In the News

Downside of devolution: the latest from Scotland

Mike McCartney

10th April 2023

Back in my home town of Edinburgh for a few days and news of the police investigation into the SNP's finances completely dominates discussion of domestic events here.

A former member of the nationalist party's hierarchy has dubbed it the biggest crisis to hit the party in 50 years, but it has to be remembered that it is yet another scandal that has emerged in Scottish politics since the establishment of the new Parliament in Holyrood over 20 years ago. Thus it is a far cry from what voters north of the border were promised in the late 1990s, when it was argued that a new devolved body would be a break from Westminster sleaze. Indeed voters in Wales facing a referendum on a new assembly, just a week after it was put to the Scots, were sold a similar argument.

In short, the crisis engulfing the governing party in Edinburgh is a good example for students to employ when looking at the negative outcomes of devolution

Devolution has not resulted, as proponents had hoped, in a new form of politics, free from the tales of corruption which are so often associated with Westminster life. For instance, in Scotland, if we go back to the early history of events in Holyrood, the MSP Tommy Sheridan was the centre of a very high-profile court case against the News of the World where lurid sex allegations surfaced. Sheridan won his libel case, but he faced perjury claims soon after. Hopes that new assemblies would be sleaze free zones were also optimistic. A series of revelations about false expense claims led to a number of party leaders resigning, and then there is the tale of the imprisonment of one MSP who got so drunk at a political awards night at a hotel he set fire to a set of curtains. Meanwhile in Cardiff Bay, there were calls for the Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones, to resign after the death of Carl Sargeant. Therefore, while devolution may have brought government closer to the people, it seems that it brought sleaze and incompetence closer to the people as well.

Don't forget that the latest controversy to affect the SNP, which threatens to bring down their newly elected leader, Humza Yousaf, just weeks after he assumed office, comes not long after their former leader, and former first minister, Alex Salmond, was embroiled in a lengthy legal tussle regarding sexual allegations against him. Meanwhile, at around the same time, another senior SNP figure, Derek Mackay, exited Holyrood after the Scottish Sun revealed transcripts of messages the then minister had sent to a 16 year old boy.

Therefore, what we can say without equivocation is that while devolution may have brought government closer to the people, it has also brought sleaze and incompetence closer to the people as well.

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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