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Process or event - who cares?

Brian Taylor | 12:58 UK time, Thursday, 23 August 2007

Is devolution a process rather than an event? Who first said it was? Have you any conception how little I care either way?

Think I can clear up question two. It was Ron Davies, the former Welsh Secretary. Not Donald Dewar. Indeed, I’m not sure whether DD ever uttered said phrase.

(No doubt, someone will correct me. I warn you that I will require proof beyond mere assertion.)

Anyway, what does it matter? The particular phrase, that is. Not Scotland’s constitutional future.

For the avoidance of doubt, I have more than a passing interest in that.

History is a process, not an event. Time, post big bang, is a process, not an event. It is a meaningless squabble.

So let’s cut to the chase. Will the Labour Party countenance further devolution of powers to Holyrood?

Wendy Alexander says they might and, in particular, she refers us back to her previous reflections on the topic of financial responsibility.

She has argued in the past that a responsive political institution would have more control of revenue raising as well as political expenditure.

Is that fiscal autonomy, then? See above. Don’t get hung up on the nomenclature, consider what is on offer in practice.

Here though we run into another terminological battle. Is Des Browne at odds with Wendy Alexander? Did he call her ideas a Trojan Horse?

Well, no. He was talking about the white paper advanced by Alex Salmond which Ms Alexander had similarly dissed.

Is there, though, an underlying tension? Yes - and it is this. Even eight years on, several backbench Scottish Labour MPs have yet to become inured to devolution.

To be blunt, they resent the present set-up, let alone the prospect of further power.

And for why? Because their place in the political sunlight is overshadowed by their devolved brothers and sisters.

You want to hear real grief about Holyrood? Don't ask the Tories, ask a Scottish Labour MP, particularly one who has been around since before Holyrood was established.

Or ask a Scottish Labour councillor - particularly one who has lost power as a result of PR voting, introduced by Holyrood.

So, within Scottish Labour, there is a bedrock of internal disquiet with Holyrood. To be fair, it’s not by any means solely based on selfish considerations.

There are genuine questions as to whether coalition served Labour well, as to whether disparate voting systems are wise, as to whether further devolution of power would simply feed Nationalist demands, as to whether Scotland has been well governed.

But there’s a fair degree of raw grumpiness too. Wendy Alexander has to deal with both.


  • 1.
  • At 01:18 PM on 23 Aug 2007,
  • Angus McIonnach wrote:

Alex: The Scottish parliament should definitely have more powers, even unto independence.

Des: No chance! The powers are fixed. Salmond is talking nonsense.

Wendy: I totally agree with Des that the Scottish parliament should have more powers. And Salmond is talking nonsense.

Everyone else: [raises eyebrows]

  • 2.
  • At 01:42 PM on 23 Aug 2007,
  • derek barker wrote:

Event or Process,if it's an event it's past tense,if it's a process then it's on going.I can remember DD saying "THERE SHALL BE A SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT" and "THE SETTLED WILL OF THE SCOTTISH PEOPLE" as for the remaining 52 MP's is there a case for redundancies?i will tell you what i think,it's an absolute pothole,full of uncertainty,the idea that you can flick a switch from the union to independence is simply enough to drag the whole business community into turmoil.I've said it once before and i will say it again this is heading towards a referendum on the EU constitution,it's the joker card the SNP want to play....

  • 3.
  • At 01:56 PM on 23 Aug 2007,
  • Andy from Shetland wrote:

I hadn't thought of the idea that Des Browne may be postulating about "no change" to the current set up for devolution and then subsequently backing down when WA does assert herself for more powers for Scotland in an attempt to give her the impression of not being controlled by Westminster until GMS this morning.

But I guess this is the problem faced by WA. If she does assert herself and stand up for Scotland, she can still face criticism that it is stage-managed. If she doesn't assert herself she will be under the control of Westminster...I wonder if this sort of thing will cause problems.

It seems to me that this is a job, which is impossible to do when the needs of England (in particular the South East) are so different from the needs of Scotland. Again, this plays into the hands of the SNP who are the only big party who only have to Answer to the people of one nation.

