David Steel on 'lessons learned' from devolution

The Scottish Parliament should have responsibility for raising revenue, the post of Secretary of State for Scotland should be abolished, the current election system was a mistake, and it is not true that the cost of the parliament's new building has risen 10 times.

These are among key points made by David Steel, who was the restored Parliament's first Presiding Officer, in this year's National Library of Scotland Donald Dewar Lecture, given to a packed theatre at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on 18 August.

  Lord Steel

In 'Lessons learned from the first four years', Lord Steel of Aikwood cited Parliament's significant achievements since devolution began in 1999 as being 'the bringing of the whole process of governance closer to the people' and major reforms in areas such as mental health and land tenure. Looking to the future, however, and with his thinking based on Donald Dewar's assertion that devolution 'is a process, not an event', he made 'constructive criticisms' on five key topics:

  • the funding of the Parliament: '... the freedom to develop different policies is limited so long as the purse strings are wholly controlled from London.'
  • the Parliament's 'regional list' system: 'I now think the system was a mistake ...[it ] creates an unacceptable democratic defict'.
  • a 'revising' mechanism for legislation: '... the total absence of any check could present problems.
  • the new building: 'The ... white paper on devolution suggested a parliament could be build for £40 million. But that was not this building.'

Lord Steel and the late Donald Dewar, friends since student days, worked closely together as Presiding Officer and First Minister respectively of the Scottish Parliament - which, the former Libaral Party Leader assured his audience, 'will go from strength to strength'.

The annual National Library of Scotland Donald Dewar Lecture was initiated last year as a way of marking the politician's overall contribution to devolution and his long interest in the world of books.

19 August 2003



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