SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT AT
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”