Donald Dewar declared it “the day when democracy was renewed in Scotland” as MSPs gathered for the Scottish Parliament’s inaugural sitting on July 1, 1999.  

It was the dawn of a new era for Scotland, in which we would be able to make our own history. Scotland had voted to move on from an era characterised by a UK Government imposing the poll tax while presiding over the decimation of our industries and a youth unemployment crisis.  

The bitter memories of the 1980s remain vivid for many, particularly as we have now, as then, an out-of-touch Tory prime minister who displays contempt for the principle of devolution.  

But the gains of 21 years of devolution mean that never again will the likes of Boris Johnson be able to take us back to the dark days of a Scottish Secretary acting like a de facto Scottish PM, unfettered by accountability and direct democracy.  

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Free personal care, the abolition of warrant sales, the scrapping of the homophobic Clause 2A, free bus travel, land reform and social housing investment stand out as important gains in the early years.  

MSPs passing the Freedom of Information Act was a pivotal moment in the first term and put openness and transparency at the heart of devolution. 

The Scottish Parliament being the first in the UK to ban smoking in public places in the second term was a milestone in our battle to improve public health. Free NHS prescriptions and free university tuition for students must also be celebrated.  

As leader of the party that in government delivered devolution and which in opposition defends devolution, I celebrate these gains.

HeraldScotland:   (L-R) Labour figures Donald Dewar, John Smith, Gordon Brown and Robin Cook.

But each generation has to win the same battles over again and, right through to the present day, the Scottish Parliament has shown itself capable of passing pioneering legislation.  

Monica Lennon’s Period Poverty Bill is the latest shining example of an MSP who has courageously fought for a change in the law, won through and so set an example for others to follow.  

Neil Findlay’s long campaign for justice for more than 500 Scottish miners, wrongly convicted in the 1984/85 strike, saw ministers agree a pardon just weeks ago.  

In the last 21 years, the Scottish Parliament has grown from one that was largely responsible for health, education and Scotland’s legal system to one with wide-ranging powers over tax, the economy and benefits.  

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As Donald Dewar said in the beginning: “There is a new voice in the land, the voice of a democratic parliament. A voice to shape Scotland, a voice for the future.”  

Yet he would be the first to say we have much unfinished business. Too much power still lies in too few hands. Too much inequality still persists – in race, gender and sexuality, religion, disability, age and class.  

That is why we must continue to make our own history, and use the sixth session of devolution to rebuild our fragile economy and torn social fabric in the post-Covid era.  

Let’s deliver real change, with a more equal country where that “new voice” of which Donald spoke so passionately will forever be heard.