“This is about more than our politics and our laws. This is about who we are and how we carry ourselves.”
Those were the now famous words of Donald Dewar, Scotland’s first First Minister, on the opening or re-opening (depending on your politics) of the Scottish Parliament.
This week marks 20 years since 75 per cent of Scots voted for a Scottish Parliament, so it’s a good time to stop and reflect about what has been achieved and perhaps what has not over that time.
So who are we two decades later? Well, I think it’s undoubtedly the case that we’re a stronger, prouder more confident nation than before, although I don’t think the evidence allows us to argue that we’re healthier, richer or any better educated than we were 20 years ago.
One things for sure, we’re not equal.
Inequality still persists and dominates this new reformed Scotland.
In health, you are more likely to get and die of cancer if you are poor. In education, you are four times as likely to go to uni if you are from a wealthy postcode and many times more likely to go to jail than uni if you’ve been in care.
Inequality of wealth sees 400,000 people earn less than the living wage and a quarter of a million Scottish kids living in poverty while the richest one per cent pay less tax than they did in 1997.
Two decades of devolution is, as any football pundit worth their salt will tell you, really a tale of two halves.
The first 10 years were jam packed with iconic, pioneering legislation. Land reform, ending homelessness, closing down asylums with some of the most ambitious and progressive mental health legislation in Europe. The smoking ban. The Fresh Talent initiative – a scheme designed to help the brightest most gifted foreign students stay and make a life here in Scotland.
Bold, radical and progressive governing.
The second 10 years were significantly different, dominated by the constitution and, bluntly, free giveaways.
Yes, an obsession with wrangling over independence, but also a welcome litany of new universal entitlements – free university tuition, free prescription charges, free bridge tolls. Except a bit like lunch, it’s never really free is it? Somebody somewhere is always picking up the tab and in this case it was the taxpayer who watched other public services pay the price.
Prescription charges are free but you’ll wait a fortnight to see your GP.
University is free but college places have been slashed and teachers are buying their own jotters for kids.
So what does the next decade hold? Two words – Brexit and tax.
If we want to keep all this good “free” stuff and have high-quality public services, those with broader shoulders will have to pay a bit more.
And Brexit? That’s going to dominate the Parliament like nothing before. Adopting EU laws, revising them, writing new ones to make sure Scotland can maintain its own relationship with Europe.
With that dominating the next 10 years, we may live to regret the way we’ve spent the last 10.
This article first appeared in the Daily Record newspaper on the 12th of September 2017.