It’s not (just) “the environment, stupid!”

 

Rachel Howell, Lecturer in Sociology/Sustainable Development

People who cut their carbon footprint because they’re worried about climate change are ‘environmental’ types, right? They love ‘nature’ and get fired up by those photos of polar bears stranded on melting ice. They might even rate ‘protecting the environment’ or ‘respecting the earth’ as their number one value.

Well, no; not necessarily.

As part of a research project on promoting lower-carbon lifestyles, I interviewed people who have cut their carbon footprint because they’re worried about climate change, to try to understand more about what motivates them. Concern about ‘the environment’ for its own sake is not generally their main reason for action. They tend to be more bothered about the effects of climate change on poorer people in developing countries. They’re often motivated by a deep sense of the injustice of a situation where those who will suffer most are those who have contributed least to the problem, and they talked in terms of trying to live with a fairer – therefore smaller – share of the world’s resources. When I asked them to imagine that we live in a different kind of world, one in which climate change would threaten polar bears with extinction but would somehow have little effect on humans, several interviewees said they would probably not be so concerned about the issue.

Moreover, their stories about how they’d got engaged in climate change action were about human rights groups and issues as often as environmental ones. Sally said that because she believed that all the gains she’d worked for in terms of women’s rights in developing countries were threatened, “it was probably actually feminism which brought me into climate change.” Deepta explained that many of her friends in her university Amnesty International group were also involved in environmental campaigns so she joined in with them too. David talked about growing up in South Africa, which led to political and social awareness that developed into concerns about many issues, including climate change.

It seemed to me that these were people who cared about the environment but who cared even more about people and social justice. To check this, I asked interviewees to answer a short questionnaire testing the strength of ‘biospheric’ (environment-centred), ‘altruistic’ (people-centred), and ‘egoistic’ (self-centred) values as guiding principles for their lives. The top-rated value was ‘social justice’, with ‘equality’ second. ‘Protecting the environment’ came third, and ‘respecting the earth’ was only sixth (after being ‘helpful’ and ‘a world at peace’). The majority of interviewees scored higher on the altruistic values scale than the biospheric one. Not surprisingly, they scored egoistic values low.

To me, perhaps the most remarkable finding was that some of these highly motivated people weren’t even that keen to talk about climate change. They thought the phrase was off-putting, or they were irritated by it because it’s overused, or they were simply not that interested in climate change. One person said she didn’t think you even have to believe in climate change to want to live a lower-carbon lifestyle, because of the benefits you’d gain from it.

These findings have important implications.

For example, appealing to altruistic values and to desires for things like quieter streets and stronger local communities may be more effective ways of encouraging people to change their behaviour than focussing on information about climate change impacts on the natural world.

People who want to promote lower-carbon lifestyles might find it worth working with human rights and development groups, and with organisations that place emphasis on altruistic values, like many religious groups. Development charities such as Oxfam and Christian Aid are already campaigning on climate change, but more could be done to make links between the concerns of organisations promoting women’s, children’s, and refugees’ rights and welfare and the potential impacts of climate change on these groups.

The fact that ‘climate change’ is not necessarily seen as interesting suggests that action campaigns should promote a much broader, more holistic view of a lower-carbon future, not just a ‘to do’ list to ‘combat climate change’. People do need information and advice about what action they can take, but “Ten Tips to Save the Planet” type messages may not be the best way of framing it – or not for everyone.

Obviously, these interviewees are not typical of the general population, but if “It’s the environment, stupid!” is not a catchphrase that really captures the range of motivations of even these committed people, the approach it represents is probably even less likely to inspire widespread behaviour change among the general public. Climate change is a complex problem with social, economic, political and ecological dimensions. This research suggests that it shouldn’t be framed merely as an ‘environmental’ issue by those who hope to engage the public in dealing with it.

 

Note: all names used in this post have been changed.

 

 

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Scotland’s Climate Change Ambition – ‘the people bit’

Ragne Low, ClimateXChange Programme Manager, University of Edinburgh

2017 will go down as the year when Scotland unequivocally nailed its colours to the mast of climate change action, with not one, not two, but three comprehensive policy commitments on climate change. The draft Climate Change Plan sets out a programme of policies that aim to bring our emissions down by 66% by 2032. The draft Energy Strategy paints a vision for Scotland’s energy future that is fundamentally decarbonised. And in proposals for a Climate Change Bill the Scottish Government is consulting on a new statutory target for a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. All of this sends a very clear signal that Scotland intends to become a net-zero carbon nation – perhaps within a generation, certainly within two.

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But what do we mean by ‘Scotland’ here? Who are the people doing the intending?

Surveys consistently show that majority of the Scottish public believes that action should be taken on climate change. In the wake of news that Trump planned to take the US out of the Paris Agreement, 70% of Scots wanted to see climate change legislation retained.[1] Around 50% of people in Scotland see climate change as an immediate and urgent problem[2] and 68% want the Government to invest in projects that cut emissions[3].

