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The ‘British Policy Style’ and Mental Health: Beyond the Headlines

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 October 2009

Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen AB243QY email:


Recent Mental Health Acts provide evidence of diverging UK and Scottish government policy styles. The UK legislative process lasted almost ten years following attempts by ministers to impose decisions and an unprecedented level of sustained opposition from interest groups. In contrast, the consultation process in Scotland was consensual, producing high levels of stakeholder ‘ownership’. This article considers two narratives on the generalisability of this experience. The first suggests that it confirms a ‘majoritarian’ British policy style, based on the centralisation of power afforded by a first-past-the-post electoral system (Lijphart, 1999). Diverging styles are likely because widespread hopes for consensus politics in the devolved territories have been underpinned by proportional representation. The second suggests that most policy-making is consensual, based on the diffusion of power across policy sectors and the ‘logic of consultation’ between governments and interest groups (Jordan and Richardson, 1982). The legislative process deviated temporarily from the ‘normal’ British policy style which is more apparent when we consider mental health policy as a whole. Overall, the evidence points to more than one picture of British styles; it suggests that broad conclusions on ‘majoritarian’ systems must be qualified by detailed empirical investigation.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2009

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