Author Archive

Iain McLean

Iain McLean is Professor of Politics, and Official Fellow, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.

We have just finished an 18-month study of value for money in British policing, which the Police Foundation is kindly helping us launch in the House of Lords on Monday 20 March. Our main finding is that crime, as reported by the public, has not risen since 2010, nor has public confidence in the police declined. As the period has seen a sharp reduction in public expenditure on policing, that suggests that value for money has been improving. The creation of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) in 2012 may have contributed modestly to this result. The study was commissioned by CIPFA (the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy) and conducted by the Gwilym Gibbon Centre for Public Policy at Nuffield College, University of Oxford. …

A long time ago I was a Labour councillor who inadvertently brought down the 1974-9 Labour government. The government could only have lasted a few weeks longer in any case, so I have no regrets. The story deserves retelling, because it has important lessons for today. The Labour government elected in 1974 was the first to realise that it faced an existential threat in Scotland. The Scottish National Party (SNP) won 30 per cent of the vote, but only 15 per cent of the seats, in Scotland in October 1974. The Labour Party’s leaders had forgotten Keir Hardie and Ramsay MacDonald, who both started in politics as campaigners for Scottish home rule. After 1945, Labour became the party of the welfare state, …

The BBC published maps of the Remain and Leave votes on 23 June. The Remain map tells us lots of fascinating things, but this post will focus on the Celtic fringe and the historical context for why people may have voted the way they did. Most of Wales is like most of England, with the metropolitan city (Cardiff) voting Remain and the rest of the country mostly for Leave. Note, however, that there is a little dark (pro-Remain) strip in the north and west. The patterns of settlement laid down centuries ago by the English conquest of Wales still leave their mark as that strip is both Welsh-speaking and Remain-leaning. Welsh speakers take their political cues from Plaid Cymru, which …

The Commission on Local Tax Reform was set up by the Scottish government in February 2015 to consider reform of local government taxation. In this article, submitted as written evidence to the Commission, I make the case for a land value tax (LVT). 1. Local tax should be based on… The value of the land you own. This is for reasons first set out by Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations (WN) Book V. I am pleased that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance referred to this in his speech introducing Land and Buildings Transactions Tax (LBTT). A land value tax is the best of all taxes for three reasons. Land doesn’t move and can’t be hidden. Land tax best satisfies Smith’s canons of taxation (proportionate to benefits received; certain; convenient; non-distorting – see Wealth of Nations, Book V.ii.b) It taxes ground-rents, which Smith calls ‘a still more proper subject of taxation than the rent of houses’, because ‘no discouragement will thereby be given to any sort of industry’.

The Report of the Smith Commission on further devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament is a modest document – only 28 pages long. But it packs a big punch. In summer 2014, Lord Smith delivered the Commonweealth Games in Glasgow without fuss and to budget. By some magic, he has now got all five parties in the Scottish Parliament to agree to a set of proposals, which the UK Government also endorsed as soon as they were published on 27 November. The process involved some huge compromises, on all sides. Smith got all-party agreement to: Embed the Scottish Parliament so that it cannot be abolished by an Act at Westminster; Make statutory the rules for inviting one parliament to …

If the Scots vote Yes on 18 September 2014, they do not know what they will get, apart from the departure of Scottish MPs from Westminster. To borrow Donald Rumsfeld’s useful phrase the remaining terms of independence are ‘known unknowns’. The Scottish negotiators must enter discussions with several counterparties, the main ones being the European Union, NATO, and the rest of the United Kingdom . Let me discuss seven of these ‘known unknowns’.

The Commission on the Consequences of Devolution, also known as the McKay Commission, reported quietly in March 2013. Its remit had been to consider how the Commons should handle legislation that affects only part of the UK, now that domestic policy, to varying degrees, has been devolved to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. It was not, however, instructed not ‘to deal with matters of finance in the context of the devolution settlements or with the representation of the devolved areas at Westminster’. This is Hamlet without the prince: finance and representation are the big unsolved questions in UK devolution. But for news about Claudius, Laertes and Polonius, read on. The Commission examines solutions to the ‘West Lothian Question’ (WLQ) other than cutting the numbers of MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The WLQ, properly stated, relates to the powers of MPs (and in principle peers) not from a given part of the UK to alter legislation that affects only that part. In the past, it has severely affected Scotland, Wales and (Northern) Ireland. The Poll Tax was introduced in Scotland only by an Act which the majority of Scottish MPs opposed. Older examples include the blocking of Welsh church reform from 1868 to 1920, coercion Acts in nineteenth-century Ireland, and the Patronage Act (Scotland) 1711/12, violating the then recent Act of Union. However the WLQ can now only affect England.

When Pope Benedict XVI resigned in February 2013, there was much scrabbling by journalists to establish when last a pope resigned voluntarily. After a bit, they came up with the correct answer. It was in 1294, when the elderly hermit Pietro of Murrone, who had been elected as Celestine V after a two-year deadlock, abruptly resigned after five months and went back to being a hermit, a life he evidently preferred. But Celestine V was remarkable for two things, of which his resignation was but one. The other was his enforcement of the conclave. That distant event has decisively shaped the procedure for electing popes. To see why, we need to understand a lesson from social choice that papal electors learnt the hard way: the trade-off between stability and decisiveness.