It is now fifteen years ago that major legislative powers were devolved to the Scottish Parliament and its executive, now called the Scottish Government.
Since then, the debate about Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom has intensified with the growing electoral success of the Scottish National Party. This has coincided with more powers being devolved to the Parliament. Under the Scotland Act (2012), stamp duty for commercial and residential property is now devolved to Holyrood, with greater control over income tax to follow alongside new borrowing powers.
On September 18th this year, after a prolonged debate and political campaign, the Scottish people voted in a referendum to reject full independence and stay in the UK, thus endorsing the concept of a devolved Scottish Government and Parliament sharing power with the rest of the UK.
Changes have and will continue to be made to the range of powers devolved, with all main Unionist parties promising further devolution during the campaign itself. These are set to be specified within a tight timescale and implemented next year.
But the essential constitutional question has now been settled, at least for the time being. So now is the moment to change our primary focus away from what powers should the Scottish Government have to how it should use them.
Scotland faces serious economic and social problems and the Scottish Government has major powers to tackle them. It controls nearly two thirds of government spending, controls most of the big domestic public services, and has major economic powers, including over taxes, economic development, infrastructure and land use planning.
How has the Scottish Government performed so far?
The first step in deciding how further to develop public policy, promote prosperity and deliver high quality public services is to understand how we are doing at the moment.
The purpose of this series of articles is to provide clear measurement of the Scottish Government’s performance in its most important areas of responsibility. This should be measured over time, with annual updates to assess progress.
But it is not enough to look at Scotland in isolation. Too often Scottish policy makers and commentators seek to measure performance against arbitrary internal benchmarks, particularly when considering public services. We can only understand performance properly in an international context. A fall in treatment waiting times, or changes in exam results are largely meaningless if much greater success is achieved with similar budgets elsewhere.
After all, when measuring the headline performance of the economy. we routinely compare Scotland both with the UK as a whole and with other countries. It is taken for granted that indicators of economic growth, for example, are largely meaningless in isolation from a wider international context.
The same should surely be true of other performance measures, of the health service, schools and so on. But in practice the Scottish Government is making it harder to compare ourselves with our peers in other countries.
The Performance of the Scottish Government therefore looks at Scotland by comparison with other countries wherever possible.
Much good work is done in Scotland measuring government activity – by the Scottish Government itself, public sector organisations, third party arbiters like Audit Scotland, as well as private sector companies and academic institutions. But not enough of it is done on a meaningful comparative basis with the rest of the world that we live in. The Performance of the Scottish Government attempts to redress that imbalance.
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