Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson need to be more like Donald Dewar, the founding father of devolution – Ian Murray MP

This week marks 20 years since Scotland’s first First Minister, Donald Dewar, died.

Scotland's first First Minister Donald Dewar knew the value of co-operation (Picture: Ben Curtis/PA)
Scotland's first First Minister Donald Dewar knew the value of co-operation (Picture: Ben Curtis/PA)

The founding father of devolution once famously said, “There shall be a Scottish Parliament. I like that”, as he launched the 1997 Scotland Bill.

Devolution transformed Scottish politics, bringing power closer to the people, as Donald and Labour always championed.

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It has led to positive societal change, such as the smoking ban, free personal care and equal marriage.

And it has ensured decisions on key issues such as public health are taken here, as we have witnessed during the coronavirus pandemic.

That doesn’t mean those decisions will always be the right ones, as also evidenced in recent months.

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Donald Dewar: Scotland's first First Minister

From the original cover-up of the first outbreak in Edinburgh by Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish Government has careered from disaster to disaster – sending elderly patients from hospital into care homes without testing them, presiding over a PPE shortfall and testing crisis, and botching both the exam results system and the return of students to university.

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Despite a better comms strategy and the SNP’s best efforts to shift blame, devolution means that the buck stops with the First Minister.

But the difference between devolution and the SNP’s vision of separation means that we are also part of something bigger – the United Kingdom.

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That means billions of pounds have been made available to Scotland to support jobs during the pandemic. As the Scottish Government’s own figures show, and its top economic adviser has admitted, an independent Scotland would start off with crippling levels of austerity and with a new currency to support.

The devastation that would cause in communities such as Glasgow Anniesland, which Donald Dewar proudly represented, is why Labour has always put the Scottish people ahead of flags.

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Solidarity lies at the heart of our ideology.

That’s different to the Tories’ approach to the Union, with their new Scottish leader Douglas Ross admitting this week that many of his colleagues don’t care about keeping Britain together.

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And the Tories are now recklessly preparing to pull the rug away from workers and businesses, with the furlough scheme coming to an end later this month.

The Chancellor’s flippant response suggesting musicians and culture sector workers have got to retrain and get new jobs was disgraceful.

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So rather than having two governments trying to outdo each other, it’s time for them to work closer together.

Co-operation has always been at the heart of the devolution vision and Covid is a test of that and it is being failed.

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Given England has the worst excess death rate in Europe and Scotland has the third worst, both governments have clearly made errors and their ongoing attempts to outdo each other help nobody.

With a second wave of coronavirus well in train, new restrictions announced in Scotland yesterday, and winter on the way, both governments should work together on health and economic support.

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The Labour Party has put forward constructive proposals, with Keir Starmer outlining a five-point plan.

This includes investing in labs to expand testing and contract tracing and a 24-hour guarantee on results with regular routine testing for high-risk workplaces, like care homes and hospitals.

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Devolution was designed with constructive co-operation in mind. It’s time for both governments were a bit more Dewar.

Ian Murray is Labour MP for Edinburgh South

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