Willie Rennie: Liberal Democrats have been at the forefront of devolution

I was still living in England at the time of the 1997 election. As the results came through, I nipped upstairs in the sports centre in Chesterfield where I was at the count to watch some results on the telly. There were was one other person in the room, Tony Benn, who was eating a white chocolate Magnum. Anyway, I was quietly blubbing with joy because I knew that this result would mean that we would get a Scottish Parliament.

A lot has happened since then. Some of the Lib Dems’ finest moments came during their 8 years in coalition with Labour at Holyrood. Free personal care, STV for local government, free eye and dental checks, the smoking ban (ahead of similar measures down south), right to roam, decent freedom of information legislation were just some of the things that we got done. The paucity of the SNP’s achievements in their decade in power do not compare well.

On this 20th anniversary of the devolution referendum, Willie Rennie said:

Liberal Democrats are proud of the part we played in bringing about the devolution voted for in 1997 and enacted from 1999. A decentralised United Kingdom, with decision making closer to people, with a pluralist approach at its heart, reflected decades of campaigning for Britain to become a modern democracy.

Liberal Democrats were part of the civic movement in Scotland, through the Constitutional Convention, that set down the clear path for a devolved parliament with real powers. And they were able to take up their places inside the newly elected Scottish Parliament after the first elections.

Liberal Democrats can be proud that the big difference made to people’s lives in Scotland –free personal care for the elderly and the revolution in renewable energy to name just two – came as a result of the work of Liberal Democrats in the first term of office. People even now still demand that governments of all stripes get as much done in their terms of office as we did back then.

The whole of the UK has benefited from devolution and the transfers of powers that have taken place since 1999.

The sharing of power among different governments has allowed innovation in public policy. Take for example the smoking ban, now almost a decade old. It was the Lib-Lab Scottish Executive that agreed that its plans in 2006 would be for a comprehensive ban, rather than the more timid UK proposals.

It is a long-standing liberal belief that power should be shared. Modern, successful countries are more successful if fiscal power is not hoarded at the centre. Looking ahead devolved powers once again have the chance to set the agenda for the whole of the country from creating a world class education system to giving the attention that mental health deserves.

We can be proud of ourselves for what we achieved, even if it all seems a very long time ago now.

Elsewhere, over the weekend, Jim Wallace spoke about his memories about the referendum in the Sunday Post.

Flying to Edinburgh to participate in my first referendum campaign event, the pilot announced an emergency landing.

An inauspicious way to start, I thought, as I adopted the brace position. It turned out to be a false alarm.

On the basis all’s well that ends well, I took heart.

An abiding memory of the campaign is the strength of cross-party cooperation.

But the most profound memory of the two weeks leading up to polling day, was the tragic death of Princess Diana.

I was travelling back to Orkney, trying to get a mobile signal on the deck of a ferry to speak to Donald Dewar. There was already consensus that the campaign should be suspended.

I’m sure we didn’t anticipate the extent of the emotional outpouring over the next seven days.

Resuming, a week later, we launched into a whirlwind of a campaign – a rally with Sean Connery, a series of passionate debates, firing up our supporters to get out on the doorsteps, culminating in a remarkable result.

The Parliament I had believed in all my political life was to be a reality.

It’s had its ups and downs, but Scotland today without a Parliament? Unthinkable!

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • There’s so much good that can, and has been done with devolution, when the parties in power believe in devolution. Unfortunately, we’ve got a nationalist party, and making devolution work goes against their primary goal, and so things have stalled, and in some cases gone backwards.

    I’m hopeful that now the SNP are a minority administration, and especially following the general election result, they need more action and less talk. The recent announcements show promise, but the current administration have shown they are much better at making promises than following through, and it will be the duty of all other parties to keep them on their toes.

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