SCOT­TISH PAR­LIA­MENT AT

The Scotsman - - SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT - Com­ment Brian Mon­teith

Ad­mit it, by its own terms the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment has been a fail­ure You will not hear any­one in our po­lit­i­cal class say­ing this; that would be to re­pu­di­ate all they be­lieve they have achieved, but the ev­i­dence points that way.

The Scot­tish Par­lia­ment has been a curse po­lit­i­cally for those it was meant to help.

No one in charge of Labour or the Lib­eral Democrats, the two main par­ties con­sis­tently pro­mot­ing de­vo­lu­tion in the eight­ies and nineties can ad­mit it has failed to live up to their ex­pec­ta­tions. Where once it was the dom­i­nant po­lit­i­cal force in Scot­land, Labour has been routed at the polls and con­tin­ues to strug­gle to re­cover even sec­ond place. While the Lib­eral Democrats tasted power for eight years they have been all but wiped out and are back to be­ing a mar­ginal party again.

For all those par­ties de­liv­ered de­vo­lu­tion it did not se­cure them the ev­er­last­ing thanks of the Scot­tish peo­ple.

The Con­ser­va­tive & Union­ist Party, al­though some­times di­vided on de­vo­lu­tion, be­came the main bar­rier to it un­der Pre­miers Thatcher and Ma­jor. Then, hav­ing been oblit­er­ated in the 1997 UK gen­eral election, it bounced back – thanks, iron­i­cally, to the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment’s pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion it had so vo­cif­er­ously op­posed. Af­ter a brief im­prove­ment in for­tunes un­der David Mcletchie’s able lead­er­ship it then de­clined af­ter his de­par­ture, fall­ing to the party’s low­est level of sup­port ever, polling less than 13 per cent un­der Annabel Goldie. De­vo­lu­tion was not turn­ing round the for­tunes of the Scot­tish Tories, quite the re­verse.

Then some­thing strange hap­pened. Goldie, the arch union­ist, opened the door for Alex Sal­mond by giv­ing his mi­nor­ity SNP ad­min­is­tra­tion an in­for­mal sup­port for its bud­gets. Sal­mond never looked back.

Yes the Scot­tish Tories have re­cently en­joyed a re­vival – ac­tu­ally forg­ing into sec­ond place as the of­fi­cial op­po­si­tion – but this has been thanks to the sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship that their com­bat­ive leader Ruth Davidson en­joys with First Min­is­ter Ni­cola Stur­geon in cham­pi­oning the Union against her threat of independen­ce. Take that threat away and Davidson’s Conservati­ves must prove they are not then the “same old Tories”. Where de­vo­lu­tion was once ex­tin­guish­ing the Tories it is the threat of sep­a­ra­tion that is re­viv­ing them.

In­deed the only true po­lit­i­cal ben­e­fi­ciary of de­vo­lu­tion has been the SNP – who we should re­mem­ber cam­paigned right up un­til the eleventh hour against the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment, ar­gu­ing it would only be a talk­ing shop.

Af­ter the SNP chose to leave the Con­sti­tu­tional Con­ven­tion that kept the flame of de­vo­lu­tion alive, Sal­mond had to be en­cour­aged to join the Yes Yes cam­paign – a de­ci­sion that ef­fec­tively guar­an­teed the num­bers to win the ref­er­en­dum.

While many in the Labour Party be­lieved, and in­deed boasted, de­vo­lu­tion would kill the SNP “stone dead” it has in­stead brought them power to the point of achiev­ing the un­thought- of out­come of over­all con­trol in 2011. The party slipped back to mi­nor­ity rule again in 2016 ( this time sup­ported in­for­mally by the Greens af­ter the Tories learned their les­son) but the SNP re­mains

Mon­teith says the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment has failed in the moral and prac­ti­cal world

the dom­i­nant force and looks set to con­tinue as the largest group, al­though it may yet lose the abil­ity to rule if union­ist par­ties can bury their dif­fer­ences and pro­vide a joint al­ter­na­tive.