But what about the 30% who feel climate legislation should be scrapped? Or the 50% who do not see climate change as an urgent issue? And are all of the 68% who want more Government investment really prepared to see higher public sector borrowing to fund that investment; or indeed to pay for it through higher taxes/bills? What proportion would be prepared to invest themselves – to improve the energy efficiency of their homes, for example? The academic literature is littered with studies that show that people very often do not turn personal belief into personal action – the so-called value-action gap[4].

The Scottish Government itself recognises the need for ‘behavioural change’ to accompany top-down policy prescription if we are to achieve the huge emissions reductions set out in legislation. The ISM tool supports policy makers to think through all the factors, Individual, Social and Material, that influence people’s behaviours. ‘ISM’ has been used in formulating some policy interventions, but it is by no means embedded. Some four years after the launch of the ISM tool in 2013, the draft Climate Change Plan states:

The Scottish Government has used the ISM approach in various ways to support policy

development, including:

  • Running smaller internal workshops to initially explore behaviours…
  • Delivering ISM workshops with broad groups of stakeholders… to gather wider views on the behavioural challenge, investigating the current landscape and identifying potential barriers and gaps.
  • Following up the ISM workshops with a small working group approach focused on action planning and delivery, using insight (potential barriers and gaps) from initial workshops.
  • Using the ISM framework to support literature reviews of the behavioural challenge.”

This hardly suggests that ‘behaviours thinking’ was at the heart of the policy development process for the Plan.

But I would argue that having a focus on ‘behaviours’ is itself limiting. The ‘people bit’ of climate action is about more than an aggregate of individuals changing their behaviours. It’s about social change. The decarbonisation of Scotland will have massive impacts on people’s lives, from changing how we travel about to restructuring the jobs market. Some of these changes will happen slowly. Others will be faster but no less profound – a baby born today will grow up never having sat behind the wheel of a petrol car.

Although it is still sotto voce, there is an awareness on the part of the Scottish Government that the low carbon transition entails a fundamental social transition. In announcing the new £60m Innovation Fund a fortnight ago, the First Minister said that she wants Scotland to “embrace social changes that will reduce our emissions” (my emphasis). The draft Energy Strategy includes commitments to deepening public engagement and to “involve people in the decisions that affect them”.

So, who is doing the intending? Is ‘Scotland’ really up for all the changes that deep decarbonisation will bring? Based on survey data, the answer seems to be yes. But in fact we simply don’t know. That being the case, we should support the Scottish Government to go beyond the ‘behaviour change’ narrative, and make explicit the social change that’s so fundamental to Scotland’s decarbonisation.

[1] Survey conducted by YouGov for the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit https://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/83ir18dia2/ECIUResults_170509_Climate_Change_W.pdf

[2] Scottish Government’s Key Environment Statistics 2016 https://beta.gov.scot/publications/key-scottish-environment-statistics-2016-9781786525505/pages/4/

[3] Survey for WWF Scotland http://www.stopclimatechaos.org/sites/www.stopclimatechaos.org/files/SCCS_thousands%20taken%20action22-08-17.pdf

[4] For a quick summary of the value-action gap, see the Climate Change chapter of the International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (2015)

But what do we mean by ‘Scotland’ here? Who are the people doing the intending?

Surveys consistently show that majority of the Scottish public believes that action should be taken on climate change. In the wake of news that Trump planned to take the US out of the Paris Agreement, 70% of Scots wanted to see climate change legislation retained.[1] Around 50% of people in Scotland see climate change as an immediate and urgent problem[2] and 68% want the Government to invest in projects that cut emissions[3].

But what about the 30% who feel climate legislation should be scrapped? Or the 50% who do not see climate change as an urgent issue? And are all of the 68% who want more Government investment really prepared to see higher public sector borrowing to fund that investment; or indeed to pay for it through higher taxes/bills? What proportion would be prepared to invest themselves – to improve the energy efficiency of their homes, for example? The academic literature is littered with studies that show that people very often do not turn personal belief into personal action – the so-called value-action gap[4].

The Scottish Government itself recognises the need for ‘behavioural change’ to accompany top-down policy prescription if we are to achieve the huge emissions reductions set out in legislation. The ISM tool supports policy makers to think through all the factors, Individual, Social and Material, that influence people’s behaviours. ‘ISM’ has been used in formulating some policy interventions, but it is by no means embedded. Some four years after the launch of the ISM tool in 2013, the draft Climate Change Plan states:

The Scottish Government has used the ISM approach in various ways to support policy

development, including:

  • Running smaller internal workshops to initially explore behaviours…
  • Delivering ISM workshops with broad groups of stakeholders… to gather wider views on the behavioural challenge, investigating the current landscape and identifying potential barriers and gaps.
  • Following up the ISM workshops with a small working group approach focused on action planning and delivery, using insight (potential barriers and gaps) from initial workshops.
  • Using the ISM framework to support literature reviews of the behavioural challenge.”

