Holy­rood urged to be more ‘ for­ward- think­ing’ in the next 20 years


“There shall be a Scot­tish Par­lia­ment. I like that.”

Those were the words fa­mously ut­tered by Don­ald De­war – who went on to be­come the orig­i­nal First Min­is­ter at Holy­rood – as he un­veiled the leg­is­la­tion that led to the cre­ation of the de­volved ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Af­ter decades of cam­paign­ing and two ref­er­en­dums – one in 1979 and one in 1997 – it was Tony Blair ’s Labour gov­ern­ment that es­tab­lished the Par­lia­ment in Ed­in­burgh that came into be­ing 20 years ago.

On 6 May 1999, Scots went to the polls to elect the first group of MSPS.

Among those voted in were Mr De­war – who had been Mr Blair ’s Scot­tish sec­re­tary – and the cur­rent First Min­is­ter Ni­cola Stur­geon.

They were joined by for­mer TV weather pre­sen­ter Lloyd Quinan and the UK’S first elected Green par­lia­men­tar­ian, Robin Harper.

In his speech at the of­fi­cial open­ing of the Par­lia­ment, Mr De­war hailed it as a “turn­ing point” and the “day when democ­racy was re­newed in Scot­land”.

Two decades, on politics ex­pert Pro­fes­sor James Mitchell said the “most strik­ing thing” about the Par­lia­ment is how it has es­tab­lished it­self at the heart of Scot­tish life.

“It just seems part of the fur­ni­ture of politics and is just taken for granted,” he said.

But Prof Mitchell, of the Univer­sity of Ed­in­burgh, said for the “most part” Holy­rood had been con­ser­va­tive in pol­icy- mak­ing and “has not been par­tic­u­larly bold”.

He said: “It hasn’t sat­is­fied those who hoped it would take Scot­land in a dif­fer­ent, rad­i­cal di­rec­tion.”

While de­vo­lu­tion saw Scot­land be­come the first part of the UK to out­law smok­ing in pub­lic places, Prof Mitchell said: “Most peo­ple for­get the Ex­ec­u­tive was op­posed to the smok­ing ban ini­tially and it had to be pulled into what was hap­pen­ing by pri­vate mem­bers and learn­ing from else­where.”

He claimed the Par­lia­ment had been “con­ceived as a neg­a­tive, as a way of de­fend­ing Scot­land from Con­ser­va­tive rule”, re­call­ing: “It was the ‘ stop Thatcher at the Bor­der’ rhetoric of the 80s and 90s, and in that way it has been suc­cess­ful in that there are a lot of poli­cies where ... Scot­land has gone its own way.”

As well as the smok­ing ban, the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment has in­tro­duced free per­sonal care for el­derly peo­ple and has scrapped tuition fees for Scot­tish stu­dents at the coun­try’s uni­ver­si­ties.

Prof Mitchell said the early years of de­vo­lu­tion had ben­e­fited from the “phe­nom­e­nal growth in pub­lic ex­pen­di­ture across the UK, not just in Scot­land”.

He ar­gued this gave min­is­ters a “won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity” to in­tro­duce a more rad­i­cal, pre­ven­ta­tive pol­icy agenda, aimed at end­ing in­equal­i­ties in ar­eas such as health and ed­u­ca­tion.

But he said they had “failed to do it”, claim­ing that ad­min­is­tra­tions at Holy­rood had been “unimag­i­na­tive” in this re­spect.

He also ar­gued de­vo­lu­tion had been largely “bad” for lo­cal gov­ern­ment, claim­ing that over the 20 years of the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment there had been lit­tle change in the re­la­tion­ship be­tween coun­cils and cen­tral gov­ern­ment.

“If you go back 20 years there was a hos­tile re­la­tion­ship be­tween lo­cal gov­ern­ment and cen­tral gov­ern­ment,” he re­called

“The re­la­tion­ship be­tween Scot­tish lo­cal gov­ern­ment and the Scot­land Of­fice was aw­ful.

“You had Conservati­ves in the Gov­ern­ment and Labour in con­trol of lo­cal gov­ern­ment, and the Scot­land Of­fice just ran roughshod over them.

“But I don’t think it re­ally has changed. The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment and Ex­ec­u­tive have made de­mands on lo­cal gov­ern­ment, un­der­funded them but ex­pect them to de­liver.

“The au­ton­omy of lo­cal gov­ern­ment has shrunk. De­vo­lu­tion in that re­spect has been dis­ap­point­ing.”

Prof Mitchell said: “In the next 20 years it could be time to look at the re­la­tion­ship be­tween lo­cal gov­ern­ment and the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment and the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment be­cause it hasn’t ful­filled the prom­ise that was there.

“We’ve got to be more for­ward­think­ing, I think pol­icy- mak­ing has been very im­me­di­ate, it’s been driven by short- ter­mism, by headlines and not out­comes

“I would love to think the par­lia­ment might be able to break out of the short- ter­mism and be a much more for­ward think­ing par­lia­ment than it has been.”

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