Unravelling continues for Scottish Labour

 

James Mitchell

 

Scottish Labour has issued its list of candidates for the June 8th general election.  This is striking for three reasons:

  • it has done so with remarkable efficiency, given the lack of warning that an election was pending;
  • only one of the defeated MPs from two years ago is standing again;
  • and it has achieved 50/50 gender balance.

In introducing the second reading of the Fixed Term Parliament Act, 2011, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was clear, ‘The Bill has a single, clear purpose: to introduce fixed-term Parliaments to the United Kingdom to remove the right of a Prime Minister to seek the Dissolution of Parliament for pure political gain.’  The Act, combined with Prime Minister May’s repeatedly insistence that she had no intention of calling an early election, meant that opposition parties were caught off guard when an election was called.

There is an inbuilt inverse relationship between existing levels of Parliamentary representation and preparedness.  Constituencies with incumbent MPs seeking re-election would at least not have to seek candidates and are more likely to have a better organisation ready to fight an election.  This meant that Scottish Labour was particularly vulnerable.  Over the last decade, Labour has lost support and associated infrastructure.  The 2015 general election which saw it lose all but one of its 41 MPs was followed a year later with a loss of 13 of its previous 38 Members of the Scottish Parliament.  And Scottish Labour has been bracing itself for significant losses in Scottish local government elections.

Finding candidates in a short space of time would have been difficult enough but the party is still struggling to come to terms with the psychological blows of losing not only its place as Scotland’s largest – indeed dominant – party until a decade ago to becoming Scotland’s third party – behind the Tories – at last year’s Holyrood elections.

Few of those who have stepped forward can have any illusions about the task ahead.  Some younger party members may see this as a kind of right of passage – the ‘ritual blooding of fighting so-called unwinnable seats’ referred to in Tory circles.  There are prominent English Tory MPs with huge majorities who experienced this blooding at the hands of the Scottish electorate, including Bernard Jenkin, Chair of the Commons Public Administration and Constitution Committee in the last Parliament, and Jacob Rees Mogg who were bloodied in Scottish seats by Labour MPs with massive majorities similar to those these Tories now enjoy many hundreds of miles of south.  Jenkin stood in Glasgow Central in 1987, to ‘illustrate that people in the South-East haven’t forgotten about Scotland’.  A similar stiff upper lip will be required amongst many Labour candidates going into this election with the hope that they too might in time sit on the Commons’ green benches with similar majorities some time in the future.

Eight of the 41 Scottish Labour MPs returned in 2010 retired two years ago.  And no doubt had the remainder been returned some of these would have chosen to stand down at this election.  But only one of the group of former Labour MPs wants to be a ‘retread’.  Ian Davidson, MP for Glasgow Govan 1992-2015, is standing in Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, Scotland’s most marginal seat.  But this is a straight fight between the incumbent SNP and the renaissant Tories where Labour was in fourth place and lost its deposit tow years ago.  Neither Douglas Alexander nor Jim Murphy (both aged 49), former Labour Cabinet Ministers, have come forward.

Scottish Labour has highlighted the 50:50 gender split in candidates.  Scottish Labour’s record on gender balance has been second to none in modern times.  As was demonstrated at the foundation of the Scottish Parliament, 50:50 was easier to achieve when starting with a clean slate.  The process of achieving 50:50 is very slow process when waiting for incumbent male MPs to retire and even then there may be a battle to ensure a woman is nominated.

However, the rush to get candidates in place appears to have overlooked at least one crucial matter.  Being a candidate does not guarantee becoming an MP.  Women and ethnic minorities not only face a glass ceiling but also a glass cliff.  They may be selected to contest unwinnable seats.  Scottish Labour is reportedly targeting only three Scottish seats: Edinburgh South which was the only seat Labour held in 2015; East Renfrewshire; and East Lothian.  The Labour candidates in each are men.  The unravelling continues for Scottish Labour.

 

James Mitchell

Academy of Government

University of Edinburgh

@ProfJMitchell

 

 

 

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Simmering, not boiling

 

James Mitchell

Academy of Government, University of Edinburgh

@ProfJMitchell

Where are we at the end of a period described by some as the start of the second independence referendum?

We are, in fact, not much further forward than before First Minister Sturgeon announced over a week ago that she would seek Parliamentary support for an independence referendum.  The Prime Minister rejected this overture but implicitly conceded that a referendum would be held, emphasising, ‘Now is not the time’.

Few expected the Prime Minister would emulate Wendy Alexander, past Scottish Labour leader, with her ‘bring it on’ response to the SNP demand for a referendum.  A referendum any time soon would be a major gamble, especially when the Prime Minister is dealing with Brexit, a phenomenally complex public policy challenge.  The First Minster and Prime Minister came to office following predecessors who had gambled unsuccessfully on referendums.  But ‘now is not the time’ involved a concession or, perhaps more accurately, an acceptance in the Prime Minister’s response that another independence referendum would occur at some point in the next few years.

