Scot­tish politics did ‘ burst into life’

The Scotsman - - SCOTTISH PERSPECTIV­E - The Holy­rood par­lia­ment has es­tab­lished it­self as a cen­tral part of democ­racy in Scot­land

ri­tain has changed more fun­da­men­tally than it yet re­alises. The writ of our West­min­ster Gov­ern­ment no longer runs un­tram­melled through­out the United King­dom.” So wrote The Scots­man in May 1999 af­ter the first Scot­tish Par­lia­ment election saw the cre­ation of a Labour- Lib­eral Demo­crat coali­tion.

Two years ear­lier, vot­ers had sup­ported the es­tab­lish­ment of the Par­lia­ment by 74 to 26 per cent and agreed that it should have “tax- vary­ing pow­ers” by 63.5 to 36.5 per cent, both de­ci­sive ma­jori­ties that left no one in much doubt about its man­date.

The ‘ will of the peo­ple’ – if such a thing can ever ac­tu­ally ex­ist – was clear.

Two decades on, there is no longer any sig­nif­i­cant de­bate. The Scot­tish Par­lia­ment is firmly es­tab­lished as part of the demo­cratic make- up of Scot­land and, in­deed, the United King­dom.

There were some con­cerns at its birth that the new elec­toral sys­tem – vir­tu­ally de­signed to pro­duce coali­tion and mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ments – might bring trou­ble. “The Ital­ians, French and Ir­ish among our Euro­pean part­ners know from bit­ter ex­pe­ri­ence that coali­tion part­ner­ships can fall apart more quickly than they are formed,” The Scots­man wrote at the time.

But this has un­ques­tion­ably been one of the par­lia­ment’s suc­cesses; suc­ces­sive sta­ble gov­ern­ments may have had to make con­ces­sions from time to time but, still, there has been no de­scent into the feared chaos.

And while it’s far from per­fect, the stan­dard of de­bate is head and shoul­ders above the ‘ yah- boo’ style of West­min­ster where, par­tic­u­larly on the most im­por­tant is­sues, dis­cus­sions all too of­ten take on the char­ac­ter of ex­changes be­tween ri­val fans at a foot­ball match.

Life in Scot­land is dif­fer­ent to that south of the Bor­der. Over­all, we pay slightly more tax, but have free pre­scrip­tions and free per­sonal care for the el­derly; we banned smok­ing in pubs ear­lier than the rest of the UK; land re­form has en­abled com­mu­nity buy­outs.

One thing the par­lia­ment quite ob­vi­ously didn’t do, which for­mer Labour De­fence Sec­re­tary Ge­orge Robert­son and oth­ers claimed it would, is “kill na­tion­al­ism stone dead”.

How­ever, it is fair to say that at least one Scots­man pre­dic­tion from 1999 came true: “De­vo­lu­tion will cer­tainly cre­ate new think­ing ... Scot­tish politics is set to burst into life.”

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