Tuesday, 16 July 2019

New PM could help tackle soaring drugs deaths

From the Daily Record 5th July 2019. A little lengthy but it spells out what  safe drug consumption rooms amount to and how they could be tried in Scotland. 

As the Tory leadership caravan trundles towards Perth tonight, a pack of hounds pursuing the pro-fox baiting Jeremy Hunt, Boris Johnson is nearly home and dry.

By now voting papers are hitting Home Counties door mats and most Conservative members have made up their mind, it has to be Boris for Brexit.

If only the sense of dismay greeting that outcome in Scotland could be matched by Johnson’s own anxiety over his lack of grip on the country of which he has next to no experience.    

There’s precious little understanding of Scotland by the current occupant of Downing Street, let along the next one.

Theresa May gathered Scottish Tory MPs recently, her first group meeting two years after their election. Proceedings started, apparently, with Gavin Barwell, the PM’s chief of staff, telling the room he hadn’t been to Scotland often and outlining what the PM’s speech should say. That heavy rain the other week, it was the weeping frustration of Scottish Tories.

There’s little Boris Johnson can do to change Scotland’s political weather to his advantage.

It’s doubtful his blond appeal can counter the nationalist line that his personality alone is reason enough to stage a second independence vote.

A hard Brexit, Johnson’s epistle to the faithful, his suicide note to the nation, is a clear and present danger to the Union.

On the constitution, and much else, a new PM is going to need every lever at his disposal to wrongfoot Nicola Sturgeon.

One thing Johnson could do is listen to his own libertarian instincts to outpace the SNP in a progressive policy area.

If the Tory leadership contest did us one favour it was to explode the hypocrisy around illegal drugs, taking Michael Gove’s leadership ambitions with it.

The next Prime Minister will almost certainly be a self-confessed drug criminal, possession of a class A drug like cocaine can mean up to seven years in prison, and the prisons are full.

The need for an overhaul of drugs policy across the UK is writ large. In Scotland we are headed for 1100 needless drugs deaths a year.

The rethink on safe consumption facilities that Scottish politicians and this newspaper are campaigning hard for only serves to highlight the drugs crisis across the whole UK.

In England Police chiefs are offering offenders treatment as an alternative to prosecution. 

Unfortunately for the SNP, a demand for anything different is always viewed through the prism of conceding more powers and meets Whitehall resistance.

But this is a UK-wide crisis, the constitution has little to do with it, and, it seems, not much has to change in the law  to allow safe drug consumption rooms that save lives in other countries.

Heroin Assisted Treatment clinics, straight-up medical centres where people are prescribed heroin, rather than methadone, by a doctor for use in the clinic, are on the way. A licence for one to open in Glasgow should be in place for the Autumn.

But supervised drug consumption rooms, where people bring their own street drugs to a safe, sterile space for use under medical supervision, are illegal. 

Health experts avoid calling these places, pardon the media parlance, “shooting galleries” or “injection rooms”. They would look like health centres, and from Portugal to Canada they have proven record in reducing fatalities.

There are just a few legalistic steps to overcome to allow a safer drug consumption facility to operate, because no Health board can put its staff at risk of prosecution for allowing their premises to be used for taking illegal drugs.

There has to be an exemption from specific sections of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, the kind of exemption that allows similar facilities to operate in a range of European countries.

In evidence to the Scottish Affairs committee Professor Alex Stevens, a member Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs, said it would take just a simple statutory instrument to go through the Commons, that is without a vote, to alter the law.

Or, a letter of comfort from the Lord Advocate, Scotland’s chief legal officer, that health staff would not be prosecuted could provide police and medics, and people who use drugs, with the clarity needed. 

The Lord Advocate, James Wolffe, has so far refused to do this pushing the problem back to the Home Office which sticks to the letter of the, highly outdated, 1971 law. 

But in his evidence to Scottish MPs this week, Chief Inspector Jason Kew, of Thames Valley Police, suggested the Lord Advocate could reconsider.

He pointed out that prosecutions can only happen if they first pass the “public interest test”. Given soaring drug deaths would it be in the public interest to prosecute medical staff simply trying to save the lives of vulnerable people?

