2007 - 2021

Donald Dewar and the Lost Story of Devolution

A significant and poignant moment in Scotland’s recent history comes up this weekend on Sunday, with the 20th anniversary of the tragic death of the first ever First Minister Donald Dewar at the age of 63.

Donald Dewar was a profoundly decent person, imbued with an older sense of public mission and morality, who often seemed out of kilter with the times – drawing from a deep reservoir of how the middle and professional classes used to behave. His death robbed the Scottish Parliament of leadership and aided a period of institutional instability, but even more began a series of steps that led to Scottish Labour’s long descent into near-irrelevance.

Dewar as First Minister was no natural leader, but his death removed a politician who could speak to the Scotland beyond Labour; as STV’s Bernard Ponsonby put it: ‘You would have to go back to Donald Dewar to mark a leader of genuine national standing who commanded respect beyond the Labour vote.’

After Dewar came Henry McLeish briefly and then Jack McConnell as Labour First Ministers. McLeish was only in office for little over a year and had to resign over what he called ‘a muddle, not a fiddle’; while Jack McConnell (who thinks he can comment on statecraft now and adjudge First Ministers in the midst of a pandemic) led a characterless, dour administration defined by his timidity and being feart of Gordon Brown.

The missing story of devolution and rise of independence

Something more was revealed and magnified by the death of Dewar – which he may not have provided the answer to – but no one else subsequently has even tried. Dewar’s death removed the chances for Labour to provide a positive, convincing, popular story of devolution and the Scotland it was meant to bring about. McLeish was there too short a period, McConnell defensive, Brown fixated on his power politics, and the six Labour opposition leaders who followed defined by the law of diminishing returns.

In the light of this we can now see that Dewar’s death and this subsequent failure of political leadership and imagination around the devolution project had huge consequences that still define us today. Namely that the political terrain which was opened up was subsequently claimed and captured by the SNP – at first narrowly in 2007, then more emphatically in 2011 – allowing the party to seize and reshape the narrative and bring independence in from the margins (where it was pre-2007) into being the new mainstream: a generational shift in the politics of the nation.

Twenty years on, devolution is a political project mostly unchampioned. Labour have blown themselves up in Scotland; the Tories see the union not devolution as their cause; and Boris Johnson, and the blowhard Brexit he and his allies represent, does not think about constitutional niceties such as devolution.

Yet, within this new environment which has been hesitantly building since 2014 there are concerns which need to be addressed – about the longevity of the SNP in office, about creeping system capture, the limits of democracy and accountability, and where alternative centres of political power sit, aid and nurture pluralism. And all of these matter to a politics and culture of independence which has to be about more than just pushing the argument narrowly over a winning line – aided by the obvious thought that such a limited political vision might not even do that.

Take Magnus Linklater in The Times on Monday where he surveyed the long view of the independence debate over the past 40-50 years, using Ben Jackson’s recently published The Case for Independence: A History of Nationalist Political Thought as his prompt.

Linklater observed that the influence of the titans of old – Neal Ascherson, Neil MacCormick, Tom Nairn – contributed to the backstory of the intellectual ballast and confidence of the independence argument. They aided a critique of the British state as unreformed, decayed and ancient, and of a Scottish nationalism that was modern, progressive, European and about Scotland as a modern, progressive, European country. Linklater writes: ‘All this was more than 40 years ago, but these ideas have worked into the national mood, and, with an unpopular UK Government dragging Scotland out of the EU, they are back on the agenda.’

He argues that since this influence there has been significant retreat and ossification. Linklater does not know first-hand any of the thinking on independence post-2011 – when the public debate was magnified by the SNP majority victory. Much of this thinking is cited in Jackson’s book at length – but has gone above Linklater’s head and reading of the book which underlines his superficial understanding of the contemporary independence movement.

Linklater focuses on blockages in the SNP, stating that they ‘seem incapable of holding any kind of debate that challenges the carefully controlled messages’ and further observes that ‘there is an intellectual vacuum at the top and no sign of the giants of the past to fill it’. This is both a sweeping set of generalisations about a debate, but has the seeds of identifying an acute set of weaknesses about the SNP and public life.

