Page last updated at 08:46 GMT, Thursday, 18 June 2009 09:46 UK

Change in devolution 'must come'

On 1 July, Scottish devolution will celebrate its 10th birthday. In the last of a series of articles for the BBC news website by Holyrood veterans, Scotland's former - and longest serving - first minister, Jack McConnell, reflects on his personal highs and lows over the past decade.


Ten years ago, change came to Scotland.

After a long - and sometimes frustrating - campaign for devolution, Scotland at last had its first elected parliament.

Jack McConnell

Today, that parliament is embedded in our national life and our country is a far better place than it was a decade ago.

Labour leadership and the Fresh Talent initiative replaced population decline with a growing population; health and education services have improved beyond recognition; and a sluggish economy was replaced by higher growth, more jobs and a fresh enterprise culture in our young people.

Innovations like Project Scotland, fundamental changes in land reform, and free care and travel for older Scots all made their mark.

Scots are more confident, more ambitious and more united - and it is now inconceivable that there would not be a Scottish Parliament.

But it was not always that way. The parliament did not have the best start.

Controversies over MSPs' expenses and the escalating cost of Holyrood gave the impression that members cared more about themselves than the concerns of the Scottish people.

The tragic and untimely death of Donald Dewar in October 2000 added to the uncertainty and sense of doom, and the resignation of his successor, Henry McLeish, led some to question if the new parliament could survive.

From the moment I became First Minister on 22 November 2001, I was determined that the parliament would be the servant of the Scottish people.

We will never again lose our ability to take decisions here in Scotland, but politicians of all parties must recognise that we also have to work with others to secure our future

I wanted to put their concerns centre stage, to show that their new government understood the challenges they faced on a daily basis, concerns such as anti-social behaviour, the care of vulnerable youngsters and the environment.

One of the proudest moments of my political life came on the morning of 26 March 2006, when Scotland led the way by banning smoking in public places.

In 2004, I came to the conclusion that a full smoking ban was the right thing to do, not least because of the number of lives it would save.

Smoking was the single biggest preventable killer of Scots.

It was the many representations that I got from young Scots that finally convinced me. They asked me to think about their future and the kind of Scotland they wanted.

In the end, the decision was an easy one.

I still get the odd comment or two when I pass smokers outside a pub or workplace, but the ban has been a huge success.

'Devolution evolution'

Scotland is a cleaner, more confident, healthier country.

Scots have always known that our country has international responsibilities, far beyond forging economic links with rich countries.

When we decided to refresh Scotland's old friendship with Malawi, which stretches back 150 years ago to David Livingstone, there were some who said that we had no business getting involved in international development.

Those critics did not understand the potential of devolution.

Every week, I learn of yet another new link between Scotland and Malawi, and I believe this national effort is the best of Scotland, and helps ensure devolution widens our horizons rather than closing our minds.

Devolution will, I believe, evolve over the next decade.

Change must come - but it must be driven by values and purpose, not just numbers and elections

We have proven we can do things differently - but we now face global problems such as recession, climate change and the risk of a flu pandemic. These all require a collective approach.

We will never again lose our ability to take decisions here in Scotland, but politicians of all parties must recognise that we also have to work with others to secure our future.

In 10 years, the parliament has changed our relationship with the world, improved public services, tackled long-standing problems and given all our children a chance to grow up in a far better place than was possible in 1999.

I will not be rash enough to say what the next 10 years will hold - the only thing that is predictable is that they will be unpredictable.

The proposals of the Calman Commission will initiate a more focussed debate on the financial powers and responsibilities of devolution.

This is timely. Change must come - but it must be driven by values and purpose, not just numbers and elections.

If our parliament holds true to the values that have characterised Scotland at her best, then it can take our country even further.

Future generations will look back and say a great turning point in the history of Scotland took place on 6 May, 1999.




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