The Political Costs of Policy Coherence: Constructing a Rural Policy for Scotland

Alexander Grant Jordan, Darren Halpin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)


It is not hard to find the complaint that a group of policies are incoherent, operate in silos or are unintegrated. The aspiration to coherence is widespread across all political systems: it is today's idea in good currency. Scholarship has identified conditions that support coherence: a strong constituency with a shared policy image. This article confirms that these are vital sources of more or less coherence, but explores the question of whether more coherence in one area comes at the cost of incoherence elsewhere.

Case study detail contrasts the Scottish Executive's projection of a unified rural policy, with the reality of a persistent Scottish agricultural sector, with contending (multiple) publics with separate and often conflicting agendas: the case study found no unified policy community with shared perceptions. While a lack of coordination may simply be the manifestation of poor policymaking, this piece argues that in other cases the practical limitations on policy harmonization have to be acknowledged. Imperfectly coordinated rural policy may be inevitable as coordination in particular niches is often a casualty of competing priorities. This article argues against over ambitious expectations about the feasibility of integration. Accordingly it suggests that the project to rid policy practice of incoherence is too heroic: instead this article rediscovers the virtues of bargaining among informed and relevant participants, and incremental politics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-41
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Public Policy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - May 2006


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