An interesting contribution in this terrain is James Mitchell’s The Scottish Question Revisited just published by the Jimmy Reid Foundation. Mitchell poses that this question is a ‘matrix of issues’ involving democracy, governance, identity, issues of legitimacy and trust and public policy references.

Mitchell believes that the constitutional debate has become too narrow, superficial and reduced to soundbites in the aftermath of the 2014 independence referendum. He argues that, on the independence and pro-union side, there has been a simplistic evoking of sovereignty which is absolutist and indivisible that taken to extremes leads to the Brexit British nationalism of recent years – and which hides behind binary thinking to mask the shortcomings on each constitutional side. Mitchell believes that: ‘We should avoid the ‘winner takes all’ with one side claiming victory and imposing its views as with Brexit.’

Critically for all of us, both arguments can mask the obvious failings in our politics and democracy. Does the Yes argument really want to look around modern Scotland after 20 years of devolution and say that is the best we can we do, that this is a cohesive, fair society and functioning democracy? Do independence supporters really want to defend every aspect of the domestic status quo in Scotland – in education, health, local government – and posit that any real radical changes which transforms people’s lives has to wait until Day One of independence? That is a road to disaster: of associating independence with a stasis, system capture and the middle class professional state who have run Scotland for decades.

The Brigadoon mirage of UK federalism

This brings us to Ben Thomson’s Scottish Home Rule: The Answer to Scotland’s Constitutional Question – an argument that has been made episodically throughout Scotland’s recent political history – the call from Scotland for an all-UK federalism.

Thomson was the founder of the centre-right think tank Reform Scotland and thinks that in another referendum ‘we need an alternative to independence and status quo’ and ‘what is it to be afraid putting this to the public?’ Thomson wants to see all domestic policy come home to Scotland with an entrenchment protecting this settlement, while defence and foreign affairs remains at Westminster, asking: ‘Does Westminster have ultimate sovereignty or does Scotland have ultimate sovereignty? Can we try to imagine a situation where we embrace shared sovereignty?’

Home rule and federalism are a sort of Brigadoon chimera: appearing and reappearing on a regular basis but never in clear vision and detail. This is a distinctive, predictable pattern. At times of peril to the union federalism is raised in warm, welcoming words (the example of Gordon Brown being germane) with no plan or detail offered and Thomson’s sketchy plan is no different. Thompson says: ‘There is real discontent with the current system. 50% plus independence tells you that’.

Yet he ignores the question of who is going to politically champion and take forward this agenda in Scotland – with the Lib Dems in such a shrunken state. And he shies away from acknowledging how broken and beyond repair the UK political system is and the obstacles to reforming Westminster and Whitehall and addressing the democratic deficit in England – subjects he glosses over in his contribution.

Twenty years of devolution and thirteen years of SNP Government are an appropriate time to take stock and assess how well our politics are doing in transforming our country and the lives of people. It is in truth a mixed picture of cautious centrism and dull managerialism – whether under Labour and Lib Dems or the SNP – that lacks key qualities on how we deal with the big issues about the economy, inequality and vested interests. Mitchell takes the view that devolution has become ‘a means of preserving existing policies and institutions: a conservative (with a small ‘c’) case against Conservative (big ‘C’) policies.’

Returning to the critiques from Mitchell, Linklater and Thomson, how do we as a political community dig deeper and nurture and nourish substantive ideas, debate and radical thinking? How can we aid the pluralism of sites like Bella and encourage a culture which holds power to account in public institutions and public life?

Then there is the question of the missing Scotland and missing voices (the former the term I came up with in the indyref to explain the part of Scotland politically excluded for a generation) from our political debate. All of the voices cited above are white men – no disrespect to each of them – but we have not heard from enough women, minority communities and people who sit outside the comfortable, cosy middle class.

