To mark the 25th anniversary of the original ‘Scotland Act’, which was published in 1998 and led directly to the establishment of the modern Scottish Parliament a year later, the University of Edinburgh Business School recently hosted a seminar to debate whether Scottish devolution had delivered on its original, institutional promise. Andrew Burns, Doctoral Researcher at the Business School, reflects on the discussions had during this event and why these conversations are relevant to modern Scottish politics today.
The Debating Chamber of the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh, Scotland

The "New Politics Revisited" event was chaired by James Mitchell, Professor of Public Policy at the University of Edinburgh, with three main contributing participants: Esther Roberton, who was Co-ordinator of the Scottish Constitutional Convention in the 1990’s, and a member of the Consultative Steering Group (CSG); Stephen Noon, who is undertaking PhD research at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Divinity, which is focused on understanding political consensus building and culture from a theological perspective; and myself, a Doctoral Researcher at the University of Edinburgh Business School and the former Leader of Edinburgh City Council, where between 2012 and 2017 I led the only two-party Labour/SNP Coalition in Scottish Local Government.

The four key principles of the Scottish Parliament

The Scottish Parliament at Holyrood is now obviously firmly established, and is the undeniable fulcrum of political debate, and legislative development, here in Scotland. No one would question the fact that the Parliament has a very significant impact on all aspects of domestic policy, and on both civic and business life, right across the whole of the country.

And back in the late 1990’s, as it seemed increasingly likely that a new legislature could actually come into being, a body called the Consultative Steering Group (CSG) reported on potential draft ‘Standing Orders’ for any soon-to-be Scottish Parliament - it’s main recommendations were summarised in four key principles, which the new legislature would hopefully adopt. In summary, those principles were:

  • the Scottish Parliament should embody and reflect the sharing of power between the people of Scotland, the legislators and the Scottish Government
  • the Scottish Government should be accountable to the Scottish Parliament and the Parliament and Government should be accountable to the people of Scotland
  • the Scottish Parliament should be accessible, open, responsive, and develop procedures which make possible a participative approach to the development, consideration and scrutiny of policy and legislation
  • the Scottish Parliament in its operation and its appointments should recognise the need to promote equal opportunities for all To what extent have these recommendations been met?

The seminar debated whether these four principles had been adhered to, throughout the subsequent years - and the undoubted conclusion was that several, regrettably, had not been delivered in full. Despite this assessment, it’s important to acknowledge that there was also an absolute acceptance that the very existence of the new Parliament – and the fact that it has now successfully endured for a quarter of a century – was a remarkable achievement within itself.

The event thus brought a variety of concepts around the delivery of devolution into conversation, all from quite differing perspectives and disciplines: theology, political science and business studies. There was also an opportunity to engage with the attending audience, which generated a lively and informative debate.

In doing so, the event provided a platform for wider reflection on the current political and institutional culture in Scotland, with direct relevance to the way we engage in political debate today – all of which have a direct impact on all aspects of modern life in Scotland.

Join our next discussion on Scottish Politics, titled "Business and Scottish Politics: A future marriage or a relationship on the rocks?" with chair, James Barbour CA, Director of Policy Leadership – ICAS and panel guests: Sir John Curtice, Professor of Politics at the University of Strathclyde; Professor Russell Napier, Co-founder of the investment research portal ERIC and Library of Mistakes; Susan Love, Strategic Engagement Lead – ACCA; Susan Murray, Director of The David Hume Institute and; Sandy Begbie, CEO of Scottish Financial Enterprise.

Listen to a recording of the main participant-inputs from the "New Politics Revisited" event.