This hardly suggests that ‘behaviours thinking’ was at the heart of the policy development process for the Plan.

But I would argue that having a focus on ‘behaviours’ is itself limiting. The ‘people bit’ of climate action is about more than an aggregate of individuals changing their behaviours. It’s about social change. The decarbonisation of Scotland will have massive impacts on people’s lives, from changing how we travel about to restructuring the jobs market. Some of these changes will happen slowly. Others will be faster but no less profound – a baby born today will grow up never having sat behind the wheel of a petrol car.

Although it is still sotto voce, there is an awareness on the part of the Scottish Government that the low carbon transition entails a fundamental social transition. In announcing the new £60m Innovation Fund a fortnight ago, the First Minister said that she wants Scotland to “embrace social changes that will reduce our emissions” (my emphasis). The draft Energy Strategy includes commitments to deepening public engagement and to “involve people in the decisions that affect them”.

So, who is doing the intending? Is ‘Scotland’ really up for all the changes that deep decarbonisation will bring? Based on survey data, the answer seems to be yes. But in fact we simply don’t know. That being the case, we should support the Scottish Government to go beyond the ‘behaviour change’ narrative, and make explicit the social change that’s so fundamental to Scotland’s decarbonisation.

[1] Survey conducted by YouGov for the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit https://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/83ir18dia2/ECIUResults_170509_Climate_Change_W.pdf

[2] Scottish Government’s Key Environment Statistics 2016 https://beta.gov.scot/publications/key-scottish-environment-statistics-2016-9781786525505/pages/4/

[3] Survey for WWF Scotland http://www.stopclimatechaos.org/sites/www.stopclimatechaos.org/files/SCCS_thousands%20taken%20action22-08-17.pdf

[4] For a quick summary of the value-action gap, see the Climate Change chapter of the International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (2015)

 

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If having children is bad for the environment, what should parents do about it?

Dr Elizabeth Cripps, Senior Lecturer in Political Theory, Programme Director, MSc Global Environment, Politics & Society, University of Edinburgh

 

Here’s a thought many of us find uncomfortable. When we tally up the ways our individual behaviour increases carbon emissions – flying, driving, eating animal products – there’s one thing we should put at the top of the list: having babies. Each time you do that, you effectively create another lifetime’s worth of pollution. On one estimate, the average US woman increases GHG emissions by 5.7 times her own lifetime average by having a child.

Some might claim that this way of looking at things misses an important point. Children are not passive consumption goods like driving a car or eating meat. They are people in their own right who grow up to be moral agents making their own lifestyle decisions. On this argument, parents are no more ‘to blame’ for their children’s unsustainable carbon footprints just because they had those children than they would be responsible for their crimes if the children grew up to be criminals.

But this response fails. For those of us living affluent lives in affluent countries, the point isn’t that our children might decide to live unsustainably (just as they might turn out to be psychopaths). It is that, on current trends, they very likely will. While of course it would be unfair to blame parents for everything their children do simply because they caused those children to exist, it is perfectly reasonable to ask individuals and couples to take seriously the expected carbon footprint of any children they choose to have.

What do these thoughts imply? Must ‘good environmental citizens’ refrain from having children? Some think so. But this ignores the great personal cost involved. For many who experience it, parenting is an intensely, perhaps uniquely, valuable experience and relationship. Having the opportunity to have a child is arguably a central human interest. Giving this up looks like an unreasonable sacrifice to have to make: one on a completely different scale to refraining from flying, or changing your diet.

Instead, the environmental costs of having children should prompt us to do at least two things. One is to have only a small family. There’s an enormous difference between the view that there’s a central interest in having the opportunity to be a parent, and the claim that there is such an interest in having many children. As one philosopher neatly puts it, mothering isn’t like being a Better Boy tomato plant. It is, or should be, about the quality of the relationship. If Britain’s Prince Charles is the environmentalist he claims to be, perhaps he shouldn’t be unequivocally delighted that his son and daughter-in-law are expecting a third child.

The other is being a ‘climate-conscious’ parent: keeping childhood emissions low and raising educated, motivated children who are more likely to fight for political progress on climate change and make individual changes themselves. Recall that the emphasis, earlier, was on parents’ responsibility for their children’s expected carbon footprint. There are no guarantees – and we wouldn’t want parents to brainwash their children even if they could – but this is one way of keeping that predicted footprint down.