The Conservatives have argued strongly against independence and might have been expected to rule out a second referendum altogether.  Opposition to independence has been a major theme in the Tories’ local election campaign.  At times, the Tories have come closest to being a one-issue party in Holyrood.

There is a logic in the Conservatives keeping the Scottish Question simmering, but also a danger.  The Conservatives replaced Labour in share of the regional list and seats in Holyrood last year (though Labour edged the Tories in share of the constituency vote) by presenting themselves as a ‘strong opposition’.  They have consolidated that position by emphasizing their opposition to independence.  In previous decades the Tories were electorally damaged by being the unionist party par excellence but no longer.

The Tories are very comfortable opposing independence robustly.  It unites the party as few issues can.  Having spent the early years of devolution trying to live down their anti-devolution past, the Tories have found a stance that suits them.  The Tories can garner in anti-independence votes, extending beyond the support they would have if the Scottish Question had been buried in 2014.

Oppositional politics allow parties to avoid facing the hard grind of policy development and delivery, as was witnessed amongst the Tories’ opponents during much of the 18 years when the Conservatives were in power until 1997.  The Tories are using the Scottish Question in ways reminiscent of Scottish politics in the 1980s, except that the boot is on the other foot.

Focus on the Scottish Question also avoids more troubling agendas for the Tories.  Brexit presents problems for Ruth Davidson given her previous vehement support for Remain and the challenges that Brexit will involve.  She does not want to be reminded of her clash with Boris Johnson and fellow Tories against whom she used her trademark aggressive debating style.  If the agenda shifted from the Scottish to the European Question, she would have to defend a policy which she recently described in the most negative terms.

Additionally, Scottish Tories want to avoid other aspects of the UK Government policy.  It would not help them if the agenda shifted to welfare reforms.

In the early years of devolution, Scottish Labour basked in the reflected glory of the Blair Government during its long honeymoon years.  When the shine came off the New Labour, Scottish Labour struggled to distance themselves from their colleagues in London.  The Scottish Tories have happened upon a strategy to avoid association with the Conservatives in London.  For the moment, keeping the issue of Scottish independence simmering away works for the Tories.

But an issue that has been simmering can easily come to the boil.  There is a danger, as David Cameron discovered to his personal cost, in stoking the fires to keep an issue simmering.  Just as Margaret Thatcher was the midwife of devolution, so might Ruth Davidson be the midwife of independence

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Simmering, not boiling: where are we now with the independence referendum?

James Mitchell

Academy of Government, University of Edinburgh

@ProfJMitchell

Where are we at the end of a period described by some as the start of the second independence referendum?

We are, in fact, not much further forward than before First Minister Sturgeon announced over a week ago that she would seek Parliamentary support for an independence referendum.  The Prime Minister rejected this overture but implicitly conceded that a referendum would be held, emphasising, ‘Now is not the time’.

Few expected the Prime Minister would emulate Wendy Alexander, past Scottish Labour leader, with her ‘bring it on’ response to the SNP demand for a referendum.  A referendum any time soon would be a major gamble, especially when the Prime Minister is dealing with Brexit, a phenomenally complex public policy challenge.  The First Minster and Prime Minister came to office following predecessors who had gambled unsuccessfully on referendums.  But ‘now is not the time’ involved a concession or, perhaps more accurately, an acceptance in the Prime Minister’s response that another independence referendum would occur at some point in the next few years.

The Conservatives have argued strongly against independence and might have been expected to rule out a second referendum altogether.  Opposition to independence has been a major theme in the Tories’ local election campaign.  At times, the Tories have come closest to being a one-issue party in Holyrood.

There is a logic in the Conservatives keeping the Scottish Question simmering, but also a danger.  The Conservatives replaced Labour in share of the regional list and seats in Holyrood last year (though Labour edged the Tories in share of the constituency vote) by presenting themselves as a ‘strong opposition’.  They have consolidated that position by emphasizing their opposition to independence.  In previous decades the Tories were electorally damaged by being the unionist party par excellence but no longer.

The Tories are very comfortable opposing independence robustly.  It unites the party as few issues can.  Having spent the early years of devolution trying to live down their anti-devolution past, the Tories have found a stance that suits them.  The Tories can garner in anti-independence votes, extending beyond the support they would have if the Scottish Question had been buried in 2014.

