Will Holyrood hold the reins?;Leading Article

22nd January 1999 at 00:00
CONSENSUS HAS brought forth an attractive plan for the new parliament. Whether the cross-party agreement continues is another matter and a severer test for the aspirations set out in the blueprint published last week. Optimists will say that the repetitious and enervating squabbles between Labour and the SNP are pre-electoral and temporary. Others (more realistic?) will ask why bickering should stop just because MSPs sit in a horseshoe, share in pre-legislative evidence-taking and address one another by family name rather than constituency.

On the quality of decision-making, rarely high at Westminster for domestic Scottish affairs, and of scrutiny of the ministerial executive will hang a verdict about the formal procedures. As at Westminster over centuries, so at Holyrood over a few years, practice will make its own rules. Power abhors a vacuum but also shuns an overcrowded arena. That is why there are already tensions between local government and the putative central authority. Education, the biggest spending function, is the most obvious focus.

Does a small country with 129 MSPs need 32 education authorities? Curiously, pro-devolutionists who say no are reviving the Conservatives' main objection to the parliament, that there will be too many layers of government. Councils will not surrender authority without a struggle, and power politics will not necessarily be conducted on the Queensberry rules of last week's agreement.

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