With another Scottish Independence referendum on the horizon, Scots, once again, are debating this topic fearlessly on social media. Most people seem to be concentrating on the economic arguments, sharing facts and figures which either legitimise or undermine Scotland’s ability to be fully autonomous. Although this is obviously very important, endless arguments asserting “it’s the economy, stupid” feel a little myopic as, to me, there are a number of other factors to consider when attempting to form an idea of how Scotland will look post-independence. In this post, I will attempt to convince you that one of these factors is the brand of democracy which Scotland could deliver, something I hope to do by sharing some of the findings that I produced regarding this topic whilst completing my undergraduate dissertation for University.
I can almost hear you sighing at the prospect of such an article as undergraduate dissertations, for the most part, are academic bog roll. The research I completed, however, proved enlightening, teaching me some valuable lessons regarding the Scottish political system which I felt as though I had to share. At the beginning of my study, the research I conducted led me to the idea of “New Politics”: a concept which was produced by Scottish devolution-campaigners in the 1990s. Essentially, this hinted at the potential of Scotland to embrace a political system which deviated from the status quo by curbing the power of the executive and including more voices in the decision-making process. Since devolution was achieved in 1997, though, a lot of academic work has been scathing regarding whether or not Scotland has shown signs of achieving this goal. For instance, James Mitchell (a professor of public policy at the University of Edinburgh) believes that arguments in favour of the Scottish Parliament being distinctive have been completely overstated. This is due to his assertion that those who are in favour of the idea that the Scottish Parliament has achieved New Politics have been “comparing Holyrood with a mythical, even caricatured, Westminster”
The vast majority of these studies, like Mitchell’s, only gave a very broad overview of this topic though. In my own research I decided, like a small number of academics, to focus on one aspect of the Scottish Parliament: Committees. Firstly, I formed two functions to compare committees in the Scottish Parliament as well as Westminster across: the recommendation and the amendment functions. The recommendation one looked at the ability of committees in each set of Parliaments to hold the executive to account, analysing whether or not the recommendations it made on government legislation were actually successful. The amendment function, on the other hand, was far more straightforward as I analysed certain committees in each Parliament regarding their ability to take oral and written evidence from non-executive officials.
After analysing several bills in each Parliament, I found that Westminster’s recommendation function had a greater number of successful recommendations than Scotland’s. Moreover, I also found that the amendment function within Westminster also outperformed its Scottish counterpart due to the fact that they actually consulted more non-executive oral and written evidence. I also compared this latter result with how the Scottish recommendation function (which also consults witnesses) performed in this area, finding even more evidence in favour of Westminster’s amendment function as its committees still consulted a higher percentage of non-executive figures. As such, these findings suggest Westminster committees seem to be doing a better job at embracing the aforementioned traits of new politics.
If you have got to this point without scrolling here first, congratulations This was clearly not the most gripping piece of writing to have graced Gen Y so far. I felt, however, that something regarding Scottish Independence had to be written considering recent events. Also, whilst this seems to reflect badly on the ability of Scotland to potentially become independent, this does not necessarily mean that I believe this is an argument against it. Instead, my study, along with the others, possibly act as a evidence of how much potential Scotland has in relation to forming a superior democracy. Either way, I definitely feel as though people should be looking at this body of work (unfortunately my exercise in academic perfection is not available anywhere) when engaging in a bit of cyber warfare with somebody regarding #indyref2. Not only will it create a more well-informed debate, it will also give us a better idea of the Scotland we could build if there is a vote for independence.