This is only one of many reasons for climate-conscious parenting, which could also be required by broader climate justice duties, or owed to the children themselves. But it is a distinct – and I think an important – rationale. Having children contributes to harmful climate change. Even if we can justify having them despite the harm, we have to take it seriously and make up for it as far as reasonably possible. EC

 

This post also appears on the University of Edinburgh’s Just World Institute blog and is based on a paper presented at Reflecting on the World, and Changing the World: Philosophy in Practice, University College London, 23 June 2017.

 

 

 

 

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The Trump Administration and the Curious Case for Climate Optimism

As part of ‘Climate Week’, the Academy of Government will blog on the subject of the environment this week.  We start the week with Professor Bomberg on President Trump and the environment.

Elizabeth Bomberg, Professor of Politics, University of Edinburgh, e.bomberg@ed.ac.uk

 

A perusal of President Donald Trump’s climate and environmental initiatives makes for sobering reading. Within his first 100 days he appointed a series of climate sceptics and oilmen to his cabinet and closest advisory circle. He vowed to ‘end the war on coal’ by attempting to dismantle Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), which is designed to regulate carbon emission from power plants. He lifted a moratorium on coal leasing, and issued permits for controversial oil pipelines. Meanwhile, his proposed budget included huge cuts in funding for scientific agencies and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the federal institution charged with upholding and implementing environmental legislation.  This list is partial.

 

What readers might not realise, however, is that regardless of what Trump would like to implement, his policies, budget cuts and actions will confront constitutional, institutional and societal barriers. Some of Trump proposals will get through, but a lot will not.  Four checks and countervailing trends are particularly important.

 

The first check is constitutional.  Both Congress and, even more so, the judicial branch will pose formidable checks on Trump’s power. Any proposed dismantling of the CPP, for instance, will be subject to lengthy congressional but also judicial review, triggered by suits filed by a range of states, environmental, labour and health NGOs.  Even if these NGOs are ultimately unsuccessful in their legal challenge, the delay could last years, longer than the presidential term itself.

 

The second barrier is economic. Trump cannot stop the global and national market forces which have sent coal use in a downward spiral. Hundreds of US coal power plants have closed, the number of jobs in the coal sector has plummeted. Meanwhile, renewables are a tremendous growth industry in the US, especially in the Midwest. Costs for wind and solar have fallen markedly and employment has shot up.  In the electricity sector, according to the US Department of Energy, employment in solar alone now outstrips employment in oil and gas.

 

We have also seen formidable opposition below the federal level. Much of the relevant statutory power (and creativity) in climate and environment policy is found here.  California has led other states vowing to defy Trump’s  policies and committing to sharply reduce state emissions in light of federal inaction. Just as important is pushback from a growing number of Republican states like Iowa, Kansas, and Ohio who have benefitted enormously from a renewables revolution which has brought to their states jobs, investment, and reduced energy costs. These Republican leaders have become unexpected champions of low carbon economies and low carbon policies.  Cities will also continue their core efforts to reduce carbon as part of their efforts to reduce costs, protect coasts, infrastructures and public safety. More general citizen mobilization has also grown and diversified. In addition to dramatically increased membership of environmental NGOs, 2017 has featured a record breaking number of protests from unlikely quarters including religious communities, health groups and scientists concerned by the Administration’s dismissive view of research and data.

 

The adverse impact of Trump’s withdrawal of the US from the Paris Climate Agreement will  also be limited.  The official withdrawal will take a minimum of four years (longer than his term) due to provisions written into the Paris Agreement. More importantly, the Paris Agreement enjoys wide support from a huge range of countries, and several other parties to the Agreement have promised to fill the void left by US inaction. These parties include the European Union (‘We are ready to lead the fight’ said a spokesman), but also India and, especially, China which has huge incentives to take on the leadership role abandoned by the US.  China is highly vulnerable to climate change and suffers dangerously high levels of urban pollution. Moreover, its economy benefits enormously from the global development of renewables. For most countries, the environmental, economic and diplomatic incentives for moving forward on Paris far outweigh the temptation to follow a laggard.

 

Several contributors to this AoG Environment series will identify the changes necessary to address climate change in Scotland and globally. These changes include societal mobilization, an economic shift to low carbon energy, sub-state action and behavioural and cultural shifts. While not receiving much attention in the UK press, these forces are all thriving in the US.  Combined with the constitutional checks outlined above, it is not unreasonable to think these countervailing forces will shape – and in many cases curtail – the Trump’s Administration’s attempt to scupper progress on climate policy and action.  The case for climate optimism continues, with or without Trump.

 

This blog is an updated version of post first appearing as: Trump’s First 100 Days: The Curious Case for Climate Optimism in The Geographer. Thanks to the Royal Scottish Geographical Society for permission to re-post.

 

Further Reading

For a fuller analysis of Trump’s early environmental and climate policy, see Bomberg, E. 2017. ‘Environmental politics in the Trump era: an early assessment, Environmental Politics, 25(6): 956-63

 

 

 

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Lobbying in the UK: legitimate reform or wishful thinking?