  • 4.
  • At 02:06 PM on 23 Aug 2007,
  • Stewart wrote:


Intresting point,

GB will quiet happily give Britain a referendum on joining the EU etc etc , but he is completly agaisnt giving Scotland a choice to stay or go

  • 5.
  • At 02:22 PM on 23 Aug 2007,
  • Anne wrote:

I think Devolution has run away from Labour, in particular Scottish Labour within Holyrood. Their big mistake was their complacency in thinking that the Nationalists didn't have a hope of ever being in power and now the hens have come home to roost. Serves them right and good on the Scots for finally waking up to their game. I think the Scottish Labour MPs will undo their party in Scotland and Holyrood.

  • 6.
  • At 02:55 PM on 23 Aug 2007,
  • James W McCurry wrote:

Sorry Brian, but is it of any relevance as to what Labour actually think? Labour only speaks to Labour for selfish reasons and that is why they are now in opposition (official or otherwise). As to what those Labour MPs in London actually do to justify the vast amount of money they receive God only knows. Time to get on with the present and decide for ourselves the powers and governance of our Parliament and Country.

  • 7.
  • At 03:05 PM on 23 Aug 2007,
  • Craig M wrote:

I notice a similarity between Des Browne and King Canute. King Canute knew he could not turn back
the tide but put on a display for his courtiers to show them he could not work miracles,on the other
hand I get the feeling Des Browne thinks he actually can turn back the tide.....and work miracles!

  • 8.
  • At 03:17 PM on 23 Aug 2007,
  • Malcolm wrote:

Such luminaries and close friends as Sir David Steel and Magnus Linklater have claimed that Donald Dewar did indeed utter the words, "devolution is a process rather than an event"

Also in an inaugural speech on the opening of the parliament in 1999, Donald Dewar said, "For me today is a proud moment; a new stage on a journey begun long ago and which has no end. A Scottish Parliament. Not an end: a means to greater ends."

Those words overwhelmingly describe a process, not an event.

Scottish Labour MPs will never agree to more powers for a Scottish parliament. As such Wendy Alexander will only be able to promise cosmetic changes.

  • 9.
  • At 03:48 PM on 23 Aug 2007,
  • Craig wrote:

Well I always thought Donald Dewar said that, but then again you are the political editor, so I will believe you, kinda.
Looks as though the Scottish Labour ~Party are jumping ship with their tactics, now leaning for more powers... Was only a matter of when though, and not if...
But it looks like that Westminster Labour do not approve of it though, banging on about the current powers do Scotland well, then you W. A. saying we should be looking for more tax powers... Make up you mind! If you are going to go around in circles, and not listen to the people, then what is the point of you? We keep hearing 3 terms in power in Westminster for Labour, "we have to listen and not be complacent” why then do they not practice what the teach? All Spin!

  • 10.
  • At 04:02 PM on 23 Aug 2007,
  • Stephen wrote:

anyone else detect a *grudging* acknowledgment of labour's election failure from wendy? her speech struck me as a "must say" pr exercise to make the party appear credible with voters agin. in reality, i still think labour's struggling to come to term with defeat.

i'm also not convinced scottish labour has severed the puppeteer strings being wiggled by westminster.

  • 11.
  • At 04:06 PM on 23 Aug 2007,
  • louise wrote:

hey brian
will this do as proof

The National Library of Scotland Donald Dewar Lecture 2003
The text of the lecture given by Lord Steel of Aikwood at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Monday 18 August 2003

Lessons learned from the first four years
I count it both an honour and a pleasure to be asked to deliver the National Library of Scotland Donald Dewar Lecture. It is meet and right that it should take place at the Edinburgh international Book Festival, given Donald's well-known love of collecting books. My friendship with him goes back to student debating days, but of course we worked closely together in our respective roles in establishing the Scottish Parliament. This lecture is entitled 'Lessons learned from the first four years', and being the son of a preacher I take as my text words of Donald himself: 'Devolution is a process, not an event'

  • 12.
  • At 04:49 PM on 23 Aug 2007,
  • Angie Todd wrote:

You can sense the resentment amongst the Scottish Labour MPs at Westminster.
The Nationalist victory in May just compounded all their difficulties with devolution. They feel even more sidelined than before.
Wasn't it Scottish Labour MP Ian Davidson who shouted 'Who Cares!' when the SNP asked Margaret Becket a question about what she had discussed with Linda Fabiani the Minister for Europe, External Affairs & Culture in the Scottish Goverment.
In those two words were all the bile and spleen that he felt for the Scottish set-up.
Hoyrood robbed them of much of their raison d'etre and the SNP might do for them altogether.

