Public Release: 

Devolution has meant growing policy differences between Scotland, Wales and England

Economic & Social Research Council

Significantly different approaches to key public policy issues have emerged in Scotland and Wales since devolution, as the new administrations in Edinburgh and Cardiff have rejected consumer choice and diversity in favour of professionalism and uniformity.

This is one of the key findings in a new study by researchers from the University of Aberdeen and Cardiff University. Their research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, as part of its Devolution and Constitutional Change Programme.

Michael Keating, Professor of Scottish Politics at the University of Aberdeen, explains: "The Labour Party may be the dominant political force in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff. But Scotland and Wales have stuck more to the traditional social democratic model of public service delivery.

"This has led them to stress non-selectivity, professionalism and uniformity, while rejecting foundation hospitals, star-rated hospitals, school league tables, beacon councils, elite universities and selective schools. Scotland also scrapped up-front university tuition fees and rejected top-up fees. At the same time, free care for the elderly has been introduced north of the border."

The researchers identified several factors which may explain this difference. "There's a different policy style in Scotland and Wales, where there is a much greater emphasis on the public sector professional," says co-researcher John Loughlin, Professor of European Studies at Cardiff University.

"And those professionals tend to be more supportive than their English counterparts of universal services. There are also different political pressures. Polling evidence suggests that Scottish voters are somewhat more supportive of redistribution than English voters. More importantly, Labour in Scotland and Wales faces more competition from the left, through nationalist parties and the Scottish Socialists. In England, the government needs to appeal to the middle classes who otherwise might opt out of the welfare state."

A quarter of the population in the South East of England has private medical insurance, compared to just ten per cent of Scots. And eleven per cent of SE pupils go to private schools, compared with just three per cent of Scottish pupils.

The researchers looked in detail at higher education and rural policies. "In higher education, the differences extended beyond fees, particularly in Scotland," says Prof Keating. "Scottish policy makers tend to work collaboratively with the universities. They never had the sort of 'naming and shaming' which the Quality Assurance Agency inspections brought in England, focusing on co-operative approaches to improving performance instead."

Prof Loughlin adds: "And while the English approach has emphasised management, regulation and differentiation, the Scottish approach has stressed professional autonomy, consensus, egalitarianism and policy learning. Though Wales is more constrained than Scotland, it too has sought to develop a more egalitarian approach to higher education."

Two aspects of rural policy were particularly important: reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and the response to the 2001 foot and mouth crisis.

"The presence of the Liberal Democrats in the coalition led the Scottish government to take a more pro-farmer position than England," adds Prof Keating. "Pressure from hill farmers meant they were cool about the idea being suggested that a proportion of farmers' payments be set aside for a rural development fund. With extra Treasury funding, it was able to develop a different approach to the new system and negotiate variations in European Union policy for Scotland."

Prof Loughlin adds: "Welsh ministers felt constrained both by the limits of devolution and EU law from setting up their own emergency services, which they believe could have eradicated foot and mouth disease more quickly, and from treating Welsh cattle differently. However, devolution proved particularly effective in Northern Ireland, where the agriculture minister quickly closed the ports and secured cross-community co-operation to eradicate the disease more speedily than the rest of the UK."

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, CONTACT:

Professor Michael Keating at the European University Institute on (0039) 055 4685 250; or Email: keating@iue.it
Or Professor John Loughlin at Cardiff University on 07779 297052, 0032 495 333 243 or Email: loughlin@cf.ac.uk

Or Iain Stewart, Lesley Lilley or Becky Gammon at ESRC, on 01793 413032/413119/413122

NOTES FOR EDITORS

1. The report "Devolution and Public Policy: Divergence or Convergence?" was carried out by Professor Michael Keating and Linda Stevenson (Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Aberdeen); and Professor John Loughlin (School of European Studies, Cardiff University). Prof Keating also holds a chair in Regions at the European University Institute in Florence.

2. Their research was based on interviews with interest groups, civil servants and politicians in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 1999-2000 and again in 2003-4, at different stages of devolution. They also analysed key data, documents and legislation.

3. The research was funded through the ESRC's Devolution and Constitutional Change Programme. For more information about the programme, visit www.devolution.ac.uk.

4. The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It provides independent, high-quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC invests more than £93 million every year in social science and at any time is supporting some 2,000 researchers in academic institutions and research policy institutes. It also funds postgraduate training within the social sciences to nurture the researchers of tomorrow. More at http://www.esrc.ac.uk/

5. REGARD is the ESRC's database of research. It provides a key source of information on ESRC social science research awards and all associated publications and products. The website can be found at http://www.regard.ac.uk/

6. The ESRC confirms the quality of its funded research by evaluating research projects through a process of peer review. Sometimes the ESRC publishes research before this process is finished so that new findings can immediately inform business, Government, media and other organisations. This research is waiting for final comments from academic peers.

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