Three Elephants In The Room

18 Dec 2006

Christmas Newsletter

Scotland sometimes seems obsessed with constitutional matters. Or at least its ‘commentariat’ of newspaper columnists, politicians, think-tanks and academics is.

Looking back over the last few years, the Policy Institute has contributed its fair share to this debate. In 2006 alone we published Restoring Liberties, by Craig Smith, on how to mould an ideal liberal constitution. Then there was The Economic Case for Fiscal Autonomy by Professors Ronald MacDonald and Paul Hallwood. Finally we produced a version of The Political Economy of Devolution by Donald Mackay and David Bell. Look out for a sequel to this, proposing practical reforms to the devolution settlement, early next year. All are available on our web site, (along with other recent papers on topics such as university funding and built heritage).

It’s right that we should think carefully about the governance of Scotland, and the institutional framework that will get the best out of our politicians. But as we approach another Holyrood election, is it not time to reflect on what MSPs have done with their existing powers?

Three elephants

Devolution bestowed powers on the Scottish Parliament primarily in three great areas of public policy: Health, Education and Criminal Justice. In all three, Scotland faces major problems and institutional weaknesses compared to other developed nations.

We would do well to ask ourselves what exactly MSPs have done over the last eight years to tackle these elephants in the room. Have they learnt from the policing reforms that have transformed inner cities in the USA? Have they studied the healthcare industries of continental Europe, where waiting lists are unheard of and MRSA a distant nightmare? And what about Europe’s excellent schools, which seem to turn out such well-educated and civilised young people?

Fortunately the Policy Institute is here to help. On February 13th we will be holding a debate on How To Save Scotland’s NHS, with Gillian Bowditch, Dr Andrew Walker and Dr Anna Gregor. Look out for your invitations in the New Year.
We have also commissioned a study to get to the bottom of how good are Scotland’s schools really? which will be published early in 2007.

In June we published Prisons and the Family, by Clive Fairweather CBE, which examined the link between crime and the experience of prison. We’re on the look out for more good authors with good ideas on policing and crime – suggestions most welcome.

Debate on the Scottish Economy

In addition to these three, the devolved Executive has considerable influence over Scotland’s economic performance, and the ongoing arguments about the constitution are usually conducted with economic possibilities and consequences in mind.

Our flagship debate of 2007, hosted by HBoS plc, will therefore bring together two of Scotland’s foremost economists, Professor Brian Ashcroft of the Fraser of Allander Institute, and Professor David Bell of Stirling University. You won’t find two more lucid, authoritative and stimulating guides to the economic issues at stake in modern Scotland. Again, invitations will be sent out in the New Year, but pencil in the early evening of 28th February.

The New Land Economy

Finally, a word on our latest publication (see enclosed). The Scottish Parliament may have just passed a bill reforming land-use planning, but the debate is far from over. However streamlined the process, the planning system will remain one of the few areas of economic activity still wholly run by the state. As such it suffers from all the familiar ailments of poor resource distribution and faulty decision making.

Intriguingly, certain developments in Scotland suggest how we might introduce market forces into this side of our economic life, with exciting implications for transport and other infrastructure such as post offices too. Could Scotland become a pioneer in this field? Do take a look at The New Land Economy.

We look forward to seeing you in the New Year. In the meantime we wish you a merry Christmas.

Bill Jamieson Tom Miers

Director Executive Director