20 years on: Eight ways the Holyrood parliament has changed Scotland


As part of some work experience at CommonSpace, 13-year-old Coll McCail takes a look at how Scotland has changed since devolution

THIS SEPTEMBER will mark 20 years since the people of Scotland voted for the country to have its own parliament and the devolution of a number of powers.

In the historic referendum, 74.3 per cent voted for the parliament, which then convened two years later in 1999. Parliamentary proceedings later moved to the current Holyrood Parliament building in Edinburgh in 2004.

Devolution means the Scottish Parliament has powers in key areas such as education, health, housing and the environment.

We take a look at eight ways in which devolution has changed Scotland.

1.) Homosexuality accepted in local councils    

In the early days of devolution the first Scottish Government, a Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition led by Henry McLeish, set out to repeal section 28 of the Local Government Act of 1998, which forbade local authorities from promoting homosexuality. 

The SNP backed the move which was eventually passed in June 2000. The campaign found opposition from Scottish millionaire Brian Souter, who privately funded a postal ballot as part of his own campaign, ‘Keep The Clause’, in which 1,272,202 people voted, returning 86.8 per cent in favour or retaining section 28.

Mainstream politicians largely ignored the poll, disputing its significance. Wendy Alexander MSP said: “I think what is significant about today’s ballot is that two out of three voters rejected, binned or simply ignored this glorified opinion poll.”

2) Free education brought to Scotland

A second famous piece of legislation from the parliament is the scrapping of university tuition fees. When the first Scottish Government was created between the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party, the Lib Dems wanted to scrap tuition fees but Labour didn’t. 

Concessions were made and, eventually, tuition fees were scrapped and replaced with a £3,000 graduate endowment. This was described by critics as “tuition fees by the back door”. In 2007 the SNP scrapped this and made university education free.

3.) Free personal care for the elderly

A landmark of the Scottish Parliament in February 2002 was when the parliament voted unanimously to provide free personal care for the elderly. 

The legislation meant that all personal care charges for people cared for in their own homes were abolished. Despite the legislation success in its early years, later it hit a few funding snags, including a row with councils over confusion concerning the rules on food preparation. This led to some councils having to refund Scots who they had wrongly charged for the service.

4.) The right to walk wherever    

Another significant piece of legislation that came out of the Scottish Parliament is the right to roam. 

The freedom to roam is the general public’s right to access certain publicly and privately owned pieces of land for recreation or exercise. 

In Scotland, the public has the right to walk almost anywhere including through farm land, apart from where crops are being grown. Also included in the legislation were more opportunities for communities to buy land.

5.) Hound-hunting banned    

After a debate lasting six hours, in February 2002 Scottish MSPs banned hunting with dogs in Scotland. 

This legislation made Scotland the first UK country to ban mounted hunting with hounds. Critics claimed the legislation was filled with loopholes and would allow foxhunting to go on in a restricted manner. 

A review in 2016 found that landowners in Scotland should be held legally responsible for hunts on their land and governed by a new code of practice. 

6.) No smoking!

Perhaps Scotland’s most famous piece of legislation is the Smoking, Health and Social Care bill of 2005. 

The legislation banned smoking in all public places, including restaurants and bars. Scotland went on to lead the UK with regard to its bold stance on smoking as England legislated against smoking in public places in 2007.

7.) Abolition of prescription charges

In 2011 the SNP government, led by Alex Salmond, abolished fees for prescriptions in Scotland. 

Prescription charge costs in Scotland had been falling prior to the legislation. Charges stood at £3 before the change on. The laws mean the government will miss out on £57m a year. 

Former health secretary Nicola Sturgeon, now Scotland’s first minister, said at the time: “An SNP government working for Scotland has ended prescription charges which were a tax on ill-health, saving those suffering from long term conditions around £180.” 

The law means that England is now the only part of the UK not to have free prescriptions. 

8.) One police force For 5.3 million people

In April 2013, Scotland’s eight police forces merged to become Police Scotland.

The Scottish Government says that having one police force will save Scotland £1.7bn over the next 15 years, although questions arose over whether the force would continue to be answerable to local communities without being influenced by Holyrood. 

Graeme Pearson, a senior Labour MSP, claimed nationalist ministers had conned Scots over the creation of Police Scotland. Pearson claimed Police Scotland was “centralised and autocratic”, demanding a return to community policing and local accountability.

Pictures courtesy of Tom Parnell, karendesuyothespyglassNeil MoraleeDavid McDermottJLS Photography – AlaskaKen HawkinsHamza Butt and Ninian Reid

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