To Devolution & Beyond!

Posted by to The Blog on July 29th

Deidre Brock MP for Edinburgh North and Leith

20 years ago Scotland’s Parliament was reborn, fashioning a new democracy in an ancient nation.  It is a Parliament built on the idea that the people who live in Scotland are best placed to decide her future.  As the Claim of Right of a decade before said: “We, gathered as the Scottish Constitutional Convention, do hereby acknowledge the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs, and do hereby declare and pledge that in all our actions and deliberations their interests shall be paramount.”

Erected by Democracy for Scotland, 10th April 1998

The reconvening of a Parliament in Edinburgh after a three century gap didn’t come out of nowhere; it was built on solid foundations.  I’ll claim, of course, the actions of SNP stalwarts over many decades as important parts of the puzzle and Labour members will claim their own, with good reason, as drivers and deliverers of the new devolution.  We’re both right and both half-wrong.

There were people in civic society, in trade unions, churches, charities and other parties and organisations involved in driving those changes.  There were also people who were there as individuals.  The vigil on Calton Hill – opposite what was the Scottish Office – lasted for five years (1,980 days) and didn’t belong to anyone except the people who kept vigil. It grew out of a common despair.

No political party owned the vigil – it was mostly ignored by all of the parties – and it was more successful because of that.  This was the constant reminder to Scots of a deficiency in our politics and a reminder to Scottish Secretaries Ian Lang, Michael Forsyth and Donald Dewar that Scotland expected more.  Parked there with an ever-burning brazier it may not have been the most spectacular of protests but it was persistent.

It’s people who choose a nation’s future and the people who helped Scotland choose a new path twenty years ago came from many different places and different backgrounds.  The members of Scottish Labour Action, for example, were absolutely vital in ensuring that New Labour’s high command in London didn’t forget the promises that had been made to Scotland.  Susan Deacon, Sarah Boyack, Jackie Baillie, Jack McConnell, Dennis Canavan, Malcolm Chisholm and others were absolutely vital in making sure that devolution was delivered.

The contribution that people made can’t be measured or judged – although I’m sure that future historians will write more about the politicians than the other folk.  It was a huge undertaking, a massive step but they took it because it was right.  It was a victory that belonged to no individuals but to many people and it’s something we should celebrate.

We should also acknowledge that it is now history and society is not nourished by dry dust.

Scotland has to look to the future, decide what builds on what we have, what path we’d like to walk now.  We need another quickening to our debates, another turbo boost to our new nation – and we should do it collectively.

We can’t repeat the past and we can’t recapture the spontaneity of those vigilists who claimed Calton Hill as their own.  Another Scottish Constitutional Convention probably wouldn’t wash; John McAllion (former Labour MP and MSP and member of the convention) said “It was self-appointed, it was elitist, and it was ultimately unrepresentative because it consisted of politicians from some, but not all, of the political parties and some, but not all, civil society actors” and that can’t be Scotland’s future.

The vigil on Calton Hill lasted for 1,980 days and didn’t belong to anyone except the people who kept vigil. It grew out of a common despair

We can copy the Citizens’ Assembly that Ireland has demonstrated so ably to be a functioning model of future planning.  The Scottish Government has, in fact, set up a similar body to look at Scotland’s future, but I fear it might not be enough – it may be too structured.

A bit of outrageous anarchy, a nod to the cultural rebellion that always underpinned Scotland, a rising up against the dismal voices that say, “you can’t, you shouldn’t, you’re not allowed”, that’s what we need.  

Somewhere there is a wee band of folk starting the idea that will take us forward, somewhere there is a daft conversation being had that will change the future – I hope.

In an internet age it may not be necessary to meet in person – Iceland very nearly crowdsourced a new constitution a few years ago – but there has to be more than just a complaint, there has to be the dream, the ambition, the plan to make it better.  It’ll probably get ignored by the political parties and by the media (just like the vigil) and it’ll probably get mocked by those who always ‘know better’ but real change comes from people who just want to see it happen rather than take the credit.  Whoever you are, more power to you – 20 years after we restarted Scotland it’s time to think about the next steps.

Twitter: @DeidreBrock

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