  • 13.
  • At 05:22 PM on 23 Aug 2007,
  • KD wrote:

Ron Davies certainly claimed that this was his philosophy and even wrote a paper in 1999 for the Institute of Welsh Affairs called 'Devolution;a process not an event.' However to muddy the waters Professor Alice Brown and David McCrone used the term in their Lothian European Lecture in Edinburgh a year earlier.

Not aware of Donald Dewar ever using the term far less coining it - even though David Steel regularly attributed it to him in his various public lectures whilst Presiding Officer.

  • 14.
  • At 06:02 PM on 23 Aug 2007,
  • Harry Shanks wrote:

Brian, you DO realise don't you that your last SEVEN blog entries have pertained almost exclusively to issues and machinations within the Labour Party?

Would an attempt at some sort of political balance be out of the question?

Only death is an event, everything else in life is a process.

Nothing in nature stands still, even stagnant water is putrefying, ergo devolution is a process, as was the Union of 1707, now coming full cycle after 300 this case a slow process but a process nevertheless.

  • 16.
  • At 08:02 PM on 23 Aug 2007,
  • Iain Fraser wrote:

"Devolution" was not meant to be about about Edinburgh and Glasgow soaking up all the benefits - it was meant to be about the whole of Scotland gaining from the change. It is about time we heard more about this.

  • 17.
  • At 08:43 PM on 23 Aug 2007,
  • Gordon from Ayr wrote:

I have just returned from spending a week in the south of England and am beginning to think that independence is an inexorable process, thanks mainly to Gordon Brown trying too hard to please Middle England.

Both the Guardian and the BBC reported that the Prime Minister and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, 'went to watch their countries play a football friendly at the new Wembley stadium'

I know it's only a game but it once again illustrates that England and Britain are synonymous south of the border, and although we can turn a blind eye to the royal 'we' when it's cricket, football is a different matter entirely, as the spat over a UK Olympic football team proves. Surprise, surprise, Brown supports that too!

  • 18.
  • At 08:51 PM on 23 Aug 2007,
  • Craig M wrote:

Is it just me or has anyone else noticed that the Scottish Labour party now have Daphne Broon as leader, jings crivvens help ma boab.......surely no!

  • 19.
  • At 09:00 PM on 23 Aug 2007,
  • Conway wrote:

The quicker Scottish New Labour implodes the better.They can then renew the party to suit the new political climate.Otherwise they run the risk of going the same way as The Conservatives.
Gordon Brown take note Labour will not be in power in Westminster for ever and when the Conservatives take control of Westminster again,New Labour will wish that they had not tried to hold back the progress of The Scots parliament.

  • 20.
  • At 09:08 PM on 23 Aug 2007,
  • louise wrote:

Right this is going to take a bit of following stay with me.

Suppose just suppose for a minute that everything westminster says is true. Im not saying it is im just saying imagine that when they (westminster) say we get more money back from them than we pay in its true.
Ask yourself this, if this is true then that makes me and you a scrounger, dependent on someone else to help me out continually because i am incapable of providing for myself. (remember we are just imagining)
Now imagine, really imagine if you will doing that in your everyday life picture yourself going to your next door neighbour right this minute chapping their door and saying "excuse me i am incapable of managing my money or providing for myself or even looking after myself". Give me twenty quid or i am going to leave. Your neighbour would say. "Nay bother away ye go ya numpty". Ask yourself this why, why, why is our neighbour england not doing this. God they must really really LOVE us scots so so much to instead say "no we want to take care of you have the money" boy they really must love us must they not????? Excuse me while i remove my tongue from my cheek. Now the interesting bit if you follow labour then they have effectively been calling you a scrounger when they said scotland cant afford to go it alone. Are you a scrounger? Or are you like me perfectly capable of manging your own finances.

ps. anyone disagree with this if you do gonni tell me where you live so i can talk to your neighbour you obviously have much kinder neighbours than mine.

pps. Wendy! about that fiscal autonomy doll.....

  • 21.
  • At 09:31 PM on 23 Aug 2007,
  • John Scotland wrote:

I hope Alex Salmond and Wendy Alexander give the people of Scotland the opportunity to vote to disband the Scottish Parliament as well as the independence and more powers questions when they have their referendum.

