The quiet revolution;Leading Article;Opinion

14th May 1999 at 01:00
EDINBURGH, 300 years ago the home of supposedly the most unruly mob in Europe, nowadays takes political change calmly. While the Scottish Parliament was being elected, when the members took their seats and the shape of the Government was being painfully hammered out, the citizens of the capital, like those elsewhere, went about their business apparently unmoved. The adventures of the national football and rugby teams evoke far more emotion than the first parliament since the great riots of 1707.

Perhaps the feeling is of modest expectations, of business transferred rather than of a new dawn. The election campaign rarely remembered that this was an event which called for a raising of horizons rather than a dredging for statistics to make a party point. The electoral system, devised to prevent one-party triumphalism, produced the predicted pattern and thereafter the kind of talks which can only go on beyond closed doors. It is little wonder that people do not find themselves gripped, however historic the moment.

Failings of the imagination are compensated for by healthy scepticism about the immediate future. The argument about tuition fees was puzzling in that the issue had not dominated the campaign, or been evident on the doorstep except when canvasser met student. Taxation and levels of public spending were the dominant themes, with the prospect or threat of independence in the background. Yet fees became a sticking point, partly because the Liberal Democrats had to demonstrate principle as well as appetite for a share in government and partly because signals of Whitehall unhappiness appear to herald the sort of rows that lie ahead.

Most Labour MSPs as well as those of other parties want early signs of determination to thumb the nose when necessary, on the basis that by conceding the principle of devolution Tony Blair's Cabinet had to prepare for occasionally uncomfortable diversity.

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