Look­ing be­yond the po­lit­i­cal di­men­sion the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment has also failed in the moral and prac­ti­cal world. We were told a Scot­tish Par­lia­ment would pre­vent any­thing like a Poll Tax hap­pen­ing again, it was de­nied that taxes would rise and was claimed gov­ern­ment would be­come more open and ac­count­able. Yet de­spite some ground- break­ing leg­is­la­tion Scot­land has be­come the high­est taxed and en­dured the most se­cre­tive gov­ern­ment in the whole of the UK.

John Swin­ney’s Scot­tish re­place­ment for Stamp Duty has been an un­mit­i­gated dis­as­ter in de­press­ing the prop­erty mar­ket and is hun­dreds of mil­lions be­hind in rev­enue pro­jec­tions. All ad­min­is­tra­tions have sought to in­crease busi­ness taxes, ei­ther openly or by sleight

of hand. Un­der the SNP in­come tax in­creases have grad­u­ally come about mak­ing Scot­land the UK’S high­est tax ju­ris­dic­tion. Ad­di­tional taxes are in vogue, for tourism, the en­vi­ron­ment and park­ing – mak­ing a non­sense of the claim Scot­land would never be the soli­tary na­tional guinea pig for new taxes in Bri­tain. While pub­lic aus­ter­ity is a thing of the past in the rest of the UK, Holy­rood has voted to de­liver its own, cut­ting bud­gets in lo­cal au­thor­i­ties.

De­spite free­dom of in­for­ma­tion

( or maybe be­cause of it) we have a Holy­rood gov­ern­ment that has meet­ings with­out tak­ing min­utes, loses e- mails that could pro­vide doc­u­men­tary ev­i­dence around crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions – and de­fends it­self in court against at­tempts to re­veal the ad­vice of le­gal coun­sel it claimed to have but which never ex­isted! When pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion has gone wrong ( such as in the 2000 Higher Still ex­ams and short­com­ings of in­fra­struc­ture projects) Scot­tish min­is­ters have hid­den be­hind the grow­ing num­ber of Scot­tish gov­ern­ment agen­cies that re­main wholly un­ac­count­able.

In­stead of de­volv­ing power down to lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment has presided over the cen­tral­i­sa­tion of power in Ed­in­burgh, na­tion­al­is­ing the po­lice, fire and am­bu­lance ser­vices. Claims

that ed­u­ca­tion, health and trans­port would im­prove have been dashed by real re­sults in all sec­tors that show a de­cline in­ter­na­tion­ally or do­mes­ti­cally in pupil at­tain­ment – to health out­comes – to pot­holes. Many of the suc­cesses Holy­rood has had, such as es­tab­lish­ing the Queens­ferry Cross­ing and Na­tional Theatre, were sim­i­larly achieved un­der the pre­vi­ous gov­er­nance, by way of Scot­tish Opera and the Forth Road Bridge.

Most ap­palling of all is how di­vided Scot­land now is.

De­vo­lu­tion has not sated the dragon of independen­ce, it has fed it. It has done so be­cause it cre­ated ex­pec­ta­tions that could not be re­alised and en­cour­aged the idea that only full sovereignt­y will make the dif­fer­ence. Yet with a struc­tural deficit that re­quires a mas­sive an­nual sub­sidy from the UK ev­ery year, run­ning up over £ 150 bil­lion of debt, it’s more re­straint it needs.

It is even hav­ing to give pow­ers back on wel­fare and Vat that it can­not han­dle.

Call de­vo­lu­tion a suc­cess if you like, the ev­i­dence sug­gest quite the re­verse. But, you know, flags and free stuff…

“Most ap­palling of all is how di­vided Scot­land now is. De­vo­lu­tion has not sated the dragon of independen­ce, it has fed it”

0 Brian

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