The roadblock to preventing more deaths is essentially a political one.

The current Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, is irreconcilably against decriminalisation or safe consumption rooms, citing the abhorrence of ordinary people on the streets of Bristol where he grew up to drug trading and its consequences.

Getting drugs and needles off the streets is, of course, one argument for safe consumption rooms.

However, one consequence of a new Prime Minister is a new cabinet, and Javid may be moving on very soon, possibly to become chancellor.

An opportunity arises, for Scotland and for Boris Johnson. 

Another Johnson, Police Scotland’s Steve Johnson, spelled it out in harrowing detail this week. Day on day he is recording deaths through drug abuse of people in their early 20s, people his officers know are in need of a doctor not the dock of a courtroom.  

In one stroke a new Prime Minister could cut through the legalistic buck-passing, and signal that we are ready for a new, grown-up debate on drugs policy.

But scoring a political coup would be incidental and hardly the point. Boris Johnson would be saving lives in Scotland, lots of them.

Tell me, which Prime Minister doesn’t want that headline?

Friday, 12 July 2019

Rogue polls will send indy down the plughole

From my Daily Record column today  12/07/19

Whatever is in the water this summer is fast polluting the independence campaign.

First Angus MacNeil pipes up and says forget a referendum, any election win will do.

Then Kenny MacAskill, whose judgment and political antenna are several stages of evolution ahead, calls for a wildcat, illegal vote.

Add to that Joanna Cherry hijacking plans for citizens’ assemblies as a tool to “create a consensus around Scotland and a bigger majority for Yes” and there’s your democratic credibility swirling down the plughole.

A consultative referendum was a disaster in Catalonia and supporters of citizens’ assemblies are looking at the wrong country.

In Ireland, they were used, successfully, to transition the country on abortion and sexual equality.

These were big cultural and generational changes, massively assisted by the collapse of the Catholic Church and the lived experience of friends and family members talking about previously taboo subjects.

In Scotland, we have been talking about nothing else but constitutional politics for years. Not so much talking as shouting, abusing and singing Kylie Minogue with our hands over our ears if so much as a contradictory tweet comes our way.

Citizens’ assemblies will never be seen in Scotland as anything other than an SNP astroturf campaign, the independence agenda given the synthetic appearance of a grassroots engagement.

Scottish voters have been to the polls eight times in the last 10 years. We were the test tube for the divided, post-crash world that’s seen the rise of nationalism from America to India.

We are the canary in the coal mine of post-truth politics and now we’ve reached the stage where politicians say: “Forget the will of the people, who needs a referendum?” 

To quote the philosopher Justin Timberlake, sometimes the greatest way to say something is to say nothing at all. Not that you’d expect MacNeil to button up.

However, I notice the SNP Government spent £24million on foreign affairs last year, promoting independence abroad. That’s just £1million less than his party has cut from the core budget of MacNeil’s Western Isles council in the last five years.

It shows you what just one year of shutting up about the constitution is worth.

Sùil Eile air Apollo 11

Bho colbh an Daily Record. Mo thaing do Daibhidh Woods agus Mairi K, mar is àbhaist. English translation below.

Nam chuimhne, bha mi cho fad’ air falbh bhon taigh ’s b’urrainn dhomh a bhith aig m’ aois.

Bha mi ann am Bràgar, aig dachaigh m’ uncail, taobh eile an eilein.

Bha telebhisean san t-seòmar-suidhe, ri taobh uinneag ìseal. Bha mise nam shuidhe air an làr.

“That’s one small step for man...”

Bha na h-ìomhaighean dubh is geal, làn sneachda dealain.

Ach bha fios agam, fiù ’s mar phàiste, gun robh sinn ann am fianais seòrsa de mhìorbhail.

Anns na lethcheud bliadhna th’ air a dhol seachad chan eil am faireachadh sin air falbh.

Tha na rinn iad, Niall Armstrong agus Buzz Aldrin, le bhith a’ coiseachd air a’ Ghealaich, fhathast a’ cur iongantas orm.