Oppositional politics allow parties to avoid facing the hard grind of policy development and delivery, as was witnessed amongst the Tories’ opponents during much of the 18 years when the Conservatives were in power until 1997.  The Tories are using the Scottish Question in ways reminiscent of Scottish politics in the 1980s, except that the boot is on the other foot.

Focus on the Scottish Question also avoids more troubling agendas for the Tories.  Brexit presents problems for Ruth Davidson given her previous vehement support for Remain and the challenges that Brexit will involve.  She does not want to be reminded of her clash with Boris Johnson and fellow Tories against whom she used her trademark aggressive debating style.  If the agenda shifted from the Scottish to the European Question, she would have to defend a policy which she recently described in the most negative terms.

Additionally, Scottish Tories want to avoid other aspects of the UK Government policy.  It would not help them if the agenda shifted to welfare reforms

In the early years of devolution, Scottish Labour basked in the reflected glory of the Blair Government during its long honeymoon years.  When the shine came off the New Labour, Scottish Labour struggled to distance themselves from their colleagues in London.  The Scottish Tories have happened upon a strategy to avoid association with the Conservatives in London.  For the moment, keeping the issue of Scottish independence simmering away works for the Tories.

But an issue that has been simmering can easily come to the boil.  There is a danger, as David Cameron discovered to his personal cost, in stoking the fires to keep an issue simmering.  Just as Margaret Thatcher was the midwife of devolution, so might Ruth Davidson be the midwife o

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NICOLA’S ARMY

James Mitchell

Academy of Government, University of Edinburgh

@ProfJMitchell

The SNP meets once more in the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre, one of only two conference venues biggest enough to hold an SNP.  The cavernous venue is not favoured by delegates, especially the old guard who fondly remember the intimacy of conferences when most faces were familiar and the atmosphere was more like a holiday camp, including the odd heated argument, than a corporate convention.  This conference is likely to be remembered most for its timing: the postponement of the Prime Minister’s decision to invoke Article 50 formally starting the process of Brexit and the First Minister’s decision on the timing of Indyref2.

Following the independence referendum, there was much speculation that the SNP would be transformed with its fivefold increase in members.   A number of commentators have suggested that there is an appetite for red meat from Nicola Sturgeon this week.  Evidence suggests that this demand comes more from commentators keen on an exciting story than from the wider membership.  The First Minister’s announcement on Monday was not one she was forced into by pressure from her new party members.

Preliminary research shows that the new members are slightly more working class.  They are younger and a higher proportion are women though these younger members seem to prefer to channel their activities into a referendum than party politics.  These new members may see themselves as more left-wing than older members but this may be more perception than reality (Johns and Mitchell 2016: 237-245).

Few organisations can grow so much and so quickly without causing disruption. There have been some assertions that the SNP had moved to the left, become more hardline and that the leadership would be challenged.  The evidence we have suggests that the new members are far from the trouble-makers some imagine.  Inevitably there have been clashes but not on the scale that might have been expected given the numbers involved.  All parties of any reasonable size will face local internal squabbles.  What is remarkable is that there have been so few.

 

‘I bitterly regret the day I compromised the unity of my party by admitting a second member.’ Oliver Brown, quoted in Mitchell 1990: 49.

 

The reason is probably quite simple.  For some at least, the intensity of the referendum campaign brought the SNP into sharp relief as never before.  Those who joined did so because they agreed with the message articulated by the SNP’s leadership during the referendum. This was no entryist coup.  These new members joined to support Nicola Sturgeon, not to undermine her.  In the words of one senior SNP figure interviewed, the new members are ‘Nicola’s army’.  She is likely to get at least as much support from these members as from those who joined before 2014.

Nicola Sturgeon dominates her party as no other leader of any other party in the UK.  She is trusted and respected to an extent that none of her predecessors ever experienced at this stage in their leadership.  It should be easy to find someone in the SNP demanding that she names a date for Indref2 but those impatient with her cautious approach are scarce.

Of course, the vast majority of new, as older, members are inactive.  While the membership may have increased fivefold, the active membership has grown less significant.  Many SNP branches required larger venues in the immediate aftermath of the referendum but attendance declined when new members found branch meetings dull but in most places these meetings still attract more memebrs than before the referendum.  Listening to local branch office bearers’ reports does not have the same appeal as Nicola Sturgeon addressing a meeting in Glasgow’s Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre.  The excitement of the referendum campaign does not translate into a local branch meetings.

The type of activities engaged may distinguish post- and pre-referendum members.  The number of new members at the SNP’s Aberdeen conference will outweigh those who had attended conferences before the referendum.  There will be some members at the conference – not as delegates but as ordinary party observers – who rarely attend branch meetings and have been far less active since 2014 than the old guard.  There are people who were active during the referendum, joined afterwards but have been inactive since.  The expectation is that Indyref2 will reawaken these sleepers who are awaiting the call.

