HOLYROOD in the best position ever to transform the nation, writes Andrew Wilson
STAR WARS devotees will know that, in episode three, one of the deepest of Yoda’s lessons is taught to, but not accepted by, the young Anakin Skywalker.
Worried about premonitions that someone close to him will die, Yoda tells him: “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.” Unconvinced, he turns to the dark side to save his wife and becomes Darth Vader. The rest, as they don’t say, is history.
Our world is in great flux. Institutions and the way we order our lives are changing – for the better – everywhere. It is an era of reform, improvement and modernisation. But of course it travels at different paces in different places.
In Scotland, many of us cast a cold eye on the centralised Westminster and Whitehall model: it seems properly bizarre that we have yet to make voting proportionate and fair; and it is patently absurd that the franchise for the European referendum makes a person who left Britain for Malta at the age of three, 15 years ago, able to vote and a serving MSP who moved to Britain a quarter a century ago unable to. The House of Lords simply cannot stand, and its most thoughtful members agree its partisanship is growing and quality diminishing, even ignoring its democratic illegitimacy.
Many across our islands share this view and my sense is that something substantial must give. If the new Tory government regards its majority of 12 as a mandate to stand still, then the price paid could extend well beyond party fortune.
But in Scotland we should take the opportunities we have to lead the reform we can now. Yes, we must maintain the pressure on London. But we must make good our own reforms and be prepared to take the risks we must with any change. Doing nothing can prove the greatest risk of all.
Had we voted Yes in September last year, the architecture of public institutions would have required to change very considerably. Deploying some of the thinking in those plans could prove exciting, empowering and extremely effective.
The structure of public bodies, quangos and non-departmental bodies has evolved without design. Much has been done to make the central departments work better and more effectively. It is time to extend the best of it across the public services. The public body landscape can be consolidated and the talents of our best people deployed across bigger challenges.
To achieve our potential, the vested interest of “how things are now” must be challenged. To prevent a short-term partisan fight over what should be inter-generational reform, big open-hearted engagement across the parties is a must. All must buy into the approach. Hearts and minds must be taken out of the Holyrood fray to engage directly in all the possibilities and present the options to the Parliament.
And the true localisation of power, real subsidiarity and participation must be reached for. Right now too many people at too many levels are made accountable for the same outcomes with the finger of blame always pointing upwards.
We need to let go of the idea that a “postcode lottery” in public service provision is a bad thing. By all means we must set standards and boundaries. But true local empowerment means allowing difference and being prepared for failure – it can be our greatest tutor in life. Councillors’ purpose and roles must be dramatically enhanced. They should become less of a go-between, scuttling between constituents and the behemoth bureaucracy. They must be empowered to be the voice of their area, determining what resources are needed on what priorities, given material control.
And bigger jobs will require gutsy decisions on proper pay. Pay peanuts and we won’t get monkeys but we will get a very limited pool of people able to serve. That will be unsustainable.
None of this is possible without the various parties putting down their megaphones and stepping out of their trenches into the continent of common ground currently marked “no-man’s land”.
Agreement must be sought on the best place for policy and services to be administered, on the balance between centralised efficiency and local choice and control. The size and number of councils, councillors and wards needs considered and thoughtful debate. No idea should be shut down or dismissed.
The brutal public discourse that scars too much of our debate must be replaced by the voices of difference debating the options and reaching a conclusion that will be stood by. The content of the UK election discourse took the population for fools. It wasn’t good enough in the face of the inter-generational challenges we face.
In contrast, the Scottish Government is in the best position ever to transform the country it serves. Their party has two goals seared into its heart: independence and the furtherance of all Scottish interests. The first will now be best served by its focus on the second. Power is a hard thing to let go. It takes true leadership to empower people to improve themselves and their communities rather than pretending all the solutions come from a benign centre wherever it lies.
Lead by example and let a thousand little white roses bloom, every day. «