Bidh mo charaid, a tha na eòlaiche air na speuran, a’ toirt leis ball-coise agus ball teanas a-steach a sgòiltean, ’s iad a’ riochdachadh na Cruinne agus na Gealaich.

Ann am meudachd, tha iad an ìre mhath ceart a-rèir a chèile.

Dè cho fad ’s a dh’fheumas am ball teanas a bhith bhon Chruinne gus sealltainn cho fada ’s a dh’fheumadh na h-astronauts siubhail? Faid do ghàirdein, dà mheatair, còig? 

Bhitheadh an ball teanas 7.5 meatair air falbh, sin 238,900 mìltean.

Bhon a thàinig an sgioba mu dheireadh, Apollo 17, dhachaigh chan eil clann an duine air a bhith cho fad ri mearachd pàiste bho uachdar na talmhainn.


In my memory, I was as far away from the house as I could be for my age.
I was in Bragar, at my uncle’s home, on the other side of the island.
There was a television in the living room, beside a low window. I was sitting on the floor.
“That’s one small step for man...”
The images were black and white, full of static snow.
But I knew, even as an infant, that we were witness to some kind of miracle.
In the fifty years since that feeling has not gone away.
What they did, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin by walking on the moon, still amazes me.
My friend, who is a space expert, takes a football and a tennis ball into schools, representing the Earth and the Moon. In scale, they are about the right proportion to each other.
How far does the tennis ball need to be from the Earth to show how far the astronauts had to travel?
The length of your arm, two metres, five? The tennis ball has to be 7.5 metres away, that’s 238,900 miles.
Since the last crew, Apollo 17, returned home humanity has not gone the width of an infant’s finger from the surface of the earth. 

Sùil Eile air Peadar Thatchell

Bho colbh an Daily Record - English translation below

Bha Peadar Thatchell air Rèidio Mòr (sin a th’ agamsa air Radio 4) an latha eile, agus ’s e a bha uasalach.

Tha Thatchell air a bheatha a chur seachad a’ srì airson chòraichean na coimhearsnachd geidh agus cearteas.

Thàinig e gu aire an toiseach aig fo-thaghadh Bermondsey anns na h-ochdadan, sabaid cho salach agus a tha eachdraidh air.

Bha na Lib Dems a’ càineadh Thatchell - tagraiche a’ phàrtaidh Labaraich - air sgàth ’s gun robh e geidh. 

Bhuannaich Sìm Hughes, nach robh air aideachadh fhathast gun robh e fhèin geidh. Chan eil fhios an d’fhuair e a-riamh mathanas airson sin. 

Co-dhiù, ’s ann mu chòirichean agus càineadh a bha Thatchell a’ bruidhinn air an rèidio. 

Bha am fear seo air a chur far cùrsa trèanaidh o chionn ’s gun robh e a’ coimhead air dòigh-beatha gheidh mar pheacadh sa Bhìoball.

Cha b’ urrainn dha a dhreuchd mar neach-obrach sòisealta a dhèanamh le beachdan dhen leithid, a rèir an oilthigh.

Dè bh’ aig an Naomh Peadar ri ràdh?

Thug freagairt gheur mun duine: “Tha e cruinn comasach beachdan domhain cràbhach a bhith aig neach gu bheil co-sheòrsachd ceàrr, coltach ri mo mhathair fhìn, ach gun a bhith a’ dèanamh leth-bhreith an aghaidh duine a tha geidh.” 

Sin spiorad mathanais.


Peter Thatchell was on Big Radio (it’s what I call Radio 4) the other day, and he was graceful.
Thatcell has spent his life fighting for the rights of the gay community and for justice.
He came to attention first at the Bermondsey by-election in the 80s, a fight so dirty that it became history.
The Lib Dems attacked Thatchell, the Labour candidate, because he was gay.
Simon Hughes, who had not yet admitted he was himself gay, won. It’s not clear if he was ever forgiven for that.
Anyway, it was about rights and condemnation that Thatchell was speaking on the radio.
This individual had been booted off a training course because he saw a gay lifestyle as a Biblical sin.
He couldn’t do his job as a social worker with these views, according to the university. 
What did the Saint Peter have to say? 
He gave answer with insight: “It is perfectly possible to hold deep religious beliefs that homosexuality is wrong, like my own mother, but never to discriminate against gay people.”
That is the spirit of forgiveness.