In the past, it was common to distinguish between the national movement and the national party with the latter seen as a subset of the former.  There were always people who supported independence outside the SNP but there was little sense of a national movement.  The movement/party distinction always seemed more theoretical than real. The referendum created a national movement as an ‘imagined community’ in the sense that that members feel affinity with each other, even if they have never met.

Heberle’s classic definition of a social movement  – ‘a commotion, a stirring among the people, an unrest, a collective attempt to reach a visualized goal, especially a change in certain social institutions’  (Heberle 1951) – comes to mind it viewing the Yes movement that encompassed but extended beyond the SNP.  These included people keen to contribute but wary of conventional party politics.

A large part of this movement may have joined the SNP but many are not necessarily willing to engage in conventional party politics – attending branch meetings, leafleting, door knocking.  They may be willing to be or are politically active but only in a referendum or on their own terms.  Being active in social media appears to be a key part of the repertoire of this wider political movement, often dismissed by old hands who view knocking on doors and face-to-face door engagement as the essence of real activism.  It is difficult to know the impact of social movement activity as compared with traditional campaigning.

While they may not have disrupted the party or sought to alter it, the SNP’s new members  are happy to contribute money and vote for the party, likely to openly support the SNP but draw back from any other activities, at least until Indyref2 is called.  The referendum created a realignment in Scottish politics allowing the SNP to fulfil its long-standing ambition of replacing Labour.  But it may also signal a change in the nature of political activity.  That may be put to the test in the next couple of years.

Research for this blog was conducted as part of ESRC study, Recruited by Referendum: party membership energised, ESRC ES/NO10590/1

Rudolf Heberle (1951), Social Movements, New York, Appleton-Century-Croft.

Rob Johns and James Mitchell (2016), Takeover: explaining the extraordinary rise of the SNP, London, Biteback.

James Mitchell, ‘Factions, Tendencies and consensus in the SNP in the 1980s’, Scottish Government Yearbook 1990, pp.49-61.

 

 

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BREXIT AND PUBLIC SERVICES

Professor James Mitchell

Director, Academy of Government

 @ProfJMitchell

SUMMARY

  • even without Brexit, public services face a challenging backdrop even without Brexit;
  • public services will continue to be delivered every day against this difficult, resource-demanding Brexit contact;
  • there is a gulf between public opinion and service leaders contributing to a major capability-expectations gap and a noxious blame game;
  • the complex interdependencies and two-level game involved in negotiations create difficulties for public service interests to insinuate themselves into discussions;
  • Brexit is a process not an event with uncertainty as its principal feature;
  • information/intelligence gathering from the various parts of this two level game is more necessary now as this process unfolds than ever before.

We live in turbulent economic and political times, even apart from Brexit.  This turbulence was a major theme of January’s annual world economic forum at Davos.   There has been a weakening of confidence in the capacity of governments at all levels and across much of the world to deliver for the people.  Whether the political turbulence witnessed last year was a belated response to the economic turbulence of the 2007/08 Great Recession or caused by longer-term trends, there seems little reason to believe that economic or political turbulence is at an end.

The predictive capacity of the social sciences has been challenged and a healthy dose of Humean scepticism (scepticism of the Humean variety is the antithesis of the much discussed prefixed scepticism of current debates) is in order.

Many liberal democracies face similar challenges which would have existed even without this turbulence.  Some challenges, by no means exhaustive, faced in Scotland are summarised below.

screen-shot-2017-03-03-at-12-55-33

The combination of these challenges plus political and economic turbulence has created capability-expectations gaps in government capacity.  Much attention is paid to the tendency of voters to want Scandinavian levels of welfare and US levels of taxation.  This relates to the gap between public expectations and the capacity of governments to deliver caused in large measure by an electoral bidding game and the adversarial claims and counter claims around delivery.

Gutmann and Thompson identified the clash of campaign and governing mindsets in their The Spirit of Compromise (Princeton University Press) and we can see the cyclical culmination of the process in which campaigning crowds out governing in the Trumpian style of government.

