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McLeish resignation Thursday, 22 November, 2001, 19:16 GMT
Stern test for Scottish Parliament
Parliament chamber
The parliament must convince voters of its worth
By John Curtice, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University.  

When Scots voted in favour of having a devolved parliament in the 1997 referendum, they did so with high expectations.

Not only did they hope that it would give them a stronger voice in how they were governed, but they also believed that public services like health and education would be better too.

It was always a lot to expect of a new political institution - and almost inevitably, those expectations have not been met.

John Curtice
John Curtice: "Doubts had already existed"
For example, at the time of the referendum,  71% of Scots thought that the new parliament would improve education in Scotland.

In contrast, the latest Scottish Social Attitudes survey found only 43% taking that view.

An ICM poll earlier this year found that two out of three Scots believed that the UK Government still had at least as much influence over the quality of the NHS and schools in Scotland as  the Scottish Executive in Holyrood.

Meanwhile, research undertaken this summer for the parliament itself also concluded that there was little public understanding of how the institution worked and what it had achieved.

So even before Henry McLeish was forced to resign, doubts were being expressed about whether Scotland's great constitutional experiment was delivering what the advocates of devolution had promised.


Between now and the Scottish election in 2003 it has to convince voters that it is making a difference

The last thing the new parliament needed was an opportunity for its critics to allege that all its creation had done was to land Scotland with a first minister who was clearly not up to the job.

Or that Mr McLeish's reluctance to declare how he ran his constituency office was at odds with the claims that the new Scottish Parliament would be open and transparent.

Those criticisms appear to have done some harm. No less than 58% of Scots told a recent opinion poll that they felt the image of the parliament had been damaged by Mr McLeish's resignation.

So the Scottish Parliament faces a clear challenge under its third first minister in two-and-a-half years.

Henry McLeish
Henry McLeish: His resignation was damaging
Between now and the Scottish election in 2003 it has to convince voters that it is making a difference to their lives as well living up to the high standards of conduct it has laid down for itself.

Otherwise, voters might decide that it is simply not worth their while going to the polls.

Ironically, recent events may themselves have already helped the parliament in that task.

The drama surrounding the fall of Mr McLeish may not have been edifying but at least it attracted public attention.

Scots certainly now know they have a parliament even if they are not yet quite sure what it is achieving.


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22 Nov 01 | McLeish resignation
22 Nov 01 | McLeish resignation
22 Nov 01 | McLeish resignation
21 Nov 01 | McLeish resignation
20 Nov 01 | McLeish resignation
18 Nov 01 | McLeish resignation
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