Joshua Bird

 

The quest for increased transparency is very appropriate given the various lobbying scandals that have plagued Westminster over the last decade. Lobbying legislation in the UK has thus changed considerably over this period. In 2014, the UK coalition government passed the “Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act” (Lobbying Act). In addition to creating a register of lobbyists, this legislation also imposed new campaigning and spending limits for anyone lobbying at Westminster during the ‘regulated period’, which is 12 months before a general election and 4 months before devolved elections.

However, implementation of the Lobbying Act has fallen far short of expectations. While the coalition championed the legislation, opposition MPs, journalists, academics, and civil society almost universally criticised it. They held that the new definition of “lobbyist” was too narrow for the Act to capture the vast majority of actual lobbying, but also that the legislation was so complex and burdensome to comply with that it would have a “chilling effect” on legitimate democratic activity. Further, the Electoral Commission (which is responsible for disseminating guidance to campaigners) held that the Act was neither clear nor enforceable. After it eventually passed in January 2014, 162 of the UK’s biggest charities called for its repeal.

Subsequent research has found that these criticisms were not unfounded. The Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement has released several reports outlining the Act’s (largely negative) impact on campaigners and organisations, and Lord Hodgson’s independent review of campaigning during the 2015 General Election (the first election cycle when the Lobbying Act applied) offered recommendations for improvements whilst retaining the spirit of the law. In addition, recent research found evidence that the Lobbying Act adversely affected Scottish organisations during the same election cycle. This research specifically highlighted how ambiguities in the legislation (especially the new spending limits) mean campaigner’s perceptions of the policy are as important, if not more so, than the actual effects of it.

The criticisms persist to this day, with 122 organisations recently claiming they are being “gagged” by the Act’s regulations. Nevertheless, and despite the snap election in June 2017, this issue has largely fallen off the policy agenda and the UK Government has (as of this writing) yet to act on any recommendations.

The Scottish Parliament is also currently overhauling how people engage with MSPs. The Lobbying (Scotland) Act, passed in March 2016, will establish a separate Scottish lobbying register, and a working group exists to inform the development of the register. This participatory approach is in marked contrast to Westminster’s more top-down implementation methods. Despite this, serious concerns about the Scottish Lobbying Act remain.

First, as in Westminster, the Scottish Act will apply uniformly to any campaigner whether it is a private organisation, charity, community group, etc. The ‘catch-all’ nature of the legislation is problematic because a PR firm working on behalf of global oil or tobacco conglomerate is in a completely different league in terms of access to funding and political capital than, say, a Highlands-based social enterprise. Yet these two organisations must abide by the same lobbying regulations under this law.

Another issue is that the Scottish Act only captures personal interactions. That is, all face-to-face contact between any campaigner and MSP must be recorded and reported. However, any digital communications such as emails, text messages and even phone calls fall out with the scope of the Scottish Act. As Martin Sime, chief executive of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, recently pointed out, “where is the evidence that face-to-face lobbying is more effective than other methods?”

Worth noting here is that there are eight other EU countries with mandatory registers, which represents an important policy learning opportunity for the Scottish working group. Most notably, strict rules in Ireland, implemented after the 2008 recession, are considered the “gold standard” of lobbying regulation. In contrast to the UK, Ireland’s law employs a broad definition of lobbyist, which ensures that activities that actually influence public policy are monitored appropriately. Indeed, a close analysis international best practice in Ireland and elsewhere is crucial for robust policy development in Holyrood.

Overall, it is necessary that there are safeguards in place to ensure transparency and openness in our parliamentary systems. However, these safeguards must not hinder organisations from legitimate campaigning and engagement activities. The participative manner in which Scotland’s Lobbying Act is being developed is positive, but there are still many issues to be resolved ahead of the planned implementation of Scotland’s Lobbying Register in early 2018.

For further information, see: Bird, J. R. (2017). The Lobbying Act and the Scottish Third Sector: Implications for Policy Development, Implementation, and Practice. Scottish Affairs, 26(3), pp.297-320.

 

Joshua Bird is a Policy Engagement Officer for the Rural Policy Centre at Scotland’s Rural College, where he conducts research on a variety of rural issues and also facilitates knowledge exchange between academia and policy processes. His professional interests include maximising real-world impact from research across a variety of disciplines, and how to ensure that researchers and academics are more aware of the policy contexts in which they work more generally. He is also an alumnus of the Academy of Government, having completed a Master of Public Policy with Distinction in 2015.

 

 

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Take Back Control

‘If I was starting again and founding the SNP today, maybe I would call it something else but I’m not and it has been in existence now for 90 years and the problem here is not the name of the SNP, it is the absurd and irresponsible and unfounded comments by Sadiq Khan that are the problem here.’ Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish First Minister and leader of Scottish National Party, Interview with Holyrood magazine, 13 March 2017.