Capability-Expectations Gap

screen-shot-2017-03-03-at-12-54-46

One consequence is an even more troublesome blame game.  Though not a major aspect of his study of the blame game, Chris Hood noted that ‘systems of divided government and complex multi-level government structures may offer more opportunities for blame-shifting in the sideways and up-and-down directions than simpler structures’ (Princeton 2011: 43).  Add in the prospect of uncertainty and change involved in the Brexit process plus the above mentioned turbulence and we have the potential for a particularly noxious blame game.

screen-shot-2017-03-03-at-12-57-28

A major concern for policy makers is yet another gap.  As research conducted for CIPFCA last year showed, there was then and likely continues to be a significant gap between public opinion and the opinion of public service leaders on the public policy implications of Brexit. As Tim Shipman vividly illustrates in his study of the Brexit referendum, that debate essentially focused on a battle between economic and immigration narratives.  Public services were marginalised in the debate.

screen-shot-2017-03-03-at-12-59-15

All of this places Theresa May’s Government in a very difficult position.  Her Government is caught between many rocks and many hard places in a complex two level game (Putnam 1988).  Domestic pressures, sectoral and geographic, will compete for attention in the Brexit negotiations.  Highly specialist elite interests, including the City of London, and populist anti-immigration impulses will need to be managed in the context of negotiations with the EU and EU27.

Insinuating other interests into this two level game will require considerable leadership skills, continuously refreshed information and intelligence, agility to take advantage when windows of opportunities open (however briefly) and, in all probability, a lot of luck.

screen-shot-2017-03-03-at-13-00-12

The scope of public policies affected is immense.  There was little agreement during the referendum on the EU’s competence – the much debated ‘competence creep’ – and it is hard to quantify this.  Whether it is Bill Cash’s claim that 50% of economic laws come from Brussels, Chuka Umunna’s suggestion that ‘around half of all new regulation’ emanates from Brussels or the House of Commons library reference to 5000 EU regulations, what is clear is that the EU has been intimately involved in public policy across a vast swathe of policy areas.

The notion that Brexit simply means removing a tier of government misunderstands the nature of the complex interdependencies.  Put crudely, and drawing on the classic analogy in the study of federalism, EU policy-making and implementation conforms as much to the metaphor of the marble cake as the layered cake.  Removing one ‘tier’ has complex implications throughout the system of government.

The care sector illustrates challenges for public services as a consequence of Brexit.  The ‘chronic difficulties’ in recruitment and retention of care staff noted over a decade ago have not disappeared.  Reliance on EU citizens varies across the UK (Cangiano et al. 2009) with particular challenges in London.  The role played by European citizens in the care sector has been considerable, including from the A8 EU states, the very people in the focus of anti-immigrant populist demands.  The combination of an ageing population, the considerable contribution from EU nationals to the care sector and the aforementioned populist impulses require attention.

A question frequently asked by public service providers is what advantages might arise in the Brexit process.  Turning a challenge into an opportunity is perhaps the greatest leadership test.  The opportunities that arise, which could easily become threats if mishandled, might be categorised under three headings: re-allocating powers; regulatory reforms; and funding.

The process of ‘repatriating’ powers has stimulated debate on whether certain powers might accrue to devolved of UK central government but there has been less consideration of whether there may be scope for devolving further to local government.  Amongst some supporters of Brexit, including key UK Ministers, there is an assumption that Brexit is an opportunity for deregulation and a temptation, at least in the short term, to simply transpose existing EU regulations directly.  But there is the third option of regulatory reform.  EU procurement regulations are commonly described as ‘bureaucratic’ and ‘heavy-handed’.  They are criticised for making it difficult to ‘buy local’ while the proportion of public contracts awarded to non-domestic suppliers is very small.  There is an opportunity to revise procurement rules to minimise bureaucracy while ensuring value for money is maintained.  Similar considerations exist for state aids.  Euro-funding remains important and commitments have been made in the short-term to continuation of such funding but a number of issues need to resolved.

Once more, an option exists to minimise of what is perceived to be heavy-handed bureaucratic controls.  Commitments have been made to the continuation of funding in th short-term but the likelihood is that UK Government will resist extending this until the full public financial implications of Brexit are known but, of course, these commitments will join a long queue and a strong voice in YUK Government will see Brexit as an opportunity to ‘roll back the state’.  This creates an unpredictable situation in which planning becomes more challenging. 

‘In democratic political systems, public office holders make choices about such diverse matters as the allocation of budgets, the enforcement of laws and the introduction of new technologies.  Then key personnel from the public and private sectors seek to influence these decisions and help carry them out.  Even though most of these decisions pass unnoticed by the media and the general public, the policies governments produce are probably more significant for ordinary citizens than the effervescence of much political debate.  While highly profiled subjects, such as stories of political corruption, the personalities of political leaders, and changes in opinion polls, are important aspects of contemporary political life and deserve attention, citizens are more likely to be affected by such prosaic matters as the quality of education in schools, the performance of the economy, the efficiency of the public healthcare system, and the state of the sewage disposal infrastructure.’ (John 2012: 1)

Debate on Brexit during the referendum was framed in a manner that marginalised its implications for public services.  The challenge will be to ensure those matters descrbed by Peter John as being ‘more significant for ordinary citizens than the effervescence of much political debate’ (John 2012: 1).

