Tom Peterkin: Moore's trip down memory lane stirs up unsettling thoughts over new powers for devolved parliament

FOR the array of politicians, journalists and other forms of human detritus who trudged through the snow from Holyrood to the Kirk's General Assembly Hall this week, their journey up the Royal Mile was a trip down memory lane.

As we made our way to the fine old building, which used to house the Scottish Parliament, there was a feeling of nostalgia for its neo-gothic splendour and the turbulent early days of devolution that it witnessed.

The steamed-up windows of Deacon Brodies beckoned, just as they used to when the parliament sat nearby.

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Further up, the thought of popping into the Jolly Judge – another of the hostelries once patronised by the political classes – to reminisce and take something to keep out the cold was almost overpowering.

In a rare show of restraint, temptation was resisted as there was the matter of radical constitutional upheaval to consider.

On Tuesday, Michael Moore, the Scottish Secretary, chose to launch the UK government's Scotland Bill in the hall where the first MSPs awarded themselves medals, voted themselves pay rises and watched in wonder as the public purse was bled by the extravagant edifice where they now work.

Negotiating a crowd of protesting students, we passed the statue of John Knox dominating the courtyard from where Labour's then first minister Henry McLeish fled after the "muddle not a fiddle" over his expenses.

But it was the memory of other Labour leaders that Moore evoked when he unveiled legislation that will usher in the most significant constitutional change since devolution.

Moore said his Scotland Bill represented "the settled will of the Scottish people", borrowing a phrase used by the late John Smith and the late Donald Dewar to describe the establishment of the Scottish Parliament.

The nostalgic atmosphere had obviously got to the Scottish Secretary, who presumably felt that his choice of language was appropriate given his surroundings.

But would a post-2015 Scottish Parliament with 2.7 billion of borrowing powers and the ability to set a new Scottish income tax rate really represent the "settled will" of the people?

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Moore argued that the May general election had given the pro-Union parties the mandate for the change. That argument suggests that the Scottish constitution was a defining issue last May.

People vote for parties for a variety of reasons and not necessarily exclusively on their position on the Scottish constitution.

We may never know for sure whether this new constitutional model really is the "settled will" of the people because, unlike the current devolved settlement, the politicians have denied the people a referendum on it.