Holyrood is just a big cooncil with nothing but cooncillors running it.

  • 22.
  • At 11:28 PM on 23 Aug 2007,
  • Duncan wrote:

To Stewart in post 3, are you joking?, GB has no intention of giving Britain a referendum on the European Constitution, he is as bad a liar as his predecessor, as for a referendum on the EU I am afraid to have to tell you that we are already members of the EU, I think you will find since 1973.

Independence would be a disaster for Scotland, Labour and small minded bigots all over Scotland, who will these people have to blame for lifes ills if we do not have the English to blame?, thank god the majority of Scots understand the importance of being united with our English brothers and sisters.

I say this as a proud Scot and a proud Britain.

  • 23.
  • At 12:02 AM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • Davie H wrote:

As a Scot working in another part of the UK, doing what we do best, running things more effectively for the English, I'd like a say as to whether or not the economic opportunity that was open to me should remain or not - the idea of independence in Europe is an utter oxymoron in any case...where does it end - Shetland National Party.

More/all powers to the Scottish Parliament as a strong and sovereign partner in the UK...anything else is economic suicide....

oh I can here the SNP sledgehammers tapping away now!

  • 24.
  • At 07:11 AM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • Craig wrote:

The people of Scotland have voted for a bigger say in politics,Labour,Lib Dems and the Tories would be foolish to ignore the electorate.

Labour, Lib Dems and the Conservatives will find themselves isolated should they choose stand still while this process advances.

It is time for all three to engage exclusively in Scottish matters and do what is right for our country.

Each day that passes brings us closer to independence these parties should compete with the inevitable in mind.

Why cant politicians listen?

  • 25.
  • At 08:49 AM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • Don McAlpine wrote:

Both, in that it can only end in one outcome, but it will take a period of time to get there, unless there is an event of magnitude that hastens independence's arrival, e.g. gaff by a UK / English government minister prior to an election or highly unpopular legislation imposed upon Scotland, etc.

Parties excepting SNP will be observers and spoilers of this fascinating journey, until they recognize this is a one way journey to destiny and liberation.

Will the liberals be mature enough to recognize this, probably not, they like labour and tories will be keeping an eye on knighthoods and lordships and not the betterment of Scotland.

Scots should look forward to the journey and note they can stop at any time and they will have reached their destination, "freedom"!

Don McAlpine

  • 26.
  • At 10:35 AM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • mairi macleod wrote:

hi brian,
up to now i've enjoyed your blethers!!BUT, its becoming obvious you are getting repetative,( about labour's SPIN w alexander for starters) please give it a rest, we would like some ballance now, its begining to look like friendly persuation, as if you would?.

  • 27.
  • At 11:12 AM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • Steven G wrote:

As a long standing Labour supporter, I am quite relaxed about all this.

Salmond getting power sticks in my throat a little.....ok, a lot but as "Devolution is a Process" I am playing the long game.

Jack did all the right things as First Minister, lacked a bit of charisma but hey, no complaints. Salmond, doesn't have true power so he'll be reduced to media dramatics and a guaranteed failure of his referendum. Wendy will become first minister, implement changes in our devolved powers that everyone agrees with and we move into a new chapter in our politics.

  • 28.
  • At 12:08 PM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • Bryce Miller wrote:

#22, Duncan:
So the purpose of the union is to give Scotland someone to blame when things go wrong? Doesn't sound like something I'd like to be a part of. Much better would be to take responsibility for ones own actions, no?

#23, Davie H:
I keep on hearing stories about how in an "interdependent world" and the EU independence is irrelevant. I find, more often than not, that the person making this claim has little to no understanding of how the UK, the EU, and the world at large is set up.
Currently, Scotland and her Parliament have no sovereignty. The Scottish Parliament has no fundamental right to make laws. This right lies with Westminster, and the Scottish Parliament is granted legislative competence over some areas. In other words, Scotland has it's begging bowl out to London.
The EU is a collection of fundamentally sovereign states. The legislative competences of the EU are derived from powers handed up from the sovereign states. The EU has no sovereignty in and of itself.
An independent Scotland would have full sovereignty and full legislative competence over all areas. If Scotland chooses to hand some legislative competence to Brussels, then Scotland is still independent. Why? Because Scotland could, at any point, restrict, reduce, or remove these competences in keeping with Scotland's right as a sovereign state.
No country has the right to interfere with the internal affairs of another sovereign state without invitation. Interdependence is and should be entirely on terms agreeable to both parties, otherwise it is not interdependence, just another bad relationship.

