Evidence on policy making for equality in Scotland
Policy development is a subject of significant interest for researchers globally. In Scotland, this research has very rarely related to race equality policy.
However, a small number of relevant recent publications can be identified. The most relevant of these is perhaps mixed-method research carried out by Professor Nasar Meer as part of his Royal Society of Edinburgh Personal Research Fellowship between 2014-2020.
Some highlights from his findings included (summarised / paraphrased from narrative):
- Policy actors lack a consensus on the underlying causes of racial inequality, in ways which may impede policy making
- Rather than having a completely distinct approach to race equality policy, Scotland 'orbits' around existing policy settlements (e.g. those of the UK Government)
- Scottish exceptionalism and the view that Scotland is 'not racist' in comparison to England has resulted in a degree of complacency, and is not borne out by the evidence on structural racism and racial discrimination
- Under-reporting of racial discrimination and evidence on experiences of racial microaggression may support the theory that surviving racial discrimination is a normalised strategy for minority ethnic people in Scotland
- The conventional position within Government has involved reticence to address race and racism, making individual motivations and objectives less relevant to whether racial inequalities are sustained or not
- Race equality, unlike other areas of policy, has explicit links to belonging and Scottish national identity
Professor Meer found that the Race Equality Framework for Scotland had the potential to create a distinctive future direction (although this is not certain), and that the consultation programme undertaken in its formation went well beyond anything previously attempted in Scotland.
In relation to gender equality, the First Minister's National Advisory Council on Women and Girls (NACWG) has commissioned a study of gender equality policy making within Scottish Government. Not all of the findings are echoed by this review, however some important points of commonality can be seen.
The report's focus on strengths and weaknesses within structures and systems come from a standpoint which fits well with anti-racist practice. Its discussion of the policy making process as 'messy', with policy actors 'jumping' between different parts of the policy cycle (with the impact of power, human psychology and bounded rationality throughout) provides a more realistic appraisal of policy making than the common understanding of a linear process; a series of choices made by rational actors.
Many of the positive factors needed to drive forward equality policy making on gender equality identified within the report apply equally to race. The most relevant of these are (verbatim):
- Relationships - the need to develop positive, trusted, open and sustained relationships across system boundaries; both externally and internally to government
- Scottish Government policy makers have 'convening power' and can bring stakeholders together quickly to gain insights, develop shared agendas and facilitate action
- Political and civic leaders can mobilise and energise efforts towards gender equality by offering trust and permission for staff and volunteers to act
- Action is often undertaken when policy actors within the system cede power to enable others to act to support gender equality
- Capacity can be improved by increasing the number of people supporting and coordinating policy efforts through a gender lens
- Policy makers are required to work across system boundaries, share and connect with others who are working towards gender equality
- Policy makers who take up the role of 'host' can facilitate others and bring together people who may not normally have their voices heard around the impact of policy on their lives
- Policy makers have a role in holding themselves and other policy actors to account for their actions and inaction around gender equality
- Policy makers have success in progressing gender issues when they understand the organisational norms, culture and power dynamics within the organisation and use that knowledge and understanding to progress a gender equality agenda
This report included a systems mapping exercise to identify the links between gender equality policy across a range of actors, organisations, programmes and policies in Scotland. This exercise developed a visual map of how policy is made in Scotland, identifying key areas (system touchpoints) which enable access to/influence over policy development.
This may be something to consider undertaking in regard to race equality, particularly as work to implement the recommendations of the Expert Reference Group on Covid-19 and Ethnicity is taken forward. The increasing development of strands of race equality work across directorates and national agencies creates a considerable risk of policy incoherence which requires mitigation.
Studies of policy making in the round often have limited applicability to race equality policy, which has distinctive features creating additional challenges. Some of the distinctive features of race equality policy which can be observed include:
- Although it may be led by civil servants with specific responsibility for race equality policy, they cannot make decisions alone because the required outcomes and actions sit across almost all Scottish Government directorates; this increases the importance of mainstreaming and capacity building
- Civil servants in the relevant directorates are required to contribute to decision making on race equality policy, and they will sometimes lack the capacity, commitment or impetus to do this effectively
- Direction and leadership on race equality is not guaranteed across the range of directorates involved
- Despite momentum building in certain directorates and national agencies over recent years, historical reticence towards discussion of race and racism in the Scottish policy environment has not fully subsided
Although not specific to race equality policy, some headline findings from the programme of research conducted by What Works Scotland on public service reform are relevant to making race equality policy effective:
- Public services work best when they are a 'learning organisation'. This requires a collaborative approach to both learning and research
- Evaluation is most useful when it measures outcomes that are relevant to communities
- There is no 'one size fits all' approach to either generating or using evidence; it takes time and demands resource
At UK level, Dr. Stephen Ashe's recent review of recommendations on race equality over the past 40 years set out eight overarching lessons for policy drawn from thematic analysis of over 500 recommendations, all of which are relevant for the Scottish context and supported by the findings of this review (verbatim):
- Addressing disconnect between both legislation and its enforcement/implementation, and between policy and practice
- The adoption of holistic approaches based upon collaboration between, and the coordination of the work being done by, various government departments at both the national and local levels, as well as collaboration between government agencies, employers and community groups
- Calls for further research, as well as regular, improved and standardised forms of data collection which measures and monitors the nature of racism, racial inequality and the effectiveness of policy interventions
- The introduction of, or changes to existing, training and educational programmes
- Addressing racism and racial inequality through improved forms of communication and through disclosure and transparency, particularly in relation to publishing data which measure, monitor, and evaluate the effectiveness of policies and actions taken to address racism and racial inequality
- Proposals in relation to the recruitment, retention and career progression of ethnic minority people, and addressing the lack of representation of ethnic and racial minority people in senior leadership positions
- Establishing accountability and responsibility, at both the organisational and senior leadership levels, through the introduction of targets and performance indicators
- Establishing independent oversight, investigations and reviews, particularly in matters relating to complaints procedures and reports of racism procedures, as well as handing independent bodies the power to carry out routine inspections and issue compliance notices
The issue of disconnect at the first of the above points is echoed in relation to Scottish race equality policy in a 2016 publication from the Runnymede Trust, which raised concern over "...the gap between what is espoused in the policy elite group, what is said in announced policy and then what is happening on the ground."