29th November 2010


Humble pie was the dish of the day in the Scottish Parliament canteen in a dramatic week.

Both the First Minister and his Finance Secretary grudgingly had to wolf it down after it emerged they had let Scotland’s economic powers lapse three years ago without telling anyone.

As someone who campaigned for devolution, I remember well the Yes-Yes verdict the people of Scotland returned in the 1997 referendum, an emphatic yes to the creation of a Scottish Parliament and yes to tax-raising powers.

So for John Swinney to secretly let these powers slide, like a phone line being cut off for an outstanding bill, was extraordinary display of arrogance.

This week, the Scottish Government tried to maintain the cover-up with its usual diet of excuses.

But the fundamental point, that a decision was taken on Scotland’s constitution, contrary to will of the people, with the stroke of a government minister’s pen in an office far away from the public eye, fell squarely on them.

It should have been a decision for the elected members of the Scottish Parliament and the burden of such a momentous decision to be shared out by the 129 MSPs.

In the end, the excuses ran hollow, the lies were transparent and, once he realised his career was on the line, only a grudging apology kept the minister in a job.

For once, this wasn’t party politics; this was a parliament taking on an errant government and found them guilty as charged.

This issue cuts to the heart of our democracy, that the parliament exists to scrutinise and hold to account the government of the day.

And that work can’t be done if key decisions are being taken by officials in back rooms and covered up so neither the parliament nor the public could find out.

For a government which has consistently argued the answer to all our woes is to for them to have greater economic powers, the decision to fritter away the ones the Scottish people already gave them has damaged their credibility beyond repair.