The "where does it end" argument s an interesting one. It's interesting because it actually cuts right to the heart of what independence is about. It's about keeping world politics up to date with the imagined communities (look it up if you haven't heard this term, it's not what you might think) that the world actually consists of. In other words, if Shetland islanders believe themselves to be Shetlandic first, and believe that their interests are best served as an independent state, then that is precisely what they ought to be. You wouldn't say that Austria-Hungary ought not have been split up because "where would it end? Slovenian independence?". So why do it with Scottish Independence. This is the here and now and in the here and now Scotland's interests are best served as a sovereign state. Shetland independence is a later bridge to cross.

And how exactly would Scottish Independence be economic suicide? Scotland's economy is already larger than several EU states; we have Europe's fourth largest banking sector; we have 25% of europe's renewable energy resources; we have a large tourism industry; and we are renowned for computer software development. Further to this argument, countries such as Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have no mineral wealth and none of the advantages that Scotland has and yet these are the three fastest growing economies in Europe. Good fiscal planning and learning the mistakes of others is what will make Scotland economically successful, not negative statements with nothing to back it up.

  • 29.
  • At 02:19 PM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • Richard wrote:

In response to post #20 by louise.

There is actually a growing movement for Scottish Independence south of the border. A lot of people are aware of the extra money the Scots get and are seriously considering if the Union is worth the cost. With the rise in aggressive Scottish nationalism and the increasing power of Scottish MPs on English matters with no control of Scottish matters by English MPs the benefits to England of an Independant Scotland are becoming clearer.

  • 30.
  • At 02:32 PM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • Peter wrote:

#20 Louise:

Most states these days work on the basis of re-distributing wealth from economically better performing areas to those perceived as not performing as well. The EU does so as well. Should we presume from your posting that you believe that an independent Scotland wont do this [should be fun in some parts of Scotland then] and that, if part of the EU, Scotland will refuse EU funds then?

Given the bitterly anti-English tenor of many postings on this and other blogs on Scotland's future it's clear that the pre-Union relations of 'unremitting antipathy' will be the norm so the sooner there's a vote for independence and border defences a la Cold War in place between both, the better!

  • 31.
  • At 03:05 PM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • Gio wrote:

Comment #28 is spot on.
I am sick of hearing people moan
'we can't do it for ourselves'.
I hope they realise how pathetic that sounds. In life life thier is no such thing as 'I can't'. They just don't want to try. The people who contribute to Scotland (by working in thier respective fields) already have that get up and go attitude, so we can do it by ourselves if we want to.

If we do become independant, I hope we can get send these, no good moaning, failures to England as part of a settlement deal. They will be no use in Scotland.


A process, and, as noted by Bryce, it's a matter of choosing how much of one's sovereignty to share upwards and with whom or what. This cannot be done if one hasn't got sovereignty.

More powers, certainly, but only as another step on the road to full maturity. Best if it can be a 'negotiated' maturity as suggested in the White Paper.

Independence is not independence if it depends upon a grantor.


  • 33.
  • At 03:10 AM on 26 Aug 2007,
  • louise wrote:


You may presume whatever you like. I dont resent westminster one bit for redistributing wealth what i resent is our country not being considered an equal. Our parliament is just as good as westmister however it does not have the powers of westminster. Why????The people of scotland deserve to be treated as equals because they ar equal to anyone in the uk. They are not better than or worse than anyone they are EQUAL but they are not treated this way. Scotland provides as much too the union as england. However how many unionist politicians have you heard say scotland is just as important as england.Answer NONE. No instead we get "the barnett formula is unfair." "We (westminster) subsidise scotland". "We should stop this." When the mcrone report (hidden for 30 + years by westmister) show the reverse to be true. However having preconceived notions does no one any good. As seen from your post. Facts not about asking the scots if they want their parliament to have the same powers as westmister but still stay in the union................No we dont even get that. Even with 74 percent (according to one newspaper) of the people of scotland wanting a referendum will the unionists play ball. NO they wont. Fairness, equality. Where is the fairness and equality in that. REFERENDUM NOW....

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