WELCOME to our regular feature showcasing the talents of the nation’s best writers. This week, an extract from Cailean Gallagher
Most political systems develop over centuries: parties develop to represent interests or ideologies, align with social and economic groups, and vie for control of state power. But the Scottish Parliament was conceived in a lab, and delivered by a Labour Party reluctant to hand Scotland the sort of governing apparatus that might give those who control it the appearance or responsibilities of a national government. Its commanding heights were named The Scottish Executive. Its authority was devolved from Her Majesty’s Government. After much ado about the Parliament building itself, when any faith in budget management was undermined as the cost rose from the initial £40 million estimate to a final figure of over £400 million, the Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) found themselves in a structure designed electorally and architecturally to produce non-oppositional politics. In this play-pen parliament, politicians shuffle papers and snipe behind each other’s backs about mismanagement and manipulation of the committee structures like Douglas Adams’ Vogon bureaucrats. They read out turgid speeches in the round consensual space of the chamber, feeding lean political issues into the rhetorical grinder and churning out mince. Then they toddle off to their respective meetings to issue curt opinions and scroll through Twitter, yawn, attend a drinks reception in the parliament lobby, and go home. Its processes may lack Westminster’s archaic rituals, but it is certainly just as stale. If Tony Blair is right about anything, it’s that the Scottish Parliament has all the democratic energy of a parish council.
• A generation ago, the poet Hamish Henderson forecast that “mair nor a roch wind” – more than a rough wind – would rush through the world as empires and nations collapsed. In Roch Winds, (Luath, £8.99), three young radicals pick through the rubble left in the wake of the Scottish Independence Referendum.