hese three centuries have seen the bitter struggles
of the early 18th century, the Scottish enlightenment;
industrial changes, the growth of the Empire in
the 19th century and the world wars and the creation
of a modern democratic welfare state in the 20th.
During that time Scotland’s relationship
with, and identity within, the UK continues to
provoke debate, analysis and controversy.
In 1999 the devolution of legislative and administrative
powers from Westminster to Scotland was a monumental
reform of the United Kingdom. Coupled with the
creation of a Welsh Assembly, an Assembly and Mayor
for London, the peace process in Northern Ireland
- these were arguably the greatest constitutional
changes inside the UK for 300 years.
In Europe, in North America and further afield,
people look at the development of devolution and
marvel at the way such a centralised state as the
UK could change so significantly, so smoothly and
so swiftly. But we did, and despite the best efforts
of a minority on both sides of the border to whip
up discontent, devolution is now accepted.
Devolution was always a process rather than an
event. Current debate shows that opinions will
differ on further change. Constitutional navel
gazing will not be a priority in the 2007 Scottish
Parliamentary elections – the most difficult
for Scottish Labour for a generation. Devolution
is about turning Scotland into a more confident
and successful place; about lifting Scots from
poverty; and about challenging inequality and discrimination.
In an article in Chartist one year after devolution,
Gerry Hassan’s review was mildly depressing.
It was a story of high public expectation ebbing
away in a backlash of disenchantment and disillusion;
of debate and controversy, but not much progress.
Hassan identified the need to craft a narrative
around a different Scotland with a different future.
Now, seven years on, the itch is not because devolution
is irritating, it is there because demonstrable
progress has been made and we are itching for further,
In aspects of politics, economics and in culture,
Scotland has taken a different path to the rest
of the UK. There are of course the headline policy
While the new Parliament under Labour leadership
brought in radical land reform and other measures,
the first years of devolution were primarily about
paying to provide more. The abolition of university
tuition fees and the re-instatement of the student
grant. The provision of free personal care to older
people who needed it. As devolution has developed,
the most impressive progress has been about changing
the culture of Scotland and looking further to
the future than most governments ever do. We made
a firm decision in 2004 to ban smoking in all public
places. Now, three months after its implementation
it enjoys widespread public support and near complete
compliance. I argued that we had to take radical
action because Scottish health was among the worst
in Europe. It was affecting our economic productivity
and sapping our confidence as a country. It was
a bold step, but one which will make the single
biggest contribution to improving public health
for a generation.
We have also created a national full time youth
volunteering programme, to give young Scots an
additional option in the choices facing them when
leaving school. It has been massively oversubscribed.
Based on the ‘Americorps’ model – Project
Scotland provides youngsters with experiences that
aren’t so easy to come by if you are disadvantaged.
It builds civic responsibility and entrenches a
feeling of national belonging.
Enterprise education has been a quiet revolution
in the Scottish classroom. Our internationally
recognised programme, Determined to Succeed (DtS)
has engaged Scottish entrepreneurs and corporate
Scotland in a way never achieved before. This will
help young Scots to start and build businesses,
and encourage ambition, creativity and teamwork.
And, alongside our distinctive Schools of Ambition
programme, it is now expanding and improving options
in those schools where too many fall behind. Where
Holyrood has led Westminster is now following.
Perhaps the most significant policy divergence
with the rest of the UK has been our drive to attract
Fresh Talent to live and work in Scotland. Population
decline has inspired a series of actions to reverse
that trend. We want to encourage young Scots to
stay and attract more people to settle in Scotland.
To achieve our goal, we have negotiated significant
changes in the UK immigration system to suit Scotland’s
needs (a first for a power completely reserved
to Westminster). Now, new flexibilities for overseas
students studying in Scotland and a managed migration
scheme for Scotland are helping deliver a net inflow
of people settling in Scotland. The numbers of
Scots graduates choosing to stay has leapt from
79% to 89%. Attracting Fresh Talent is about more
than just changing our population trends. It is
about the kind of Scotland we are and creating
the conditions for a modern 21st century country.
It is about political leaders saying that greater
cultural diversity will make Scotland a better,
more enterprising, and more successful place. Alongside
our efforts to combat racism and sectarianism,
we can build a different – and better – country.
These initiatives in our second term have given
the Scots and their politicians the confidence
to take far reaching decisions compared with the
tentative which typified the first few years of
devolution. We are now changing what it is to be
Our third term must take this further, offering
radical options for those youngsters not yet in
education, volunteering, training or employment.
We will build on Labour’s goal of ending
Our aim is a Scotland where equal worth, social
solidarity, individual ambition and enterprise,
cultural confidence and diversity are the reality
Jack McConnell MSP is First Minister of Scotland