Academic journal article German Policy Studies

Evidence, Learning and Intelligent Government: Reflections on Developments in Scotland

Academic journal article German Policy Studies

Evidence, Learning and Intelligent Government: Reflections on Developments in Scotland

Article excerpt

1 Introduction

The role of the 'Scottish Enlightenment' in the development of ideas that define the character of our civilization is beyond dispute; in Buchan's view it "shaped the West with its modern scientific and provisional character" and "created a world that headed towards the egalitarian and, within reason, the democratic" (Buchan 2003: 336). The key thinkers in Scotland--Francis Hutcheson, Adam Smith, David Hume, Sir John Sinclair, Hugh Blair--were important figures in the wider body of philosophes across Europe who challenged the 'dead hand' of political and religious authority, heralding a period of critical reflection and analysis, of independent thought and sharing of ideas through open discussion and debate (Broadie 2001; Porter 2001). As Porter (2001) argues, the Enlightenment is commonly thought of as a French phenomenon, associated with such thinkers as Voltaire, Diderot, Condorcet and Rousseau, but there was a distinctive British contribution reflecting the social, political and economic context of late seventeenth and early eighteenth century Britain, where there was a very practical concern to make new political settlements work and to promote economic growth and prosperity. This practical orientation was particularly strong in Scotland; many of the key figures had links with government, business and commerce and had a focus on improvement and the practical application of their ideas. According to Buchan (2003: 273), "ambition for improvement and ethical earnestness ... combined with what Johnson ... called 'all solid practical experimental knowledge'." Christie (1995) is emphatic about the distinctive contribution of the Scottish Enlightenment:

  The Scots, living through a period of
  visibly rapid economic, social and
  cultural transformation, realized and
  faced the meaning of that trans
  formation earlier and more profoundly
  than other centers of Enlightenment,
  and it is in exactly that dialectic
  tension that the distinctive significance
  of the Scottish Enlightenment resides
  (Christie 1995: 481).

Important features of the Scottish context were the strength of market processes, a broader involvement of civil society in economic and cultural development and the close association between intellectual, social and political life (Christie 1995). These features can be seen as underpinning its influence and its legacy; the ideas still influence the Scottish outlook and ambition and they still have strong relevance to the contemporary tasks of government. As Grayling argues in relation to the Enlightenment more generally, the legacy "survives in the reliance placed on the public, repeatable and conditional methods of science at their best, and on the idea that responsibility in public affairs is essentially a matter of rationality, evidence, and reflective judgment" (Grayling 2008: xxv). These are challenging times for governments seeking to preserve their credibility and legitimacy while the fundamental tasks become increasingly difficult. The nature of the challenge facing policy makers in government is summarized by Bullock et al. (2001) as follows:

  The world for which policy-makers have to develop
  policies is becoming increasingly complex, uncertain and
  unpredictable. The electorate is better informed, has rising
  expectations and is making increasing demands for
  services tailored to their individual needs. Key policy
  issues, such as social exclusion and reducing crime,
  overlap and have proved resistant to previous attempts to
  tackle them, yet the world is increasingly inter-connected
  and inter-dependent (Bullock et al. 2001: 15).

Lodge and Kalitowski argue that: "Societies are more complex and less governable than ever before" (Lodge and Kalitkowski 2007: 7) and that these trends are undermining the legitimacy of governments. Indeed, Chapman has argued that there is "a perceived crisis in the ability of government to deliver improved performance in key areas of public service" (Chapman 2004: 23) Much has been written by the OECD about the pressures faced by governments in meeting the challenges posed by contemporary society and their efforts at reform (OECD 2005, 2010). …

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