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Scotland needs economic and public service reform - not constitutional reform - says Policy Exchange

By Jonathan Isaby

Policy Exchange new logo Tom Miers has written a pamphlet published today by Policy Exchange, The Devolution Distraction: How Scotland’s constitutional obsession leads to bad government, which concludes that the not only has the Scottish Parliament not improved Scotland's economy or public services, but that further constitutional tinkering is a distraction from the real reform that is required north of the border.

Miers summarises Scotland's performance since devolution in the following table:

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He goes on to accuse the various political factions in Scotland of avoiding meaningful reform for a variety of reasons:

  • Nationalists have a powerful motive to avoid economic or social  reform because it strengthens the case for constitutional change;
  • For the architects of devolution, including many in the Labour Party, the Scottish Parliament was designed to insulate Scotland from reforms instigated by the UK government. There is a motive to maintain the status quo as the new institutions take root;
  • The opponents of devolution who want to remain engaged in Scotland now crave acceptability. Many Conservatives and businessmen do not want to ‘rock the boat’ by suggesting a new approach;
  • Inaction is encouraged by hostility to developments South of the Border. Reforms undertaken in London are rejected as being Thatcherite, even if implemented by a Labour government. Even ideas that originate in admired countries such as Sweden are abhorred if they subsequently gain credence in England;
  • The vested producer interests that oppose reform are more entrenched in Scotland. 23% of workers are in the public sector compared to 19.8% UK-wide;
  • For the senior commentariat, policy makers and opinion formers, it is more interesting to discuss grand constitutional issues rather than supply side economic and social reforms.

Miers insists that Scotland alraady has the powers it needs to effect change - just that it it failing to use them properly. He makes three key conclusions:

  1. Scotland’s political class should call a generational truce on constitutional matters. The new UK government and other parties should draw a line under the debate by accepting and implementing the Calman Commission proposals, which have the merit of emphasising Scotland’s existing powers rather than extending them significantly.
  2. The Scottish Government and public institutions should insist on a new honesty in assessing success and failure. Monopoly public services should be rigorously and systematically compared against equivalents in other countries.
  3. Scotland’s leaders should embrace a new radicalism. A new sense of optimism and ambition should be applied to the economy, with novel approaches to tax and benefits, planning reform, infrastructure investment and higher education. Public sector reforms should explicitly be modelled on the best systems from around the world. 

Neil O'Brien from Policy Exchange has also written about the subject in the Daily Telegraph today.

Click here to download the full pamphlet.


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