This matters on many levels – about how we interpret the past twenty years, understand the present and shape the future – with academic Hannah Graham observing about the stories of devolution ‘where are the women?’ and that: ‘If Holyrood is a modern people’s Parliament, who is and isn’t telling, narrating, co-editing our story?’ Our politics have been too captured by an insider class of people who have only had a narrow experience of living and working in politics and not surprisingly they seem on the evidence so far to have little interest in shifting and redistributing power in society. And then there is the missing lexicon of class and power from the SNP and mainstream politics – which has been aided by Scottish Labour’s terminal decline.

Twenty years of devolution is a story which seems to have run its course. That does not mean that independence seamlessly becomes the future. Instead we have to develop a political culture which is about more than command and control, managerialism and top down, and that requires a politics which goes beyond Parliament, politicians and political parties. Scotland has dramatically changed in recent times and become a society comfortable with the idea of independence and self-determination. We have to nurture a different politics, society and future – one which brings that different Scotland into everyday, lived reality.















Comments (28)

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  1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    At the official opening of the Scottish Parliament there was a parade of school children from every area of past the Queen. The parade went on to Princes St Gardens where entertainments and refreshments were provided for the young people. Alone, of all the VIPs present at the main ceremony, only Donald Dewar went to Princes St Gardens to join the young people. He also gave an address to the youth assembled. He struck exactly the right tone and was humble and respectful. He was cheered to the echo. I was in the company of a veteran SNP activist, who had tears in his eyes listening to Mr Dewar.

    It received little coverage in the media.

  2. MacNaughton says:

    Gerry is right. We do need to talk about it. But where and when? And who is going to bring the fizzy drinks and the sausage rolls?

    Here’s my take: there is a dreadful lack of ambition in Scotland and it starts at the very top with the SNP gov. There’s nothing policy wise to get excited about at all. There is no vision. Surgeon is a lawyer and thinks like a lawyer. The people around her are of similar temperament. It is by now tedious and depressing beyond the bearable. There is no flair,no boldness, no chutzpah, no risk. It’s boring.

    Couldn’t some appointment be made to shake things up a bit? James Robertson for minister of culture for examp!e? Andy Wightman minister of environment? Lesley Riddoch Secretary for outdoor activities? Such appointments are normally cosmetic in nature with politicians cynically cashing in on some outsiders street cred for political gain with nothing really changing and celeb appointment resigning in a huff after a short time. But what wouldn’t we do for something even like that!

    The problem is wider than that and it comes down to the following: comparisons are always and often only made with England.

    England is by now a basket case far right pariah state which is beyond redemption. You should read some of the stuff that’s being written in the Spanish press about the sceptered isle! Almost unpublishable in the UK and I’m sure its the same in other European countries….

    We need a new government. That’s what it is Gerry. We have to keep voting for the SNP till there’s another referendum, but really, who can say they do so with enthusiasm?

    1. Blair says:

      There is a lack of ambition in the SNP, even if they get 100% they are still stuck! It’s pretty clear they will not be given another legal chance for independence from the UK government for a generation, with that in mind why are they not looking at options to increase their power at Westminster.

      1. MacNaughton says:

        The SNP leadership wouldn’t risk a shandy at lunchtime…

  3. james gourlay says:

    Read “All the First Minister’s Men” for an alternative viewpoint of Dewar.

  4. john burrows says:

    A thoughtful summary.

    But, I would contend that the aspiration for the independence of Scotland, now embraced by a majority of the population, has gone beyond an intellectual exercise. It has entered the realm of accepted wisdom. Argument is now a waste of breath.

    The SNP is not in front of this wisdom, it is following it. Although the FM runs a reasonably sincere administration, it has demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt, that it is currently functionally incapable of mounting a serious campaign for independence.

    Trapped within it’s technocratic/bureaucratic timidity regarding the questions of independence, the FM’s party distracts itself by stumbling into divisive legislative traps of it’s own making, which undermines its primary purpose.