Readings

Cangiano, A., I. Shutes, S. Spencer, and G. Leeson (2009), ‘Migrant Care Workers in Ageing Societies: Research Finding in the UK’, Centre on Migration, Policy and Society, University of Oxford, Oxford.

Gutmann, Amy and Thompson, Dennis (2012), The Spirit of Compromise, Princeton. New Jersey, Princeton University Press.

Hood, Christopher (2013), The Blame Game: Spin, Bureaucracy, and Self-Preservation in Government, Princeton. New Jersey, Princeton University Press.

John, Peter (2012), Analyzing Public Policy, Abingdon, Oxon, Routledge 2nd edition

Putnam, Robert (1988). ‘Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: The Logic of Two-Level Games’, International Organization, vol.42, pp.427–460

Shipman, Tim (2016), All Out War: the full story of how Brexit sank Britain’s Political Class, London, HarperCollins.

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Local Government and the EU: the impact of Brexit

Evidence from Professor James Mitchell, Academy of Government, University of Edinburgh to Local Government and Communities Committee, December 14th 2016.

 

Understanding EU-Local government relations

 

The European Union, and its antecedents, was insinuated into the activities and responsibilities of local government in multifarious ways. Just as it has been difficult to estimate the proportion of law that has been determined ‘in Brussels’[1], so too is it difficult to estimate the extent to which the EU affects public policy and local government, either directly or indirectly. It is clear, however, that 44 years of membership has resulted in considerable interdependencies.

 

These relationships have been complex and are not easily summarised. The more appropriate metaphor is that of the ‘marble cake’ rather than the ‘layered cake’ ie the EU and local government relations are linked in complex, inter-connected ways. Often enough neither has exclusive or even dominant status. An emphasis has long been placed on partnership in the operation of EC-local government relations. In part this reflected what scholars have referred to as resource dependency, ie each sphere of government requires the resources of others to successfully make and implement a policy. The importance of other spheres of government (devolved and UK central government in the UK and similar across the EU) complicate matters further. Local government has usually been at the delivery end of the process.

 

The Audit Commission for England and Wales published A Rough Guide to Europe: local authorities and the EC, a useful summary of EC-local government relations in 1991.[2] Up until that time, most emphasis had been placed on ‘grantsmanship’ ie the tendency to focus on gaining financial support for local government and related projects from the European Communities.[3] Much of the early lobbying work was focused on influencing early decisions and identifying pockets of EC funding. Local authorities were increasingly aware of the importance of the European dimension and developing direct links with European institutions including the Commission. But considerable effort was devoted to information gathering, seeking to be ahead of the game in identifying likely impacts of European policy making.

 

The prospect of a single market – Project 1992 – was an important development[4] for local government as well as member state governments, the private sector and other bodies. The Audit Commission identified three main ways in which Europe affects local authorities:

Ÿ Euro-regulation imposes unavoidable obligations to implement, enforce and monitor EC legislation;

Ÿ European economic integration creates new opportunities for (and pressures on) the local economic base; and

Ÿ Euro-funds offer potential support for the local economy and for a range of local authority projects.[5]

 

Scottish local authorities, in common with others elsewhere, established office. Dumfries and Galloway was the first Scottish local authority to establish a European Liaison Officer. A process of Europeanisation of local government[6] occurred. Within tw decades of membership, no local authority could afford to be without intelligence on European affairs. By 1995, CoSLA had identified the EC as a ‘high priority’ for local government.[7]

 

EU policies directly affecting local government range across policy sectors from social and environmental protection, education, health and consumer protection, working time directives, the transfer of undertakings, procurement and state aid, transport policies, and rural and maritime policies. European networks of local authorities have been established allowing for shared understanding of best practice and permitting the articulation of common interests. Just as important have been the indirect effects of EU policies. The economic consequences of EU membership (and thereby Brexit) have had a considerable impact on local government. The EU’s four freedoms – in goods, labour, capital, and services – are difficult to quantify but the impact has been felt by local government.

 

Brexit means Brexit

 

The combination of the complexity of the relationship and uncertainty as to the precise nature of Brexit creates challenges for local government. Local authorities are keenly aware that Brexit will have both direct and indirect impacts and these will likely have different short, medium and long-term implications. The only certainty is that Brexit presents an additional challenge to local authorities at a difficult time

 

Early research on local government and the EC found that while much activity was often described as lobbying, the reality was often more focused on information-gathering, identifying new policies, opportunities and challenges as early as possible. The same approach seems as necessary now and in the foreseeable future for local government. Brexit may eventually mean a loosening of relations with the EU (it is difficult to conceive of a time when relations would be completely severed even if the UK is no longer a member of the EU), but in the short-medium term local government may need to focus even more than it has to date on developments to gather information, monitor and prepare for the likely outcome of Article 50 negotiations. Brexit will require even greater engagement with EU developments than at present in the short-medium term to monitor and prepare for the nature and consequences of Brexit.

