Forged in the white heat of devolution

<em>New Statesman Scotland</em> - It is not enough for Scots merely to get a different system of gov

As Labour meets for its millennium conference, we can mark the achievements so far of the most radical government since the second world war: the platform of economic stability, the working families' tax credit, the minimum wage, the guaranteed minimum pension.

Unprompted, we might overlook just how little time has passed between the heady days of May 1997 and the unfolding of the constitutional revolution that is the story of modern Britain. The revolution started when the Prime Minister placed devolution for Scotland and Wales at the forefront of the incoming government's legislative programme: an act of political courage fully vindicated by the resounding referendum vote and rewarded again at the Scottish general election in May.

Scottish Labour, despite the predictable complaints of a disappointed opposition, has never been better placed. We came first in the Scottish general election, first in the local authority elections and first in the European elections. It is a remarkable run of results. Mid-term elections are a chancy business in politics. We came through very well, confounding those who predicted disaster. It was the nationalists who were left deflated and frustrated.

Those crucial victories reinforced our mandate and encouraged us to bring forward our own radical proposals, adding value for Scotland to the existing UK programme.

The executive has to live with two opposition parties who are (despite their protestations to the contrary) firm adherents to Lord Derby's 19th-century instruction: to oppose everything and propose nothing! The SNP and the Tories hunt as a pack and are prepared to undermine the parliament itself in the search for a headline. They remain wedded to the old politics. For them, open government is simply an opportunity to wound.

So while both the Tories and the SNP promised that they were committed to making the Scottish Parliament work, from its very outset they have made clear their determination to see it falter. Ignoring the work of the Consultative Steering Group on the workings of the parliament and the hard-won consensus of all the social partners on the Scotland Bill, every issue - regardless of its merits or magnitude - has become an excuse for difference and division. Each parliamentary debate has threatened to become a dogfight on the worth of the parliament itself.

Proof is found in the strange manoeuvring within the SNP. Its most recent spin is another attempt to do what Scottish Labour stopped it doing in the Scottish elections: hiding the reality of the one common policy that unites the SNP: its determination to rip up the devolution settlement and divorce Scotland from Britain.

We will not stand idly by and see the procedures of the devolved parliament abused by parties who do not want it to succeed.

I have campaigned all of my political life for the establishment of the parliament but I have never been a supporter simply of the devolution difference - the feeling that we must be seen to do things differently just because we are Scottish. I have always been convinced that devolution can bring added value.

It is already becoming clear that the proximity of the parliament to the people allows government, local authorities and communities in Scotland to work together. Only by working together can we make real change for the better. I believe that applies to political parties as much as to anyone else. Of course there are genuine differences on matters of principle. But at the end of the day, what matters is delivering on the commitments we have made to the people who voted for us.

The Scottish administration - a partnership executive involving both Scottish Labour and the Scottish Liberal Democrats - has now set out its stall. The Programme for Government we published this month puts together a formidable package of action. It not only lists our commitments, it timetables their delivery - itself a checklist against which our commitment can be measured by the people.

Inevitably there has been sniping from the usual suspects about the Programme - about the costs and the layout. The photographs have attracted more criticism than the contents.

But it is the contents that matter. It is land reform, the raising of educational standards, the largest building programme in the history of the NHS, the drive to work together with communities in building safer, better neighbourhoods and warmer, modern housing and the commitment to end rough-sleeping that matter. That is what the electorate will remember when the next election comes.

Scottish Labour is breaking new ground in British politics. The very existence of the partnership is evidence of that. In the words of the title of our Programme for Government, we are committed to "making it work together".

"New Statesman" Scotland is hosting a breakfast meeting at 8am at the Marsham Court Hotel, East Cliff, Bournemouth on Monday 27 September, where Donald Dewar will speak on "Scottish and British Working Together"

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