    The ineptitude is rather astonishing, at times. Shooting it’s own feet has become a habit for the current leadership.

    But this is neither here nor there. Other’s are now filling this vacuum.

    The Holyrood election in May, is now the only ‘independence’ vote the Scot’s are likely to get in the next four years. The SNP will either ‘win’ a majority, or they won’t. Our constitutional status is now the only issue on the ballot. Either way, the die will be cast.

    This is certainly the opinion of its opponents, although the Tories and their allies will pretend otherwise before the election.

    We have all witnessed the almost total disintegration of the “British” polity over the past ten years. Westminster is now in the hands of an extremist libertarian sect of the Tory party.

    They are particularly convinced of of the infallibility of their plans of reshaping Greater England to recreate some kind of bizarre neo-Elizabethan ‘Golden Age.’ It is barking mad nonsense. Anyone with a functioning brain recognizes this.

    Meanwhile, as per normal, the ‘natural governing’ party will continue to do what they always do. Shakedown the vulnerable, line their own pockets with the fruits of others labor and ruthlessly persecute immigrants. All topped off with imperial baubles for their ‘services to the nation.’

    I for one, would pay any price to escape these rogues. Even national bankruptcy would be cheap, to escape the bitterness of their continued rule.

    They are moral vacuums and should be in prison, or insane asylums. Not making the decisions on the life and/or death of millions. This is the driving force behind independence. Everything else is irrelevant.

    When you are chained to a lunatic, you first have to escape before you can make any plans for your future. The UK is now officially an insane asylum. It’s time we slipped the straight jacket which binds us to this bedlam. It is literally killing us.

    Independence has now become the only path for Scotland to survive as a functional and socially progressive society.

    1. Dougie Harrison says:

      So John, you would contend that because a few recent polls suggesting that with 50+% of Scots now supporting independence, attempts at intellectual persuasion are now a waste of time? Scots have been fighting for independence since long before we legally lost it in 1707. Burns published ‘Sic a Parcel o Rogues in a Nation’ in 1792. Independence was central to the ‘Scottish Insurrection’ of 1820, conveniently overshadowed for most social historians by the ‘Peterloo Massacre’ of the previous year – which of course, happened in Manchester, England. Home Rule was NOT of course independence, but it was central to the platform of early Scots socialists like Keir Hardie, as it had been to the more radical Liberals whom Labour largely replaced. Had the First World War not intervened in 1914, Scotland might well have had ‘home rule’ for over a century now; Asquith’s Liberals had the Bill ready to present to Westminster. The first ever SNP MP was elected in 1945, over 20 years before Winnie Ewing’s breakthrough at Hamilton. The SNP polled up to 40% of Scots votes in the 1970s, nearly 50 years ago. So if we haven’t quite been at 50+% before, Scots know what it is to think we’re getting there… only to be knocked back YET AGAIN. Alas, our football and rugby teams aren’t the only Scots for whom honourable defeat comes rather too frequently. No John, intellectual persuasion is NEVER a waste of time. We’re not independent yet, and it may take us rather longer than some folk seem to think before we achieve it. Especially with over-optimists like you dominating the discussion. Scots have learned to become amongst the most consistent losers on the planet.

      Gerry Hassan’s piece is both wise and timely. He understands rather better than most why the independence movement has (only recently, remember) usurped Labour at the centre of Scottish political life – and what a remarkable breakthrough was Donald Dewar’s election as the first leader IN OUR HISTORY of a democratically-elected Scottish Parliament, albeit one with constrained powers.

      That was only twenty-one years ago… but some people seem to think that an independent Scotland is now all-but-achieved. Well, it isn’t. And unless we learn to tackle the weak case for federalism, which is only ever trotted out by the unionist camp when they feel seriously threatened, we’re likely to wait another few decades for independence. A 50+% majority in opinion polls can very rapidly turn into a 60-40 defeat in an election. Especially when the ‘winning side’ is filled with loud public internal rows, as is the case just now. The electorate may reward us for our self-indulgent petulant internal sqaubbles, with heavy defeat. At 73, I very much hope they don’t; I’d like to die knowing that my children and grandchildren will live in an independent Scotland. But I try not to allow my hopes to make me complacent; there is nothing weaker than a complacent human cause.

