Diana tragedy overshadows devolution

5th September 1997 at 01:00
Suspension of campaigning following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, meant that leading figures on both sides of the devolution argument were unable to step up the debate by focusing on the effects of a Scottish parliament on areas of national life.

The Prime Minister had been due to hold a meet-the-people gathering at Trinity Academy in Edinburgh and William Hague, leader of the Opposition, cancelled his visit to Scotland this week.

The only UK party leader to have taken part in the campaign so far is Paddy Ashdown of the Liberal Democrats, who spoke to fifth and sixth-year modern studies students at Bell-Baxter High in Cupar before addressing a rally in Edinburgh.

Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, has focused on the benefits devolution would bring to education. Mr Wilson said Scotland had the best system in the UK, "but maintaining and improving our existing high standards demands parliamentary time, which can be rarely provided at Westminster".

He believed increased opportunities for debate and accountability would help to ensure value for money, world-beating research facilities and vocational training which met the needs of business.

Devolution of responsibilities for the universities was a major change since the proposals in the 1970s, of which Mr Wilson was a vocal opponent. Reflecting the administrative devolution that was already in place, "this will give a sharper focus to the needs and priorities of Scottish higher education", he said.

The SNP emphasised the benefits to higher education, including a reversal of the "brain drain" by academics. Chris Harvie, professor of British and Irish studies at Tubingen University in Germany said he intended returning to Scotland to seek election to the parliament.

Professor Harvie said that in economic input to the country, academics in Scotland could outdo those in Germany. "We would have the advantage of flexibility and not be impeded by rigid bureaucracy." But he added that university teachers and researchers in Germany were trusted and encouraged to a degree uncommon here.

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