Will Boris do a Darroch on Scottish fishing?

There is a way for Boris Johnson to get a Brexit deal done quickly.  It just requires him to throw Conservative support in Scotland under a bus. From my Daily Record column:

As Donald Trump dog-walked the UK ambassador out the White House door we saw what kind of Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be.

Rather than stand up for the nation’s interests, Johnson promoted his own.

Kim Darroch (surely that’s pronounced “och” not the “ock” of Anglo broadcasters) was toast the moment the future PM refused to back our man in Washington.

Regardless of what his team might brief about a bigger game, a UK-US alliance to challenge the EU unless we get a Brexit free trade deal, what Johnson did was craven, abject, and plain sooking up to the biggest boy in the playground, 

Or was it? Brexiteers propelling Johnson towards the throne think he sent a strong message to the civil service, to Europe, and his party. Namely, there is nothing and no one he will not throw under a bus for his advancement, which hangs on getting a Brexit deal.

The signal will make Europhile civil service mandarins shudder into line and ought to  give fair weather allies of Tory Brexiteers pause for thought.

Scotland’s fishing barons, for example, the Tories’ best new friends, should take a slug of Trawler Rum to steady the nerves. Here’s why.

There is more chance of the lobster escaping the creel than there is of Johnson getting the Brexit deal through the Commons.

He is not mad enough to crash out without a deal (you try crossing fingers while typing that). Even in his mumbling evasiveness it is clear Johnson has to re-negotiate something.

He can’t work up a new deal in three months on time-limiting the Northern Irish backstop and finding these mythical “alternative arrangements” to satisfy the EU and the Tory right.

Fortunately, there is another plan already on the loom that fits the purpose.

According to an authoritative Brexit expert, Mujtaba Rahman, the best option in play is to lengthen the transition period, the time we would still abide by EU regulations without having a say in shaping them, in order to “bury” the backstop. 

It allows Johnson to deliver leave, and parks the border question for later.

This could be relatively easy to negotiate, would deliver the DUP, and get rebel Tory MPs back on board. Halloween party here we come.

There is just one catch. The idea was kicked around Downing Street earlier this year but strongly vetoed by the Scottish Conservatives. 

Any extension of the transition period would mean staying longer in the Common Fisheries Policy without a voice. 

The Scottish Codfathers (five families own 45 per cent of the fishing quota) are already furious at being kept in the hated CFP until December 2020. Under no deal they’d be out and ruling UK territorial waters from day go.

One thing is sure, if they are not out by May 2021, the next Holyrood election, they’ll pull the rug on Ruth Davidson’s Tory revival and possibly pull the curtains on the United Kingdom as a consequence.

Now, it is perfectly possible to argue the SNP alternative for Scottish fishermen is to be permanently in the Common Fisheries Policy, that’s what Remain means. But the narrative of the Tories betraying coastal communities (again) will be hard to counter. 

So, a route to deliver Brexit exists for Johnson on the first day he walks up Downing Street.

He just has to decide if throwing the Scottish fishing industry under the metaphorical bus is a price worth paying. Will he do a Darroch on the fishermen, and possibly the Union too?

Which takes us neatly to what will the Scottish Tories do?

The lobster in the trap right now is David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary. Johnson is said to be keen to keep him in place to provide stability.

Mundell has proved himself nimble enough to jig around SNP opponents. Facing any other Scottish Tory would be like being slapped with a wet fish. But Mundell can’t swallow no deal and the can’t see the Union washed into the North Sea to allow Johnson to deliver on his over-promises.

But Darroch gives us a glimpse of how the scales will be weighed in Downing Street when it comes to hard decisions and self-interest.

Pass the rum, please.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Rockall fishing wars, you ain't seen nothing yet

Given the renewed interest in Irish fishing boats around the Rockall box, I’ve dug out a Daily Record piece I wrote last year, predicting the stramash after being alerted to what was going on. Reprinted below. 