      Federalism cannot work in the UK because England has three times the population of all the other constituents of the UK combined, and is most unlikely to allow itself to be divided into smaller units any time soon. No successful federal state has ever survived in modern history, in which there was a dominant part which could outvote all the others combined, three times over. It was only ever attempted once in history… and I needn’t tell you that the USSR disappeared off the world map thirty years ago.

      But to win independence as we certainly CAN, we need to get our house in order soon.

      1. Dougie Harrison says:

        Just re-read this, and realised of course that it contains a silly typo. ‘suggesting’ on the first line should be ‘suggest’. Mea culpa, I’ve nae excuse!

      2. john burrows says:

        I am not “over optimistic.” Indeed, I doubt it will actually transpire as the current SNP leadership seems determined to undermine themselves.

        But living in a constant state of constitutional limbo is nothing to look forward to.

        Devolution was meant to be a trap to corral and defenistrate independence support. The wily Scot’s turned it on its head and have used it grab the wheel of state.

        Johnson and Co have determined to reset the Scottish Parlaiment to parish council status. The Scot’s have the choice in May to comply with Johnsons plans, or not.

        If they choose the former, independence will be permanently removed as a future option of the governance for Scotland in both our remaining lifetimes.

        1. Dougie Harrison says:

          Awa tae Bruce’s cave and watch the spider, man. And learn some history. ‘If it doesnie happen in the next five minutes I’ll jist throw my toys oot the pram and BAWL ‘.

          Indeed. I suspect the current Scots Government are all on the edge of resigning, knowing how much they’ve displeased you.

          Do let us all know if you ever feel inclined to rejoin the world, and have a sensible discussion about the best way forward.

          1. john burrows says:

            The Holyrood election is in May, not ‘five minutes from now.’

            The resignation of the current leadership would not bother me in the slightest. They have exhibited some very unsavory behavior vis a vis the internal governance of the party.

            Nontheless, I continue to support the SNP as a means to the end of gaining independence. I do not support them for their boutique virtue signaling, or their efforts to suppress freedom of speech.

            The festering self inflicted wound the leadership played in destroying Alex Salmond, has divided the independence movement. For that alone they should have fallen on their swords. The whole episode is a travesty that has, and continues to be, a source of profound disquiet among many supporters of independence.

            At the same time, this same leadership has gift wrapped a convenient stick for union partisans to attack them for their inept effort to stitch up the former First Minister. The British press in Scotland delights in serving up the sorry saga on a daily basis.

            I am sick and tired of the SNP using self determination as a ruse simply to retain power.

            The current leadership should either ‘shit, or get off the pot.’ If they are too timid to force the issue with Westminster, then they should make way for a leadership that has the guts to do so.

            The FM is a fine speaker and her response to the Covid crisis has been, on the whole, exemplary. It is clear though, from a study of history, that all governments who must bare bad news to a fickle electorate, always wear it at the ballot box. Churchill’s government in 1945 is the classic example of this cruel political reality.

            Also, being ‘better managers’ of a compromised devolved administration, than any of the political pygmies put up by union parties, is a piss poor alternative to leading an independent nation.

            The SNP will relearn this lesson if it continues to equivocate on the question of independence. Supposedly its core principle.

            Unless the FM wholly commits to campaigning for and gaining a second referendum, in clear language and by any means, the SNP majority in May will likely fail to transpire. If they fail to force this narrative, the British government and press will impose their own narrative of SNP ‘incompetence.’ Whether it be real, or contrived.

            If the SNP simply plays defence against British mendacity, they will lose. Only by campaigning for a future outwith the dead hand of Westminster rule, can the SNP hope to win back the disgruntled and mutinous independence movement.

