THOUGH established on May 12. 1999, with Winnie Ewing famously declaring that the Parliament “adjourned on the 25th day of March 1707 is hereby reconvened”, July 1 was the official transfer of power from Westminster to Holyrood. Twenty years on, it can be seen as a moment of decisive change for Scotland, and for that matter the rest of the UK.

The introduction of devolution, which this newspaper championed, altered the political landscape permanently; indeed, the Parliament’s permanence is expressly noted in the Scotland Act 2016, which extended its powers. A settled existence, however, does not mean that debate on the current or any future settlement is settled.

Indeed, political divisions in both Scotland and the rest of the UK are perhaps more fractious than ever, especially over Brexit and independence. But in those two cases, while devolution may be a complicating factor, it is less obvious that it has been a causal one.

What is not in doubt is the range of the changes wrought; the Scottish Government has clear control over the vast majority of public services and more than 60 per cent of public spending and, since 2016, tax measures. The areas where Scotland and the rest of the UK diverge, or have diverged, are considerable: the smoking ban, alcohol pricing and driving limits, prescription charges, social care provision, university tuition, land ownership reform and the extent of the franchise itself have all been decisions taken in Edinburgh.

In gauging the success of devolution, the issue is not whether those policies have been universally effective or beneficial; they are merely the decisions of particular administrations. Even for critics who regret devolution as divisive for the Union, or regard it as an unsatisfactory staging post on the route to independence, however, the fact that successive governments in Holyrood have been able to introduce such changes is a measure of how much control has been passed to the Scottish electorate.

But as Lord Melbourne and Spider-man’s Uncle Ben pointed out, with great power comes great responsibility. A persistent theme of the development of devolution in practice over the past two decades was a reluctance by Holyrood politicians to accept limitations still imposed by Westminster (notably, though not exclusively, by the SNP, on issues such as broadcasting or the right to call a second independence referendum), while blaming shortcomings in outcomes, especially in education and health, on legislative or funding obstacles created in Westminster.

It has been heartening to see that attitude diminishing, and actually as a result of taking greater control. For most of the devolution period, successive governments exercised a self-denying ordinance on the second question on the ballot, which created tax-raising powers. But their introduction, while it may have increased bills for many, also acknowledged the link between the public spending for which the Scottish Government received the voters’ mandate, and its responsibility to balance the books.

That is crucial, not just for the fiscal health and stability of the country and the maintenance of public services, but to enable honest choices to be made about political priorities. And with the prospect of tax reconciliation and likely changes to the structure of social care in the rest of the UK looming from next year, it is important that Holyrood – whichever party is in charge – is forthright about the costs and benefits of policy decisions, because without such candour, voters cannot hold their representatives to account.

Devolution always carried the risk of disappointment; Unionists may blame it for the rise of nationalist sentiment, and those who favour independence may think it frustrates their goal. And almost anyone may dislike particular policies brought in by particular governments. On the question of whether Scotland has had greater ability to set and implement its own distinctive goals, however, there can be little doubt that devolution has delivered. Two decades on, Scottish voters and politicians are more and more prepared to take responsibility for, and bear the cost of, those decisions. In the UK’s immediate uncertain future, that authority may be welcomed by Unionists and Nationalists alike.