The nationalism that dare not speak its name

Nicola Sturgeon, SNP leader, recently expressed her frustration that her party’s name allowed it to be presented in a negative light.  She was not the first leader of her party to consider that the party’s name was unhelpful but felt that the problem was not so much the name but how her opponents chose to interpret it.  Labour is at least as nationalist as the SNP and the Conservatives far more so but both fail to appreciate or acknowledge their nationalism themselves.

A key to different understandings of nations, national identity and forms of nationalism rests on the thin nature of nationalist ideology and central to this is an understanding of the Other.  Leadership plays an important part in the definition of the Other.  Since becoming a Parliamentary party fifty years ago, the SNP has emphasized its multi-culturalism and sought to embrace the Other.  Having National in its name has made the SNP highly sensitive to the criticism and keeps them on a straight and narrow while other parties’ ideologies include a nationalism that dare not speak its name but has led to a framing of the Other in negative terms and allowed for the development of an absolutist, illimitable notion of statehood and citizenship.

Nationalism and nationalisms

The literature on nationalism is vast though it was rather neglected as a subject within the social sciences, especially as applied to advanced liberal democracies, until relatively recently.  With a few notable exceptions, nationalism was seen as a subject of relevance in new states, hence the emphasis on the study of nation-building in former colonies post-1945.  There was little appreciation that processes of nation-building were continuous, if not always acknowledged in all states.  It seems to be easier to see nationalism in opponents than in one’s own country or political party.

Little attention was paid to what Kellas (1991: 52) referred to as ‘official nationalism’ and others have referred to as ‘state nationalism’ as distinct from ‘regional nationalism, or some other variant, nationalism (see Keating 1988).  Indeed, it was (and remains) common to deny the existence of such a nationalism in the UK.  If we take official nationalism as an essential ingredient for the coherence of any state, as understood in work on nation building, then we can assume that denying its existence may be a sign of its strength and not its absence.  A coherent state requires a sense of belonging and loyalty.  Its leaders will often parade with military hardware, refer to hearts ‘pitter pattering’ when they see the national flag, prioritise fellow nationals over others, and make frequent references to pride in the nation/state and associated institutions.  Illustrative of this is the emerging bibliography of nationalism in the UK.  Numerous books and articles were written on sub-state nationalism with little reference to state nationalism when Scottish and Welsh nationalism were emerging as challenges to the UK’s integrity.  The more recent emergence of a literature on English and British nationalism, noting that British is not entirely accurate as it does not cover the whole of the UK, is not a sign of health.  The nation that need not speak its name exhibits a strong nationalism.

The Other

A key to understanding national identity, and therefore the ideology associated with it, is the Other (see Triandafyllidou 2001 ch.2 for review of literature on ‘National Identity and the Other’).  The mutability, subjective and contextual nature of the Other is evident over time.  The Other can focus on places, people or politics.  Anthony Smith’s observed that nationalism has a ‘chameleon-like ability to transmute itself according to the perceptions and needs of different communities’ (Smith 1995: 3) is in large measure a reflection of the mutable Other.  The potency of the Other may arise from a mixture of the three and the Other can, of course, include the ‘Other within’.  The assumption tends to be that the Other are people:

I am English means I am not French/German/European/…

But this is not an equation nor does it mean that the distinction is with a people.  It does not follow that:

I am French/German/European/… = I am English

In the 1980s what was meant with being Scottish came to have a political content for many people living in Scotland:

I am Scottish = I am not a Tory/Thatcherite.

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The Others within have been presented as a particular threat in some nationalist rhetoric.  The Brexit referendum focused to a very large extent on immigration.  But immigration has been framed differently by Scottish nationalists and in Scottish policy debates over many decades, indeed throughout most of the twentieth century.  In part, this may reflect the perceived different demographic challenges.  There has long been concern that Scotland was losing population and, more recently as population levels have stabilised and grown, immigration has been continued to be framed in positive terms.  The SNP has long embraced the Other.

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Rhetoric of nationalism: sovereignty and take back control

Nationalism has a common language.  Sovereignty may have limited popular resonance and is more commonly used by the more politically engaged.  The more popular version is ‘take back control’ or ‘Nation First’ (and often enough implicitly ‘Nation First, Last and Always’).