            The debacle of the 2017 election was brought about by failing to follow this strategy when 500k SNP voters abandoned the party because of their almost pathalogical avoidance of the independence question. They prefered to refight the EU referendum instead.

            Given almost a million Scottish voters inexplicably elected to vote to leave the EU, including a significant number of SNP supporters, their choice of strategy in 2017 defies reason. They paid the electoral price for their timidity. They only turned this around in 2019 by aggressively using independence as an alternative to continued Tory rule.

            These are the lessons I have drawn from recent history. If you don’t see this yourself, I can only question your own ability to learn from ‘history.’

          2. Dougie Harrison says:

            John, since you appear happy to use metaphors yourself (at least I think ‘shooting its own feet’ and ‘chained to a lunatic’ are such), you should be prepared to accept a metaphor from me. Instead, your first words of response appear intentionally insulting. Believe it or not, I have lived long enough to be able to discern that ‘five minutes’ is not the same as several months. I can count.

            I do however accept that my last comment on your post was provocative, and intentionally so. I wanted to provoke you into a response, and in that at least I appear to have succeeded.

            The entire political point of my initial comment on Gerry Hassan’s piece was that ‘intellectual persuasion’ is never a waste of time. And it most certainly isn’t when every recent poll shows only a slim majority of Scots now support independence. Much larger majorities expressed in polls have turned into heavy defeats in a legal ballot, be it referendum or election, in the past. This one could certainly do so too. Particularly when supporters of the continuation of our disunited queendom know their backs are literally against the wall for the first time in over three centuries. They will fight very dirtily indeed to maintain the allegedly ‘United Kingdom’.

            So right now it’s up to everyone who knows Scotland can be a much better place for all its people, to turn a slim notional majority in opinion polls into an overwhelming vote for independence next May. Assuming that is, that Westminster allows us an election next May; unionists do not like going into battles they fear they might lose, and the present lot in Westminster are quite capable of simply NOT allowing us an election.

            If you’ve previously been active in seeking to convince potential voters to support what you believe in, you will know that one way of precisely NOT doing that, is by loose, imprecise , and insulting use of language. These include ‘shooting its own feet’, ‘should be in prison, or insane asylums’, and ‘The UK is now officially an insane asylum.’

            In my experience, most potential voters, many of whom are now dithering about supporting a position which they have previously opposed, are seldom persuaded to change, by implying that they have behaved as lunatics in the past.

            So now, more than at any time in our history, is precisely the time for intellectual persuasion and careful use of language, however frustrating the world may sometimes be for supporters of Scottish independence.

            Which is precisely why, in my initial response to Gerry Hassan’s piece posted here, I argued that the one issue above all others to which we must pay attention between now and May, is to master the logical political/historical argument why ‘federalism’ can never work on these islands. Because the unionists will cling to it as their last hope of continuing the ‘union’.

  5. Greum Maol Stevenson says:

    Hassan’s admiration for Dewar seems to be based on how bourgeois he was:

    “Donald Dewar was a profoundly decent person, imbued with an older sense of public mission and morality, who often seemed out of kilter with the times – drawing from a deep reservoir of how the middle and professional classes used to behave. His death robbed the Scottish Parliament of leadership and aided a period of institutional instability, but even more began a series of steps that led to Scottish Labour’s long descent into near-irrelevance.”

    Hassan is right about one thing: “Dewar as First Minister was no natural leader, but his death removed a politician who could speak to the Scotland beyond Labour.” He appealed to the right wing as much as to the left, because he was an establishment shill who, either through ignorance or dishonesty, played down the hardships so many people living in Glasgow endured.

    In 1990, Dewar appeared on the STV show Scottish Books to discuss Alan Spence’s novel The Magic Flute. Dewar complained about Spence’s description of Glasgwegians in the 1960s living in slum flats without bathrooms, or even hot water on tap. He declared no one in Glasgow was living in such conditions by then.