 

A Scottish Voice

 

While there may be differences between Scottish central and local government – exaggerated in the context of local elections in May 2017 – there is ample scope for cooperation and collaborative working in preparing for Brexit. It would, however, be difficult to see how the Scotland Office – at Ministerial or civil servants – could be involved in any such articulation given that the UK Government is the principal in negotiations. It would be unrealistic to expect the Scotland Office to adopt a public position different from other parts of UK Government.

 

Early preparations by local authorities and Scottish Government might focus on the broad outline of Brexit. Expressed in terms of the spectrum from hard to soft Brexit, both Scottish central and local government agree that the best option lies with soft Brexit though the precise nature of this will require elaboration. Given local government’s role in delivering services and with its own democratic mandate, direct involvement of local government in helping formulate the Scottish response to Brexit would seem appropriate. Much of the work will continue to be information gathering. It seems most likely that the Scottish voice will stand outside the process of negotiations though every effort to gain access to negotiations between UK Government and the EU. As progress is made in negotiations and the shape of Brexit becomes clearer, a more focused approach should be possible including identifying opportunities as well as the obvious challenges resulting from Brexit. Such opportunities are likely to be limited and care will need to be taken to consider the implications of any effort to alter existing policy and law emanating from the EU. The unintended consequences of staking out a distinct policy position need to be considered and the response of EU27 considered.

 

[1] Estimates vary (Bill Cask Oct 2011: 50% of ‘economic laws’; Chuka Umunna Oct 2011 ‘around half of all new regulation’; see House of Commons library Research paper 10/62 Oct 2010.

[2] Audit Commission for England and Wales, A Rough Guide to Europe: local authorities and the EC, London, HMSO.

[3] This was not restricted to local government or local government in the UK. See Brigid Laffan’s “While you’re over there in Brussels, get us a grant”: The management of the structural funds in Ireland’, Irish Political Studies, vol.4, 1989, pp.43-57.

[4] The Single European Act was the first major revision of the 1957 Treaty Of Rome and set out the objective of a single European market by 1992 and was signed in February 1986 and came into effect in July 1987 and gave considerable impetus to the process of European integration. It had the strong support of the then UK Government.

[5] Audit Commission for England and Wales 1992, Op Cit., p.7.

[6] Amongst the best work on this process is a doctoral thesis by Stephen Herbert, ‘The Europeanisation of Local Government in Western Scotland, 1975-97’, Glasgow University PhD, 2000.

[7] Convention of Scottish local Government, The European Union – a key relationship with the new unitary authorities’, Edinburgh, CoSLA.

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Heading for the Half-Way House? Scotland after Brexit

by Lesley Riddoch and Paddy Bort

The Nordic countries’ experience with their particular relationships with the European Union ranges from full membership (including Euro and Schengen) in the case of Finland to Sweden (outside the Euro), Denmark (outside the Euro, and with the autonomous Faroes and Greenland outside the EU), Norway (outside the EU but inside the Single Market, and in Schengen) and Iceland (outside the EU, having dallied with the idea of joining after the banking crash) – and all square these relationships with membership of the Nordic Council.

Post-Brexit, considering the options for Scotland, are Scots eyeing up the wrong European prize? Might the halfway house of the European Economic Area (EEA) suit Scotland better than full EU membership? That question was posed at the ‘Scotland after Brexit’ conference on 29 October at the George Square Theatre by speakers from five Nordic nations at an event organised by policy group Nordic Horizons in cooperation with the Academy of Government and attended by 300 people, including the Cabinet Secretary for Cultural and External Relations, Fiona Hyslop.

The Norwegian environmentalist Duncan Halley explained that in 1992 Norway joined the EEA (essentially the EU’s single market mechanism) as a precursor to full membership after a referendum in 1994. But fierce debate produced a no vote and the halfway house of the EEA became Norway’s permanent home.

Iceland’s EEA entry the same year had a slightly different genesis. According to the former Social Democrat leader Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson who masterminded EEA membership, access to the European single market looked like a good way to liberalise a 1960s economy “more rigid than the Soviet Union.” But because of Iceland’s reliance on fishing and relatively recent independence from Denmark, a complete transfer of sovereignty to the EU through membership was not on the cards. “People said: ‘We’ve had 600 years of European colonialism – no more.” It took 5 years to negotiate the EEA agreement but, according to Hannibalsson, it happened because an interim solution was mutually beneficial for the EU and small countries. EFTA (European Free Trade Association – Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein) members then conducted more trade with the EU than the USA and Japan combined.

