Institutions, Transition and National Renewal: The Case for a New Scottish Approach

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Dr Robert Pollock



There shall be a Scottish Parliament, the first words of the Scotland Act, is a sentence that twenty-two years on remains implicitly charged with a promise of a new Scotland. Much has changed since the Parliament’s creation but the seeming potential for profound national advancement carried in this bold assertion seems unrealised. Low productivity, an unbalanced economy, inequality and adversarial national discourse do not indicate that the country has entered a new inclusive epoch of development. 

This paper contends that a redesign of Scotland’s institutional system of governance is needed to promote national socio-economic development and a new economic model based on energy transition. Moreover, such reform is required to increase national resilience and responsiveness in a time of profound environmental change. To address the challenges and opportunities of transition to a net-zero carbon economy, this paper proposes key institutional changes to engender requisite collective and collaborative discourse, planning and action. Although independence would provide Scotland with additional powers, an evident rationale exists for institutional reform irrespective of the impending constitutional reckoning in order to respond to climate change in a manner that creates a more equitable, sustainable and productive economy. 

Although the case for redesign of Scotland’s institutional system is applicable across the policy landscape, the paper focuses on decarbonisation. By adopting this lens, the contention is informed by the actuality of a pressing national priority. It is a topical reference given the Scottish Government’s establishment of a Just Transition Commission and a 2045 target for net-zero emissions; whilst profound, existential questions about the oil and gas sector loom large. The paper is divided into a number of sequential parts. Firstly, there is consideration of the need for institutional reform placed within the context of decarbonisation. To this end, the paper explores Scotland’s experience with offshore wind to identify lessons for creating an institutional architecture to realise the potential of urgent decarbonisation. In turn, changes to Scotland’s institutional system are proposed, before consideration of the impact of both action and inaction. Subsequently, barriers to achieving these new institutional arrangements are identified. Penultimately, the paper considers who should engage with this issue and why, before concluding with outline recommendations.   

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