    If Dewar, a doctor’s son and a lawyer who became a millionaire, had bothered to visit Maryhill in the 1970s, he would have known that not only was Spence’s description correct, it was still that way a decade later. In Raeberry Street and Mount Street, to name only two, people washed at the kitchen sink, with water boiled in a pot, and, if you were lucky, you had a toilet (just a toilet) in your flat, instead of a cludgie outside that you shared with neighbours, and that is how it was until 1978, when the buildings, which were also infested with rats, were demolished.

    It’s hard to believe Donald Dewar was unaware of this. Perhaps he was too busy counting his millions to notice.

    1. Peter Hurrell says:

      I’m no fan of Dewar but he wasn’t a millionaire and even if he was, so what?
      Even Marx and Engels had a few bob.

      1. Greum Maol Stevenson says:

        Peter Hurrell: If two million quid doesn’t make a person a millionaire, I’m worse at arithmetic than I thought. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1332575/2m-legacy-of-Dewar-the-canniest-of-Scots.html

  6. Sandy Watson says:

    Was Donald Dewar responsible for the shift of the sea Border in the North Sea in which 6,000 sq miles of potentially oil-rich seabed was transferred to England’s ownership?

  7. david black says:

    Thank you James Gourlay for referencing my portrayal of Donald Dewar in ‘All the First Minister’s Men’. In general, I regarded him sympathetically. Others less so. Tam Dalyell was accused of indelicacy for stating ‘Donald Dewar was not a nice man’ in his obituary in the Independent. I attempted to head him off at the pass over the folly of the Holyrood project, and he wasn’t having any of it – he was almost psychotically determined to have the built legacy that would ultimately destroy him. We should not forget that as a UK cabinet minister subject to the code of collective responsibility he was in essence part of a mission to ‘kill nationalism stone dead’, as it was described by George Robertson. Due to the Holyrood vanity project, the outcome of a London decision which was egregiously covered up by an inquiry under Lord Fraser made notable by the fact that the man responsible for signing the cheques, Lord McConnell, refused to put in an appearance, it would be Scottish Labour which was killed stone dead. Scotland is now a sad, de-radicalised, vision free Harry Potter theme park with shades of Outlander and an economy dangerously over-dependant on globalised inward foreign investment, soon to be helplessly cast adrift on a post-Brexit swell of mindless English nationalism. The present Scottish administration, ostensibly left-leaning, pursues economic policies which have more than a whiff of the neoliberal Chicago school about them. When the big issue of the day is whether or not an Essex-born university principal should accede to the demands of an American student that David Hume’s name should be expunged from the campus you just know we’ve hit rock bottom – meanwhile our ‘national’ broadcaster can put out a programme like ‘The Trial of Alex Salmond’. To paraphrase Kirsty McColl and the Pogues ‘we could have been somebody’ as a forward looking democratic small nation. We had visionary thinkers like Stephen Maxwell, Paul Henderson Scott, Jimmy Reid, Neil MacCormick, Tom Nairn and many others who tried to show us the way, and we have turned our backs on them. From being the ‘Dream that will never die’ Scotland has become the dream that has been betrayed by the petty minded technocrats of all parties whose principal objective is to hold on to power – or as much power as Westminster will allow us to have. It is, sadly, the end of an Auld sang – – – unless the next generation can see what’s being stolen from them, and do things differently. Let us weep for the little white rose of Scotland that smells sharp and sweet, and breaks the heart.

  8. Julian Smith says:

    A version of a “different . . . . society and future”, and one that very much appeals to me and many others, is described in detail by Common Weal in the various policy papers they have published. The question is who will take up their ideas and turn them into reality.

  9. Cathie Lloyd says:

    Gerrys final comments about women’s voices surprised me. If the contribution of women in leadership roles is taken seriously then those voices are there. Whether in health or social security, in SNP debates about social justice and UBI there is plenty of evidence for a progressive and different agenda.
    I’ll certainly be checking out the books he’s reviewed here.

  10. Bob says:

    From Donald Dewer to the present day, as long as it is seen as acceptable that a political party, indeed 3 political parties, from another country sit in the Scottish parliament we will continue to go round in circles pulled in all directions by this level of interference.