All ideologies have fundamentalist tendencies and this fundamentalism if often linked to the party’s rhetoric.  Rooted in theological discourse, sovereignty’s indivisibility translated to the political world via the Crown as the Supreme earthly power.  Efforts to address this indivisibility and illimitability over centuries without abandoning the idea resulted in various reactions from Madisonian ‘aggregate’ or ‘co-equal’ sovereignty, popular sovereignty.  In the UK, sovereignty was transferred to Parliament in the idea of the Crown in Parliament or Parliamentary sovereignty, a classic case of Morgan’s observation, ‘Government requires make-believe.  Make believe that the king is divine, make believe that he can do no wrong or make believe that the voice of the people is the voice of God.  Make believe that the people have a voice or make believe that the representatives of the people are the people.  Make believe that governors are the servants of the people’ (Morgan 1989: 13).  But make-believe of this sort may come to be believed.

Identity and citizenship as the mirrors of sovereignty

Absolutist notions of sovereignty are mirrored in some cases in the politics of identity and citizenship.  Much is made of identity politics with reference to Brexit, but it is not so much identity per se as the nature of identity politics that requires consideration.  Identities are hollow and the issue is the meaning(s) with which they are filled and relationships between different identities, whether competing or complementary.  The politics of identity in the two referendums held in the UK (Scottish independence in 2014 and EU membership in 2016) illustrate this.  A survey of members of the two parties that advocated Scottish independence found that identity politics did not conform with what might have been expected.  Not only did a proportion acknowledge a British identity but significant numbers identified a European identity.

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Note that the survey was conducted at a time when Brexit was growing in importance following the 2015 general election.  We can only speculate but suggest that as identities are contingent and contextual that this manifestation of European identity amongst SNP and Green members owes much to the imminence of the Brexit referendum.  But leaving aside the high levels of Europeanness, the SNP and especially Greens exhibit a sense of Britishness that might not be expected from nationalists.

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The relationship between identity and citizenship is far from clear cut.  An identity is subjective while citizenship is fairly clearly defined legally (though can come with surprises).  Nation-building is largely about creating a sense of common identity, hence Connor’s argument that nation-building involved nation destroying.  Over 40 years ago, Aron and Hofstadter argued that the ‘idea of multi-national citizenship is a contradiction in terms’  but the European Union confounded the conflation of identity and citizenship and the notion that a single identity was essential to creating a new polity.  However, this conflation ias abhorrent to purist nationalists.

Congruence of national and political units

This leads to questions of constitutional politics.  For the purist nationalist, a simple equation operates.  National identity and citizenship are singular, sovereignty is absolute and the state shares power with no other entity.  There can be no sharing of sovereignty as sovereignty is absolute.  Citizens can only belong to one state or polity.  Purist nationalism would reject any competition.  There was evidence in the past of a relationship between opponents of devolution in the UK and European integration.  The table below shows the range of constitutional preferences by when members joined the two parties supporting Scottish independence.  The increased membership has resulted in a hardening of support for the Greens’ official position of independence in the EU.

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The preferred option amongst members of different cohorts of members of both parties is clearly independence in the EU.  We should also note that the SNP Government’s white paper on independence was an unusual document for a nationalist government given the stress placed o inter-dependence and European integration.

Two referendums to take back control

The 2014 Scottish independence referendum and the 2016 European Union referendum were both about taking back control.  Nationalism, it appears, was the prime motive in each case but that does not take us very far in understanding these phenomena.  Gellner defined nationalist as ‘primarily a political principle which holds that the political and national unit should be congruent’ (Gellner, 1983: 1).  But it is unclear what this means institutionally.  There may be similar motives lying behind these demands but what is being demanded seems to vary significantly.

By comparing the ideologies underpinning the argument for Scottish independence and for leaving the EU, we may tease out the underlying core of nationalism and identify the extent to which nationalism has value as an explanation of these political developments.  What becomes clear is that while a core may be evident and much common rhetoric is employed, the nature of the two nationalisms and their objectives are very different.  It suggests that while nationalism is a useful starting point, it cannot be the end point in any effort to make sense of these recent political developments.  Today, the Conservative Party is emphatically more nationalist than the SNP but some of its leading members still criticize the nationalist mote in the SNP seemingly oblivious to the beam in its own ideology.

 

Data used in this blog is drawn from the ESRC research project, Recruited by referendum ESRC RG13385-10

 

Professor James Mitchell is Director of the Academy of Government, University of Edinburgh.

@ProfJMitchell

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Gellner, Ernest (1983), Nations and Nationalism, Oxford, Blackwell.

Keating, Michael (1988), State and Regional Nationalism, Hemel Hempstead, Harvester Wheatsheaf.

Kellas, James (1991), The Politics of Nationalism and Ethnicity, Basingstoke, Macmillan.

Morgan, Edmund (1988), Inventing the People, W.W. Norton.

Smith, Anthony (1995), Nations and Nationalism in a Global Age, Cambridge, Polity.

Triandafyllidou, Anna (2001), Immigrants and national identity in Europe, London, Routledge.

 

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Does public engagement on NHS service change lead to greater public support for difficult decisions?

