have seemed even more surprising. This is an attempt to explain why the vote is happening – and why it is happening now – for interested and befuddled people from all over the world. In other words, it is a history of 1,000 years of Scottish nationalism. Read more