A Self-Inflicted Wound – 28 March 2024


Increased disappointment with Holyrood is in some ways to be expected. A political malaise is afflicting most western democracies and Scotland’s not unique with its growing contempt for politics and politicians. But in Scotland where constitutional politics are to the fore its heightened.

Westminster isn’t exactly excelling and that’s before a change in administration will see little discernible change. Unionists crowing at Holyrood’s current difficulties should ponder what’s coming down the line when Starmerism’s becomes a continuation of Sunakism.

It’s also a position that Holyrood has been in before. Those who served in the early years of the restored Scottish Parliament well remember the opprobrium faced through the let-down which many felt with devolution. Much was focussed on that “bloody building” as early years were overshadowed by where to site the institution and then Holyrood costs.

The difference now’s that most, of the disappointment then was caused by circumstance. Of course, mistakes were made. Commemorative medals for MSPs were unwelcome even by members and Donald Dewar’s fixation on avoiding building a nationalist shibboleth at the old Royal High School irritated many desperate for long awaited change in social and economic life.

But despite those and other errors the reality was that disappointment was always going to come about. Expectations of the Parliament were so high for many that no institution could deliver them, let alone a devolved chamber with limited fiscal powers. Some had thought that independence had been achieved, for others it was more prosaic and simply that jobs would come, the health service be invigorated, and society transformed, if not overnight, then certainly in a very short time.

The reality was that only limited progress could be made though perhaps more should have been done and better. But still expectations just couldn’t be fulfilled. It was the same in other countries with significant constitutional change, even if with more powers. In the Baltic States many had thought that liberation from the Soviet yoke and the arrival of capitalism would see a land of milk and honey flow, just like in Hollywood movies. There was immediate disappointment when it wasn’t like that, but it could never have been.

This time though it’s not circumstance but self-inflicted. The institution has been established and a recognition of its limited powers is known. That’s no doubt partly why support for Independence remains high. It’s the political choices being made by Humza Yousaf’s administration and often the institution more widely that are having even committed nationalists vent their frustration.

He inherited a poisoned chalice from Nicola Sturgeon. But he sought that and continues to trumpet her. A nice guy but devoid of vision, with a cabinet of limited ability and pushing issues that will further alienate many. Energy costs and the economy are to the fore, yet the perception, if not the reality, is that focus is Hate Crime and abortion buffer zones. It’s fine to be virtuous on Gaza but you’re the FM for Scotland. Platitudes on Independence have demotivated the core nationalist vote and warm words on almost everything else is breeding contempt more widely.

Powers may be limited but focus on core issues, competency and even fire and passion for the grassroots are all missing. This time the disappointment in Holyrood’s self-inflicted and the vultures are circling him.