New ideas for a new time: Scotland’s place in a new union

Published: 28 October 2014

Policy Scotland, a hub for policy research based at the University of Glasgow, has contributed to the present debate centred around the Smith Commission

Policy Scotland, a hub for policy research based at the University of Glasgow, has launched a working paper alongside plans for a programme of events that seek to make a major and novel contribution into the present debate centred around the Smith Commission.

The paper written by Duncan Maclennan, Des McNulty and Ken Gibb, has been submitted to the Smith Commission, arguing that decisions about powers for the Scottish Parliament have to take account of a wider set of fiscal and governance arrangements that need to be reshaped if a new union is to function effectively:

  1. What choices about powers for the Scottish Parliament will deliver real autonomy and provide significant enhancements in Scotland’s capability to move towards objectives of increased prosperity and social justice.
  2. How do additional powers for Scotland fit with moves towards a more federal set of arrangements, involving both devolving and sharing finances and decentralising local accountability and decision-making, across the UK?
  3. What degree of decentralisation should operate at regional, metropolitan and local authority levels in the UK and in Scotland? 
  4. How can we learn from other established and emerging federal and decentralising systems in other parts of the world?
  5. How do we translate these ideas into practical proposals that can be debated with a range of civic stakeholders and political participants so that the consequences and responsibilities of devolving financial powers can be fully understood and the new mechanisms fleshed out?

The working paper recognises that the Smith Commission’s timetable makes it unlikely that these complex and multi-level issues could be fully explored and assessed during the legislative timetable. However, it is vital that space is created to debate these important questions. To this end our work programme, covering the period till early February 2015, conceives of an ‘Ideasnet’: a series of linked seminars, colloquiums and related workshops where these ideas will be fully explored by a range of national and international experts. This will be published in a series of working papers with a final report in February 2015.

The lead author of the working paper, Professor Duncan Maclennan, said: “Our starting focus is the benefits that can be derived from empowering the devolved administrations, regions and metropolitan regions to drive forward the economic prosperity and social cohesion of their areas while contributing more effectively to economic success and social justice. This allows us to look upwards to national and global concerns as well as more locally towards neighbourhoods and communities.”

The Director of Policy Scotland, Professor Kenneth Gibb said: “Policy Scotland is committed to innovative processes in both catalysing and delivering knowledge production and mobilisation for sub-national public policies.  We also seek to change the current UK debate in two ways. First, drawing on our own expertise and through alliances with key research groups in other cities and regions, we seek to shape the UK governance debate from ‘below’. Second, we propose to develop not a centrally based think tank but a regionally distributed policy ‘Ideasnet’, a network of points of debate on the future governance of the union.


Notes for Editors:

  1. Media enquiries: / 01413307126
  2. Professor Maclennan is available for interview. Please contact him at:
  3. Brief biographies of the authors are set out in an appendix below.
  4. The working paper is available online at the Policy Scotland website:
  5. A programme of events relating to the work programme will be posted on the website along with related papers, blogs, audio-visual materials and discussion events.


Appendix (about the authors):

Duncan Maclennan is Professor of Public Policy at the University of Glasgow and Professor Strategic Urban Management and Finance at the University of St Andrews. After serving as Special Adviser to First Ministers Donald Dewar and Henry McLeish (1999-2002) he worked as a Chief Economist in the Government of Victoria (Australia) and Chief Economist in the Federal Department for Infrastructure and Cities in Canada before returning to Scotland in 2009.

Des McNulty is Deputy Director of Policy Scotland. He returned to an academic career as a public policy and knowledge exchange specialist following twelve years as a member of the Scottish Parliament in which he served in various Ministerial, Opposition spokesperson and committee roles including nearly five years as Chair of the Parliament’s Finance Committee. Before entering Parliament he occupied a number of senior roles in local government at Glasgow City and Strathclyde Regional Councils and served on Greater Glasgow Health Board.

Kenneth Gibb is Director of Policy Scotland and a professor of housing economics at the University of Glasgow. He is a member of the What Works Scotland team, an advisor to the Shelter Scotland Housing & Wellbeing Commission and has in the past acted as a committee advisor in the Scottish Parliament on housing matters. In recent years he has led research projects on work incentives (Joseph Rowntree Foundation), the impact of welfare reform (Scottish Government) and specifically on the spare room subsidy/bedroom tax (welfare Reform Committee of the Scottish Parliament).

First published: 28 October 2014

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