Richard Norris, Visiting Fellow, Academy of Government and Director of Scottish Health Council

A recent seminar organised by the Academy of Government, Healthcare Improvement Scotland, and the Usher Institute, explored the issue of public engagement in health service change. We had a mix of academics and researchers, policy people and practitioners, including the third sector.  Bringing together this mix of people is a rare event, and we wanted to explore some key issues, including how Scotland compares with other parts of the UK, and what we expect public engagement to achieve.

Dr Ellen Stewart shared findings from some recent Health Foundation-funded research looking at policy and practice in engaging with the public on healthcare service change across the UK. We heard about the difficulties encountered in reaching a common understanding between NHS organisations and the public they serve on models of service provision and how they should change. I talked about the evidence base for participation: when it is likely to be more successful, and also the occasions where the end result has still been an impasse.

Everyone agrees that engaging with the public about healthcare services is important, but why is it important?

Looking at various policies and guidance over the past 15 years the list of reasons for involving the public includes:

  • Improving the health of the public
  • A catalyst for change
  • Achieving improvement in services
  • Strengthening public confidence in the NHS
  • Demonstrating the NHS listens and takes into account public views
  • Making services more efficient and effective
  • Building community skills and confidence
  • Boosting democratic participation
  • Better outcomes for communities
  • Recognising people’s ‘right to be involved’

These are the reasons set out in policy documents and guidance, but what do the public see as the benefit of participating in healthcare decisions? Looking at research into public views, and comments made by community and campaigning groups, these can be summarised as:

  • To improve services
  • To have a say
  • Understand why things are changing
  • Feel more involved in healthcare issues
  • Develop skills
  • Influencing / lobbying e.g. for resource
  • Preventing proposals which are unpopular

 

An important issue is the difference between service users and carers being involved in the development of a particular service, and much more wide-ranging public engagement exercises around hospital closures or centralising services. Not surprisingly the latter can be far more contentious, and what is seen as a good outcome for some may not be a good outcome for others. To many it seemed that the difference between say, engagement with service users about a local mental health or diabetes service, and engaging with the wider population about relocating an Accident and Emergency department was not just a difference in scale, but a difference in type. In the smaller and more local exercise, engaging with the public is about getting user and carer views and experience to inform how to improve the service. But in other, population wide, cases, it will be more about meeting democratic expectations and making decisions that are seen to be legitimate.

Particularly in the more challenging areas of relocating or centralising services, the evidence that good public engagement necessarily leads to decisions that command greater public support is not as clear, although some public engagement is a lot more likely to produce a greater level of support than no engagement at all. There are case studies (for example on the NHS Confederation website and Scottish Health Council reports) that give examples of where public engagement has led to decisions that command greater support. But there are also plenty of examples where public engagement has not resulted in proposals that command broad support. In some cases, NHS organisations have pushed ahead, against public opposition. In other cases, plans have been changed, or halted. Either way the result has not been strengthened public confidence in the NHS, or a consensus that services have been improved.

Maybe as well as getting a local perspective which provides essential evidence to inform the best decision, it is important to ensure that people have the chance to give their views because they have the right to be heard, for differences of opinion to be aired, and NHS organisations to gauge the range, and strength, of public views. In this scenario there are no right or wrong answers, but there are good or bad ways to make the decision.

Deliberative approaches (like Citizen’s Juries), where a small number of the public spend time hearing evidence and discussing alternatives, offer some options for reaching better decisions. But this is best done before issues become too polarised, and may not always find a consensual way forward. A recent review of 66 Citizen’s Juries around the world that were about healthcare found that few Juries’ rulings were transferred into policy and practice. However this remains an area worth investigating as a way of exploring alternative options to unpopular proposals.

Four key points came out of the discussion:

  1. We should learn where we can from other parts of the UK but also bear in mind that Scotland has a clear legal structure and policy direction in terms of public participation, and the creation of Health and Social Care Partnerships is a huge opportunity to make more progress.

 

  1. Participation may not create consensus, but it will provide an opportunity to explore and understand different points of view. Professionals do not have a monopoly on ‘rationality’, expertise or evidence. Community concerns about transport (for example) are very rational. What the public brings to discussions is important evidence. Sometimes people talk about the public having an emotional investment, but so do professionals.

 

  1. Decisions may be wrong, and should always be subject to review. The world is messy, not linear. It may be difficult to have conversations about unsafe services, but risk is subjective. Decisions to close hospitals can transfer risk to different parts of the system, e.g. primary care.

 

  1. In Scotland there is a protectiveness and defensiveness around institutions and there is a need for a more open culture. And the ‘politics’ of service change should not be underestimated. People’s lives are political, and conflict can be a good thing.

 

So no easy answers, but if we can be realistic about the prospects of public engagement achieving consensus, it perhaps focuses us more usefully on how to develop processes that are open, transparent, and seen to be fair.

 

 

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