The first days of devolution – that heady mix of optimism, anticipation and nervousness – belong today not just to a different decade, but to a different century. It was 1999 when the Scottish Parliament opened its doors, and an auld sang was once again heard throughout the land.
If it has at times been a bumpy ride, there is little doubt that Holyrood is now, 20 years on, firmly established as the focal point of Scottish democracy. It is where the nation debates, argues, disagrees and, in the end, decides policy in many of the areas that most affect our lives – our schools, our hospitals, our transport links, our environment and, increasingly, our economy.
A direct link between the money Holyrood raises and the money it spends was perhaps a missing part of the devolution jigsaw. Now, with control over income tax and some welfare powers, it might be argued that both the Scottish Government and the Parliament have come of age. Devolution, to quote Donald Dewar, remains a process rather than an event, a journey rather than a destination, but we are certainly much further along the path today than we were when MSPs first assembled two decades ago.
Anniversaries are an opportunity to draw breath, to stand back and look clearly at what has been achieved, at what has worked and what hasn’t, at what we do well and what we might do better. To that end, Reform Scotland has commissioned a series of articles from senior politicians across the political spectrum on what they would change to improve the performance of Holyrood. In these pages you’ll find the result – a thoughtful and practical set of proposals, ranging from greater autonomy for committee chairs, to cross-party working, to more time for speeches, to a novel form of second chamber. Finally, you’ll find a speech given by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to a Reform Scotland event in Edinburgh.
Much has been done over 20 years, but Scottish democracy is a living, breathing thing, and its future has yet to be written. Many of the big questions remain unresolved, and many new challenges present themselves. Whichever direction we eventually take, our devolved parliament will play a central role in getting us there.