Irish boats have been in and around Rockall for years in waters claimed by the UK. But last season they started, in the words of a Scottish fishing source, “taking the proverbial” in the sure knowledge that no UK Minister wanted to see an Irish skipper in the dock of a Scottish court over a territorial dispute while Brexit negotiations were at a delicate stage.

This year the talking is over, and Scottish Ministers can no longer ignore the complaints of the Scottish fishing fleet or the evidence of the electronic trackers that show exactly where the boats are. They’re warning they will dispatch a fishery cruiser. The Irish government’s apparent bafflement is puzzling, everyone knew what was going on, but during Brexit talks everyone chose to ignore it. 

Daily Record 07/09/18

SCALLOP wars? You ain’t seen nothing yet.

Tempting as it is to see the fishing clashes in the English Channel as Brexit without nets, the incident only shows how complicated negotiating a shared resource like fish is.

UK boats have ancient rights to fish the French coast, just as French boats came to UK waters long before a Common Fisheries Policy.

For years, it was generally accepted that small British boats could enter the “closed” French waters for a limited number of “days at sea”.

There was no agreement this year, although that has been sorted now after flares and dangerous clashes at sea.

What tipped the French is that the small boats from Newlyn and the West Country have been joined of late by trawlers from Scotland.

One of the vessels attacked in the Channel was the 95ft Honeybourne III, registered in Peterhead but apparently belonging to a Canadian-owned company. So, nothing as simple as a Scottish boat, and a signal, if one were needed, that our post-Brexit fishing policies should start afresh with an emphasis on boats fishing areas assigned to their home ports.

Expect more of these disputes post-Brexit.

I’m told Irish trawlers are “pulling the proverbial” in the Rockall box conservation area on the edge of Britain’s Atlantic territorial waters.

During delicate Brexit negotiations, which government would risk having an Irish trawler hauled through a British court over fishing infringements? 

When I looked yesterday, the marine traffic map showed the Honeybourne III was still there, off the coast of Le Touquet. The live mapping service said: “Status: engaged in fishing.”

Its business is scallop dredging, scraping the ocean floor for shellfish, which has been described as akin to cutting down orchards to pick apples. But that’s another debate for post-Brexit Britain.

 I NEARLY fell off my scooter when a Mercedes with the numberplate Y19 YES drove past me outside Westminster this week.

Nationalist friends will take it as a sign from on high - well, the DVLA - that next year is the destined one for an independence majority.

Then an SNP MP told me no, it was probably just Alex Salmond on the way to record his Russia Today programme.

Am fear-tàilisg an dràthair nan stòcainnean

Coltach ri mòran eile a tha a’ fuireach faisg air Tràigh Ùige, bidh mo charaid a’ cur an taigh aige mach air mall do luchd-turais fhad ’s a tha e thall thairis.

Mar sin bha e anns an Spàinn nuair a bhuail an naidheachd e mar bhrag tàirneanaich.

Is e sin gu bheil teaghlach ann an Dùn Èideann a’ reic fear-tàilisg Ùig a “lorg” iad anns an dachaigh aca.

Anns a’ mhionaid, bha fios aige gur e sin am dearbh phìos a bh’ aige fhèin ann an dràthair nan stòcainnean.

Ach a rèir nam pàipearan-naidheachd, tha am pìos seo – aona phìos - a’ dol air a’ mhargaidh airson còrr is millean not.

Abair staing. 

Gus am faigh e dhachaigh, chan urrainn dha a bhith cinnteach.

Ach tha e an ìre mhath cinnteach gur ann à Dùn Èideann a bha an teaghlach a ghabh an taigh airson ceala-deug.

Daoine às a’ bhaile mhòr a’ gabhail brath.

Ach chan urrainn dha a bheul fhosgladh.

’S ann an uairsin a thòisich na ceistean a thaobh ciamar a bha am fear-tàilisg aigesan sa chiad dol a-mach?

Chan eil aige ach an aon fhurtachd.

Cha toir e fada an t-airgead a dhèanamh a-rithist tron diabhal Air BnB sin.

