When is autonomy not autonomy?
When it depends on the co-operation of others. The limits of Scotland's devolved autonomy have been highlighted by a delay in introducing a new lower drink-drive limit - all apparently because the process of approving test machines are under the control, not of Holyrood, but of Westminster, where the recalibration of test equipment in Scotland is said to be regarded as less of a priority than approving new "drugalysers" for use in England and Wales.
Two points will strike the casual Scottish observer about this. One is the absurdity of a situation where an entire nation's drink-drive testing equipment apparently cannot be used without the say-so of experts from elsewhere. That this power is reserved to Westminster makes no sense. Clearly there should be personnel based in Scotland who are qualified and trained to perform this task.
The second is that a decision by London-based ministers and civil servants to prioritise drug testing for England and Wales should have no bearing on how quickly Scotland may enact its new, lower drink-drive limit. The UK Government is entitled to go after drug drivers as a matter of urgency, but it does not have the constitutional right to decide that enforcing the new, lower drink-drive limit in Scotland should have to wait until the drug-testing of drivers in England and Wales has been taken care of, if that is what is happening.
One could argue, of course, that this is not so much an issue of clashing priorities as it is of scarce personnel, and that this unforeseen bottleneck of demand will soon pass. The experts will get to Scotland eventually and type-approve - pass for use - those all-important machines.
The trouble is, though, that this is about saving lives. The new limit is expected to save 17 lives a year. The longer the delay in its implementation, the greater the risk, presumably, of lives being lost. No one wishes to see lives lost in England and Wales either as a result of delays to introducing "drugalyser" technology, but a way should be found of proceeding with both simultaneously. Surely that cannot be beyond the wit of Scottish and Whitehall officialdom.
It must be said that this is a bit of an embarrassment for the Coalition in the run-up to the referendum. It is a long time since Margaret Thatcher was accused of testing the poll tax on Scotland, but many Scots retain the suspicion that their interests are seen in Westminster as having a lower priority than English affairs. It is unlikely that anyone will vote for independence on the basis of drink drive test equipment calibrations, but this does highlight an absurdity in the way powers are divided.
These new drink drive limits are part of a concerted effort to reduce the harm caused by alcohol in Scotland. They bring the country into line with most other European nations. A driver will be over the new limit on anything beyond one small glass of wine. The safest approach will be: don't drink and drive. That being so, the sooner police can start enforcing the new limits, the better.
We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules, which are available here.
Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.