MSPs cut their teeth

5th May 2000 at 01:00
A YEAR ago devolution was born in Scotland and Wales. Yesterday the process continued in London, though only by electing a figurehead and an underpowered council. Better endowed, the forums in Edinburgh and Cardiff have suffered cock-ups and cynical comments, but the benefits are already palpable. That is largely because, unlike at Westminster, there is time to raise matters of concern and enough eager MSPs and Assemblymen to harry ministers and civil servants.

As the revolt against warrant sales showed last week, the legislators can successfully turn on the Executive, having given due warning in the backbench committees, which will now be ignored at ministers' peril. Government may not be smooth, especially with the strains of a coalition in Scotland, but it is more responsive. In time that should lead to greater respect from an electorate tired of the roughshod tactics of Whitehall and therefore sceptical about the day-to-day effectiveness of the deolution they voted for.

In education as in other areas MSPs will gradually realise that they should conserve their energies for initiatives that can be considered within the Executive's spending limits. If not enough money is yet being spent on schools, criticism can be laid at the door of the Chancellor. But MSPs are learning to look for constructive opportunities to make step-by-step progress rather than wringing their hands.

The debates on the education Bill are constructive, not least because of the extensive pre-legislative consultation. MSPs are focusing on what will become law, to the exclusion of yah-boo opposition. In demanding a code of practice for HMIs in schools, they have given a salutary tweak to the executive (as distinct from the Executive).

After a shaky start the Parliament is flexing its muscles. Much goes almost unreported. Later than the electorate, the media may come to see it as more of a boon than a butt.

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