THERE’S been a fair bit in the media recently about the 20th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament and devolution. Lord McConnell and other shy political fauna have been spotted giving their tuppence worth.

The Labour peer, for instance, declared that Holyrood was “dull and uninspiring”, which is pretty scathing coming from a member of the House of Lords, but pretty rich coming from Jack McConnell given his time as First Minister.

Others point out the Parliament has come a long way in two decades in terms of public acceptance, self-confidence, and influence. Since the 2014 referendum, in particular, there has been a series of new powers over taxes and welfare.

But this week’s row over a workplace parking levy (WPL) shows in one regard, the parliament of today is sadly very similar to the hesitant and immature one of 1999. When it comes to empowering councils, our undescended legislators refuse to grow up.

The new levy, agreed between the minority SNP administration and the Scottish Greens in a deal on the 2019/20 budget, has generated a fierce backlash from the other parties. The Tories, especially, have used it cudgel the government.

It will hurt the economy, it will hurt the low paid, it will tax aspiration. The trusted refrains.

Councils in England have had the power to set a WPL since 2000, although only Nottingham has used it, charging employers £415 a year for each staff parking bay, a cost often passed to employees. Indeed, as Adam McVey, SNP leader of Edinburgh City Council, argues, the charge ought to fall on employees as the aim is to cut congestion by changing behaviour.

So what do we know about the likely Scottish version? Under the SNP-Green plan, the levy will be an optional charge for councils to set.

In practice, it will be urban authorities with congestion and pollution problems that attempt it.

Following local consultations and assessments, councils will devise schemes for issuing annual licenses to employers based on parking space numbers and other criteria. In Nottingham, only employers with more than 10 spaces must pay.

In Scotland, NHS workers and hospitals will be automatically exempt. Each council will then say who pays and where, and will set the annual license fee per space.

But first, their proposals must be signed off by Scottish ministers. Ministers can suggest changes or, ultimately, turn a scheme down. If ministers approve a scheme, they will issue a specific order which can be scrutinised by Holyrood.

As in Nottingham, the income will be hypothecated for spending on transport schemes. In other words, it will be a long, detailed process with multiple hurdles.

Nottingham’s consultation began in 2007, government approval was in 2009, and the scheme only came into effect in 2012, a five-year schlep.

It’s hard to imagine any council pressing ahead in the teeth of a public revolt over that timescale. Schemes will only come into being where the locals can stand them.

By now, those with a long memory may be wondering if they’ve heard some of this before. They have.

In the first year of devolution, the Scottish Executive under Donald Dewar also consulted on a WPL, then included it in a Transport Bill.

Business groups and the Tories denounced it, using exactly the same arguments being used this week. The SNP didn’t much like it either.

Bruce Crawford, now convener of Holyrood’s finance committee, said the SNP was “never convinced that workplace charging was the way forward”. His colleague Kenny MacAskill called it “bureaucratic, unwieldy” and “ill-conceived”.

The SNP’s discomfort is almost as bad today. Finance Secretary Derek Mackay describes the WPL as a “necessary budget concession” and part of “the dichotomy between parliamentary control and local discretion”. Puppy dog enthusiasm, it ain’t. Yet in theory, they and the other Holyrood parties are in favour of giving councils more power.

In their 2017 council manifesto, the LibDems said “community power and local decision-making at the heart of all that we do”. Labour proposed a council-set tourist tax and land value tax. Even the Tories said: “We need to empower councils and given them a renewed sense of meaning and purpose.”

But when it comes to putting fine sentiments into practice, they baulk at it. They are little better than the parties who sat nervously in short trousers at the restoration of the Scottish Parliament 20 years ago.

Local governments across Europe raise and collect numerous taxes. It is the norm. Here, a few hundred quid a year for people who already run a car can spark panic.

As for that original Scottish WPL? Labour caved in and ended up voting with the Tories and SNP to kill their own idea. The Greens and LibDems backed it to the end.

At its demise, Donald Gorrie, one of those LibDems, argued: “The bill merely enables councils to do things if they wish. If the council in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen or wherever thinks that the political price is too high or that there will be too much hassle, they will not introduce a scheme. However, they should have the right to do so. Local people and their local representatives - who can be booted out if the people do not like what they have done - should make the decision.” Quite so.

Back then, when devolution was in its skittish infancy and ministers were spooked by every passing controversy, the fate of the levy was understandable if not admirable.

But two decades on, Holyrood should surely be more adult about tax, and let councils get on with it.