From Iceland’s point of view, EEA membership has proved more useful than the full deal. EEA members are in the internal market but can opt out of the Common Fisheries or Agriculture Policies, Maastricht, the customs union or the Euro. They can opt in in areas like justice or home affairs and they do have free movement in Europe and useful educational and research funds in exchange for a financial contribution.

So might Brexiting Britain beat Scotland to the chase? Hannibalsson thinks not: “One, Britain is too big for the EEA; two, its government isn’t keen and, three, EU members would have to approve Britain joining the EEA and they are not best pleased with Britain right now.”

It would be a different story for an independent Scotland, he thinks and maybe – with negotiations and the possibility of a second independence referendum ahead – more desirable.

Opting out of the Common Fisheries Policy would not just please Scotland’s fishing communities, it could help ensure Scotland’s portion of the North Sea is as well protected as Norway’s portion of the North Atlantic.

Duncan Halley says the Common Fisheries Policy has a terrible record protecting fish stocks in EU waters. Presently 30 per cent of stocks in the North Sea are outside safe biological limits and 93 per cent of cod are fished before they can breed.  Meanwhile, according to the OECD, “stocks in Norway are good,” and 73 per cent of caught fish come from protected stocks – the highest proportion in the world.

Fishing boats in Norway must be owned by registered fishermen actively working at sea or actively administering boats on land. If Scotland was free to jettison the CFP, the practice known as “slipper fishing” (where owners of EU quotas trade them and receive income without actively fishing at all) could be stopped, and better conservation of stocks could be achieved by having complete control over Scottish fishing waters – like Iceland, Norway and the Faroes.

Fishing matters in Norway not just because its valuable – its second biggest export after oil and gas – but because fishing is the backbone of rural Norway and the industry is of vital importance for continued settlement of the Northern seaboard.

Perhaps Scots should consider such long-term interests before deciding which European club best suits our needs. And perhaps membership of a club dominated by small Nordic players could help Scotland shift from a market-dominated, top-down social and economic model towards a more cooperative and decentralised Nordic one.

According to Professor Mary Hilson of Denmark’s Aarhus University, Nordic cooperation flourished in areas like culture, welfare and the arts while Europe was divided during the Cold War. Proposals for a Scandinavian defence and customs union failed in the 1950s but, since the reunification of Germany created a Baltic dimension in Northern Europe, they are back on the table again. There is even talk of a Nordic Federation, to give those nations a seat at the G20.

Of course, the majority of Nordic nations are EU members. But perhaps the EEA is a closer fit for Scotland than the EU? Perhaps, too, a viable halfway option would boost support for Scottish independence? Especially since Holyrood may not automatically retrieve powers from Europe post Brexit.

Professor Drew Scott, a member of Nicola Sturgeon’s Brexit advisory committee, speaking in a personal capacity, said Scotland might not automatically regain powers over fishing, forestry and farming, even though they are devolved. “Scotland has no international legal identity so the First Minister currently can’t sign international agreements – and fishing agreements are most definitely international.” Equally, he suggested, the World Trade Organisation might object if the structure of tariffs was different within a member state, and that could stymy attempts to have a different regime for farming or fishing north of the border within new legislation.

According to Professor Scott, there might be a lot to be said for joining the EEA rather than the EU. There’s no customs union, so no worry about borders with England should Scotland become independent post Brexit. The EEA won’t change in the next five years – the EU most certainly will, and inside the EEA an independent Scotland could straddle two internal markets – the UK and the EEA.

The counter argument was made strongly by Tuomas Iso-Markku from the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. He explained why Finland decided, after one year of membership of the EEA, not just to join the EU but to be at the heart of it, playing a constructive role in all EU institutions. Like many policy experts – that species despised my Michael Gove – in Norway, his biggest criticism of the EEA solution is that, yes, you have full access to the Single Market, but you have next to no say about the rules that govern it. EU membership, he argued, helped strengthen Finland’s western identity (given the geographical and political situation as a neighbour of Russia) and gave Finland more influence. He described how 56.9 per cent voted for EU membership, and how quick a political consensus emerged to place Finland “close to the core” of the EU, involved “in all the decision-making.” Finland, he said, wanted to be “part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.”

Scotland has different interests to the fishing-led economies of the North Atlantic, closer proximity to Europe and a history of EU membership. It may also seem politically unwise to rock the boat by offering a different vision of Scotland’s future in Europe to the one so recently supported by 62 per cent in the Brexit referendum. But a mature democracy takes the long view – and, in time, might that perhaps be EEA membership as a first or a permanent halfway home for an independent Scotland?

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