Friday, 24 May 2019

A farewell to failure

My Daily Record column for today

When she goes – and that could be anytime between the next keystroke and Donald Trump leaving for the D-Day celebrations in June – there will, no doubt, be some sympathy of Theresa May.

It is fair to say she was dealt the worst hand of any incoming prime minister since Churchill took over from Chamberlain in the spring of 1940 as the German army advanced to the French coast.

But it is also true that May has done nothing since July 2016 to improve her own chances or that of the country she effectively stopped running many months ago.

She will not go down as the worst prime minister of the modern era. That booby goes to David Cameron, who gifted us this bitter legacy we all share.

As May said in what will be seen as her valedictory speech, moving “from the simplicity of the choice on the ballot paper to the complexity of resetting the country’s relationship with 27 of its nearest neighbours was always going to be huge”.

For her, it has proved impossible.

But the sentence sums up how a referendum harnesses a political curse on a generation. Having experienced two, most Scots wouldn’t wish another on any country or leader.

In her favour, May showed dogged resilience, bore relentless criticism in her stride, went beyond human exhaustion and remained wedded to her Christian sense of duty.

Those strengths were also weakness, demonstrating her inability to compromise, to dig in and fall silent when flexibility and reassurance were needed to lead.

Abba’s dancing queen was not fleet of foot enough even to avoid the slow lava flow that overwhelmed her. She will go down as the most incompetent diplomat and negotiator to cross the threshold of Downing Street as prime minister.

From the Lancaster House speech, where she ruled out the single market and freedom of movement, to the Charing Cross compromise, where she threw a kitchen sink full of concessions, she was a failure.

May was to deliver Brexit. Yesterday, morning, the death notice of her Withdrawal Agreement Bill was read out, or rather excluded from Commons business.

On the threshold of Downing Street, she said she would pursue the “burning injustices” of division and inequality that stalk Britain.

Yet in the week her fate was sealed, the United Nations accused May’s Government of presiding over a welfare system that has turned the country into a digital Dickensian workhouse for the poor.

She said she would defend the Union but called on the DUP, the political black and tans, as reinforcements.

She let Eurosceptic Unionists misrepresent the people of Northern Ireland and she completely misread the new European identity of the Irish.

She held Scottish nationalism at bay with a brittle, but so far effective “now is not the time”. But she showed no feel for this or any other part of Britain outside her own Oxfordshire church parish background.

May’s biggest task, which she so often put ahead of the national interest, was holding her beloved Conservative Party together.

Her ultimate failure is to leave her party and country a legacy that will rent it in twain from the top to the bottom.

His name is Boris Johnson. Brexit is a doomed enterprise for many reasons. The political foundations to assemble a coalition for any Brexit model are not in the parliament of no majorities. Changing Prime Minister does not change that. The misery continues.

There have been only 54 prime ministers in the three centuries of a United Kingdom. May is the sixth of my adult lifetime.

The office is the pinnacle of politics, a rare and incredibly difficult daily and lifetime feat that few can conduct well and even then, only for a limited time.

Her childhood ambition was beyond May’s abilities. Unable to accept reality, paralysed by her own decisions as much as by a hung parliament, she leaves us no further forward and she has no achievements to speak of.

There – I’ve reached the end of the column and she is still prime minister. She shouldn’t be for much longer.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

The great hang-glider debate, 20 years of Holyrood

Thoughts on 20 years of the Scottish parliament, Daily Reord 11/05/19

It was quite an event, the day Scottish parliament opened at the General Assembly on the Mound in Edinburgh. 

It was a day of great speeches, Donald Dewar’s best ever. A morning of great music, Sheena Wellington singing “A Man’s man for a’ that” in front of Price Philip and the MSPs joining in. The strains of Inverness Gaelic choir wafted up to the press gallery where we sat, a new model army of political journalists looking down on 129 new members of the Scottish parliament.

At the time there was about one journalist to every two politicians, more than enough to capture Winnie Ewing’s words that echoed of history and continuity: “The Scottish Parliament, adjourned on the 25th day of March in the year 1707, is hereby reconvened’.” It was her finest moment too. 

