Monday 24 June 2019 - 10:13

Holyrood at 20: establishment mainstay or catalyst for change?

Story Code : 801224
Scots celebrate 20 years of devolution
Scots celebrate 20 years of devolution

The state broadcaster, the British Broadcasting Corporation, leads the way in failing to adequately account Holyrood by focusing on its supposed lack of diversity.

Even in that reductive context instead of focusing on real diversity issues, such as under-representation of ethnic minorities, the BBC trivializes the issue by linking Holyrood’s progress to its stance on homosexuality and same sex marriage.

This ignores a wide range of serious issues that are of central concern to Scottish voters. The biggest issue of course is the cause of Scottish independence and Holyrood’s relationship to it.

It is worthwhile remembering that back in the late 1990s the labour government headed by then Prime Minister Tony Blair introduced devolution to both Wales and Scotland primarily as a means to contain and ultimately defeat the nationalist movements of these nations.

Even though Holyrood was never supposed to be a vehicle for Scottish nationalism, nonetheless its subsequent domination by the Scottish National Party (SNP) – which by definition is committed to Scottish independence – has given rise to expectations that the institution could evolve into the legislature of an independent Scotland.

But hitherto the Scottish nationalists have failed to gain the upper hand over the British establishment, as evidenced by the results of the Scottish independence referendum of September 2014.

Post-Brexit, the real test for Holyrood is whether it can decisively push for another Scottish independence referendum. It is important to note that unlike England a clear majority of Scottish people voted to remain in the European Union.

Beyond Scottish independence, Holyrood’s performance in advancing Scottish autonomy in vital areas such as health, education, finance and job security has yet to be properly audited.

Scotland is still losing vital resources, both in financial and human terms, to England so in that respect Holyrood is failing to safeguard Scotland’s future. But despite these failures Holyrood is still generally regarded as a more progressive institution than the United Kingdom’s main parliament or the House of Commons.

Twenty years after devolution Scotland is generally a safer and fairer society than England. There has been a dramatic reduction in knife crime (the opposite trend holds sway in England) and in terms of social justice the Scottish government continues to subsidise higher education.

By contrast, England introduced tuition fees two decades ago, roughly at the same time as the onset of Scottish devolution.