An early assessment of the Scottish Parliament

  • Arnold Kemp
  • The Observer, Sunday 16 December 2001 00.41 GMT
  • The legendary Irish heroine, Grace O’Malley, who led a band of 200 sea-raiders from the coast of Galway in the sixteenth century, found her enemies among the Irish as well as the English, and was eventually pardoned by Queen Elizabeth. The Scots turned to the same Queen to help them get rid of Rome and the French.

    The old political truth, that your enemies are not necessarily those who sit on the opposite benches, has emerged to haunt the Labour Party in Scotland. It has been in many ways a wretched couple of years since our new parliamentarians took the stage. The death of Donald Dewar, the embarrassment of Henry McLeish and the private troubles of our new First Minister, Jack McConnell, have damaged the standing of the Parliament, though mostly in the eyes of those who didn’t much value it in the first place.

Problems facing Scotland in Europe

The Herald c 1989

…At Westminster Scottish opinion is organised on party lines; Parliament speaks for Scotland only as part of the UK, not as an entity with preoccupations of its own. It cannot even muster a Scottish Select Committee and English MPs are drafted in as cannon fodder. Our disagreements ease the path of our political rulers, the Tory Ministers in Scotland, who enjoy constitutional legality but lack popular authority.

Yet it is becoming clearer as we move towards the economic and political development of the European Community that the enunciation of a Scottish viewpoint will be increasingly vital if we are not to become peripheral or even second-class citizens.

Scotland in Europe

The Herald c 1989

AS A SLOGAN, Scotland in Europe is like a piece of glass. If it catches the sun it sparkles like a jewel, dazzling and beguiling. In other lights you can see right through it.

Subsidiarity and an official handbook to Britain

From the Herald, Ediotiral Notebook, 16 January 1993

ON my desk this week landed a handsome volume. Its cover carries a colour photomontage including pictures of the Queen, Big Ben, and Mrs Betty Boothroyd, the admirable Speaker of the Commons who looks like becoming one of the TV personalities of the decade. Britain 1993 is an official handbook prepared by the Central Office of Information. I looked through it in the expectation of being irritated by it and was not disappointed. But its crassness surprised even me.

On the eve of the devolution referendum 1997

The Herald, September 10, 1997.

Those of us who remember the fiasco of 1979 approach tomorrow with nervousness.  In the last days of that referendum campaign the Yes majority dissolved and Scotland lost its nerve.  A generation that had worked for change felt disillusioned and betrayed.  The Thatcher years began and a political winter fell upon Scotland.

Roland Muirhead’s fight for a Scottish Parliament

THERE arrived in the office this week a slim volume called Scotland’s  Constitution. It is dedicated to the memory of Roland Eugene Muirhead  (1868-1964) who for 75 years ”relentlessly campaigned” for an  independent Scottish parliament.

The publication of this constitution is an act of piety by a small  band of faithful followers, for Muirhead, called by Tom Johnston the  grand old man of Scottish nationalism, is now very largely forgotten in  the country to which he devoted so much energy.

A Burns NIght ‘massacre’ – failure of devolution in 1979

The Herald, Editorial Ntebook, 25 September 1993.

SIR Myer Galpern, who died this week, was a Lord Provost of Glasgow and a Labour MP. But he will be remembered because of his time in the chair of the House of Commons as Deputy Speaker.

On Burns Night, 1978, he presided over the humiliation of the Callaghan Government when it suffered a series of defeats in the division lobbies. The result was the 40% rule which turned the devolution referendum into a mountain too high to climb.


“Were we just wrong, Jim?” Sillars and devolution

From Arnold Kemp’s book, a personal history of post-war Scotland “The Hollow Drum”.

…Jim Sillars told me a story about himself which, he said, explained his character. When he was 15 he was apprenticed to a plasterer and was one of a team working on a job. Although he was the junior apprentice he found he was expected to do the labouring. On further inquiry he discovered from the boss that the job had been priced to allow for three labourers, a junior apprentice, a senior apprentice and a journeyman. The boss had not employed any labourers; he was skimming more profit by making the junior apprentice do the donkey-work.

Sillars walked off the job. There was an enormous row. His father was called to a meeting. But it was to no avail and that day the plastering trade lost a recruit.


Arguments for a Scottish Parliament

THIS week Mr Malcolm Rifkind attacked the Constitutional Convention proposals for a Scottish parliament. He chose to do so on political and economic grounds. Yet there is much more to the question than that.

Except among those naive enough to think that England would gladly part with North Sea oil revenues, home-rule sentiment does not arise from the perception that it will make us rich. It arises from deeper cultural feelings of loss and confusion.

Consensus is the key to a successful scheme of devolution

THE Queen is dead, long live the King. As far as the Scots are concerned John Major will promise nothing but a change of style and perhaps the end of the poll tax. Scotland has barely been mentioned in the contest and none of the contenders has been ready to contemplate any change of policy. Mr Major has specifically rejected a parliament with tax-raising powers and all three evidently assumed that Mrs Thatcher’s departure and a review of the community charge would have a sufficiently tonic effect on the party’s fortunes north of the Border.

On Academic Devolution

THOSE of us who can remember the devolution decade of the seventies, when Scotland came so close to acquiring an Assembly (without tax-raising powers), will have allowed themselves a small smile on hearing the news, this week, that there is to be a measure of academic devolution in Scotland.
Our universities are to be withdrawn from the funding mechanisms controlled by the Department of Education and Science in London and are to come under the control of a new body answerable to the Scottish Office.