Somewhere I have the commemorative Royal Bank of Scotland pound note printed for the occasion, slipped into a copy of Neil Gunn’s “Silver Darlings” bought that day because I’d meant to read the novel for years and now seemed like the time for a new beginning.

That’s how it felt, as children from all of Scotland’s schools marched down the Mound and new faces made life-long friends as Scotland’s political class made it's way to the pub. 

It didn’t seem divided, as the body politic is now, although in the thrilling finale to ceremony, as the Red Arrows escorted Concorde in a fly-past down Princes Street, the seeds of the next 20 years were cast in a comic aside.

“See if that was your independent Scottish republic that wouldn’t have been Concorde it would have been a hang-glider,” joked one stridently Unionist hack to his colleague.

“Aye, but it would have been wur hang-glider,” came the sharp retort. which pretty much sums up the current divided state of play in Scottish politics.

To begin with the delivery of devolution itself was the achievement, the pendulum swing from almost two decades of Conservative rule and the response to many years of demands for devolution in the United Kingdom.

With the hindsight of 20 years many argue devolution, to Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland,  is still unfinished business, that Holyrood is not complete despite tax-raising powers now being giving MSPs the freedom to raise and spend how they choose.

Yet the reluctance, or complexity, in assuming new powers on everything ranging from welfare payments to VAT is highlighted by critics as the unpreparedness of the current SNP government to move forwards.

The push-pull of devolution will continue for years and while Scotland has changed, Westminster institutions have yet to match the new devolutionary politics that strain at the ties of the United Kingdom. The devolve and forget attitude of Whitehall, and the high-handed treatment of devolved governments at what are meant to be joint inter-governmental meetings, grates with those outside (and some inside) the Westminster postcode.

Now the Scottish parliament is part of nation’s furniture,  although arguments about that furniture and the Enric Miralles designed home for the parliament, absorbed almost five years of controversy until politics came down from the hill to Holyrood at the foot of the Royal Mile. 

Holyrood, and its upturned boats is now seen as more important by Scots to their lives than the House of Commons and Big Ben, though it is the full-blooded drama of Westminster politics that still catches the country’s attention, and occasionally the country’s breath.

We shape our buildings and thereafter they shape us, said Winston Churchill. Holyrood may disprove that. Despite the radical design of Holyrood the politics that emerged from the building have been essentially conservative.

There have been some ground-breaking initiatives. Land-reform, the pre-legislative gift from the Labour government, has still to extend beyond the crofting counties. The smoking ban and the minimum price for alcohol will have long-term health benefits for the nation.

But others, like free care for the elderly and the abolition of tuition fees, mostly benefit middle ground, middle class Scotland that the all sides must satisfy to in order to build an electoral alliance.  

The stats for health outcomes and educational achievement for the poorest parts of the country remain stubbornly low, lending credence to the conclusion that devolution has been very good for Scotland’s middle class and not so good for the poor.

That raises, even after 20 years, a fundamental question about what politics and parliaments are for, if not improving the lives of the country’s citizens? 

While post-devolution England experimented with health care, education and social care reform - for better or worse - successive Scottish governments have shown no great courage for reform or for taking on vested interests that might prevent change.

Radical is not the word to describe 20 years of Holyrood, managerialism is and that lends itself to another m word, mediocrity.

But two decades is not long in the lifetime of a parliament and there is still great energy, great opportunity in Scotland to do things differently, as the recently ignited debate on climate change demonstrates.

Part of the reason why everything has stayed the same while everything changed is that the bandwidth has been absorbed by one political project - independence.

The rise of the SNP, the eclipse of the Labour party as the home of the traditional left vote, and the first, though perhaps not final, independence referendum have been the defining moments of the first 20 years.

That has been an incredible story and for those on the nationalist side of the debate these have been years of steady advance on the long, perhaps inevitable, march to independence. 

In 2014 the world looked on as that impulse for self-determination came close to a big bang that would have set Scotland on a very different trajectory.

Since then the world has moved on, leaving Scottish politics and Holyrood still in permanent orbit around the independence question or, as my squabbling journalist friends would have it on  that first day 20 years ago, the great hang glider debate.