Former Scottish Parliament chief executive gives his verdict on 25 years of devolution

Sir Paul Grice said it was ‘hard to imagine’ Scotland without Holyrood

The former chief executive of the Scottish Parliament says he believes Holyrood has given the nation a “voice” over the past 25 years, although it can still improve.

Sir Paul Grice was the Parliament’s clerk and chief executive from 1999 to joining Queen Margaret University as principal in 2019, having also been involved in the devolution referendum and the Scotland Act. Asked for his reflections on the first quarter century of the Parliament, Sir Paul told The Scotsman: "I think it has achieved a lot. I think one thing I would say is we've all got to remember what it was like beforehand.

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“I was lucky enough to work for a few years in the Scottish Office, having worked in Whitehall. That lack of any political engagement was a very strange feeling. 

"There was a feeling, whatever your politics, I think among most people, and the referendum in 1997 showed that - there was a feeling that something was missing. I think what the Parliament has achieved is it has given that voice. I think it has produced a way to legislate and debate on a lot of issues.

"It hasn't got everything right. There probably was a feeling it could fix all sorts of problems that can't be fixed. But if you look at all sorts of things that have happened in the world - the financial crash in 2007, dare I say it Brexit, the pandemic - just having a Parliament in itself does not fix that, but I think it does give a voice to things.

“I think it is hard to imagine Scotland without it."

He also warned against conflating a government with the institution of Parliament.

"Westminster has been around for hundreds of years,” he said. “What is interesting to me is when something goes wrong with a [UK] government, people don't say 'why have we got Westminster', they tend to blame the government.”

One area of disappointment for the former civil servant was the lack of further devolution to a more local level.

"I don't think local government has had the kind of benefits from devolution that it might have expected,” he said.

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