    A fine man as he undoubtedly was, a character worthy of being the first leader of the newly instituted Scottish parliament, his position, as with all leaders of Labour, Tories and Lib Dems in Scotland and indeed the head of the Scottish government Civil service is at the behest of the English parties they are all ultimately influenced by and directed by.

    I have no doubt one reason England does not have a devolved parliament is that there is no way they would allow a Scottish headquartered political party to run for election in England.

  11. J S Anderson says:

    First article I have read on this website- it will be the last.

    As some who actually campaigned against him I don’t really see the difference between him and the rest of his cabal comrades.

    Devolution was a ploy that backfired on the Westminster establishment and he was part of that.

    1. John Monro says:

      That’s a pity. Judging the worth of a politically broad pro independence site on the basis of one article which you happen to disagree with is irrational. There is a valuable and lively comment section in which to debate further and more fully. You could be a welcome contributor.

    2. Wul says:

      Other people write articles here. Maybe there will be one along soon that you agree with. Many different viewpoints are articulated.

      Seems a bit daft to make one visit, read something you disagree with and never return. You are severely limiting your own knowledge with an approach like that.

  12. Марк says:

    Filed Under: Blog Tagged With: Bella Caledonia, Children of the Devolution, Scottish Devolution, Scottish Labour Party, Scottish National Party, Scottish Parliament, Scottish politics

  13. Peter Hurrell says:

    Gerry Hassan also comes across as a profoundly decent person but his hankering after the patrician days of the Labour party is misguided.
    Dewar and Brown et al were mistaken for men of the people purely because they stood on a Labour ticket. Like Blair that was their route to power, they could just as easily slotted in as Lib Dems or Tories.
    The one thing that United these men was their barely concealed contempt for everyday working class people.
    Browns “off mic” remarks about that “awful woman” weren’t about the actual encounter, which went quite well, he was fuming that he had been put face to face with a working class women. A situation that was clearly alien and appalling for him.
    The old Labour guard thought working people too stupid to know what was good for them and someone had to decide for them, and they were the very chaps to do it.
    Why anyone would yearn for a return of that is beyond me.

    1. Dougie Harrison says:

      Peter, if you read ‘The Strange Death of Labour Scotland’, Hassan and Shaw, EUP, 2012, you will learn a great deal more about Hassan’s integrity as a modern social historian. And something of Dewar’s human decency too.

  14. Robert Graham says:

    Well if rewriting history was the point of this piece well done , not just rubbish it’s lying by omission rubbish.
    Dewar didn’t fight for devolution ,the then Labour party and government were threatened with expulsion from the European Union if they didn’t abide by the decision made by the Council of Europe that the constitutional set up in the UK was at odds with the European norm .
    Dewar was behind the blocking of the result of the first vote when a Labour MP surprise surprise made sure even the dead were counted as being against devolution ,eventually when a second vote was held the Labour party resisted even more than the Tory party powers being devolved to the Scottish Executive , they couldn’t even bring themselves to call it a Parliament , even the building itself years late and 10 times over the estimated cost was meant to undermine the devolution settlement , look the Jocks cant do anything right was the headline , As a final act of Spite the Maritime border was quietly moved North now the coast at Arbroath is in English waters , Labour objected to everything proposed even after the 2014 referendum only Labour objected to everything , No ,No ,No right down the bloody list Labour said No even the Tory party were more agreeable and they never wanted the parliament in the first place .
    No donald wasnt a bloody hero and please dont attempt to rewrite what a lot of people know is the truth

  15. Revealed to Crichton says:

    Donald Dewar signed the paper along withTony Blair that stole 6thousand square miles of Scotlands North Sea and gave it to England the night before the opening of the Scottish parliament in bad faith. Which by the way Scotland will get it back through one of the Maritime courts once Scotland is Independent. The. Fact that the act was hidden from westminster for many years until it was revealed by the freedom of information act .Correct me if i am wrong !

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