It seems we spend a lot of time in contemporary politics marking anniversaries.  This can sometimes seem a bit arbitrary. 

There are thousands of important political moments from the past and normally more than one way to interpret them today. 

Last week of course marked the 25th anniversary of the reconvening of the Scottish Parliament. Cue a flurry of thought pieces and political interventions timed to garner far more interest than if they were published last year or next.

Well, if you can’t beat them, join them.

What has devolution achieved for Scotland and in what areas has it fallen short?  What do these successes and failures tell us about the powers our Parliament hold and whether more should be devolved? 

For Scottish Secretary Alistair Jack, devolution is a ‘sort of a good thing’, we just need the UK House of Lords to oversee what our Parliament does. Yes, he really said that last week. For others, all actions of the Parliament good or bad, simply make the case for independence. The truth lies somewhere in between.

As well as being the Parliament’s anniversary, this year is also the 25th anniversary of the passing of the great leader of the Scottish National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Mick McGahey. 

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Mick never saw the opening of the Parliament, but he lived to join us in voting it back into existence. More than 25 years before he died, Mick had played a major role in pushing devolution into the mainstream of Scottish Labour movement politics, acting in the tradition of Keir Hardie.

A tradition continued through the campaign for a Scottish Parliament, led by the STUC, through my predecessors Campbell Christie and Bill Speirs. McGahey declared that Scotland was a nation, not a region. 

The Herald: Alister JackAlister Jack (Image: PA)

But neither was it a classless nation. The Parliament he advocated for was described by then STUC General Secretary Jimmy Jack as a workers’ parliament. 

As such, the STUC – as part of the Scottish Constitutional Convention –helped bring together churches, political parties, civic society groups and more.

So, we like to think we played our part in building the groundswell of opinion and demand for parliamentary democracy in Scotland that helped us to where we are today.

The enormous majority in favour of the Parliament is a matter of historical fact.  The hopes and expectations of what it might achieve were always more varied. 

As a democratic project that brought governance closer to the people, it has been a qualified success. Most of those who opposed devolution, would be askance at the thought of returning to a position where Westminster dictated our health or education policy. 

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Nevertheless, the failure over the past 25 years to devolve power and resources from Holyrood towards our councils and local communities casts a dark shadow over Scotland’s subsidiarity project.

The hated Westminster-created Poll Tax may be gone, but the failure of successive Scottish Governments to get to grips with local finances is a glaring failure. As national wealth has incrementally shifted from wages to assets, our Parliament should be straining every sinew to shift the weight of taxation from ordinary people to those who command property and wealth. 

The crisis of funding in local government and education may be rooted in Westminster’s austerity but the impact of the failure to act on tax is a significant factor too.

For many supporters of the Parliament in 1997, the central mission was to knock off the rough edges of the Thatcherite politics that had plagued us since 1979. On this measure, we can call it another qualified success. 

The Herald: Roz FoyerRoz Foyer (Image: PA)

Early initiatives included the smoking ban, free prescriptions and tuition fees. More latterly we have seen the Scottish Child Payment. These are meaningful changes that make people’s lives better.  

Many who voted yes to the parliament were motivated by the lure of a better, fairer economy. The idea of a workers’ parliament was conceived and developed at a time of enormous industrial change. 

It was the time of the UCS work-in. North Sea oil was about to flow. Scottish manufacturing jobs would fall from over 600,000 in 1970 to 320,000 in 1999. Whilst flattering our GDP and producing massive growth in areas such as Aberdeen, oil production would never provide the diversity of decent employment to compensate for this loss. 

Partially due to its limited powers, and partially due to a lack of strategic action and foresight, our Parliament has overseen further manufacturing decline with employment falling from 320,000 in 1999 to 176,000 in today. Moreover, we are in the process of squandering the opportunity of our newer energy resource: wind. 

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McGahey would have envisioned a Scottish National Energy company, public equity stakes in companies benefitting from offshore development and trade union recognition in such companies as a given. 

And what about the workers? Few would question that the instincts of the Parliament and successive Scottish Governments have been more trade union-friendly than has been the case down south.

We have been invited in and listened to, if not always heeded. The current Scottish Government’s Fair Work Agenda demonstrates the ambition, even in areas where it has limited powers, to deliver a baseline of decency and security for workers that again sets it apart.  

That’s precisely why ensuring the Scottish Government doesn’t shirk their responsibilities on its Fair Work Agenda is vital. Talk to anyone in hospitality, construction or social care and the need is clear.

Care workers, predominantly women, are rightfully lauded by our parliamentarians, yet many working in that sector have been there since our Parliament was reconvened but have yet to see meaningful change.

The Herald: The Holyrood Chamber The Holyrood Chamber (Image: PA)

And here’s the rub, particularly as we approach a probable change of government at Westminster.  The successes and failures of devolution over the past 25 years cannot be entirely laid at the door of any single political party; of any single institution of government; or on where any particular legislative power currently resides.

If we work hard to shift the burden of tax from the poor to the rich under existing powers, the case for more tax powers will become stronger. If we marshal all available public investment into an ambitious industrial strategy, the case for more devolution is better made. And if the Fair Work agenda reaches its potential within the existing legislative framework, our shared call for the devolution of employment law becomes harder to deny.

Powers for a purpose and government with a purpose, there lies a project we should all be able to believe in.