There are a number of things I've never done. I've met every Labour Leader since Michael Foot, except Keir Starmer. I've never met Keir Starmer. I love my food – Indian, Greek, French, Spanish, Mexican, Italian. Not so keen on Chinese or Thai but I can't stand seafood. I've never eaten a prawn. Over the years I've worn my hair long, short, dyed, even permed once, and lasted four months of lockdown without getting it cut, but I've never, even during lockdown, been tempted to grow a beard or a moustache. Oh, and one other thing. I've been to the White House, 10 Downing Street, the European Parliament and spent years hanging about the House of Commons, but I've never set foot in the Scottish Parliament.
Whom I've met, what I've eaten and what I've done with my hair are fairly inconsequential, but why have I resisted setting foot in Holyrood? It's not that I was one of the devolution sceptics. I voted for it in 1979 and again in 1998. I supported a Scottish Parliament as a bulwark against Thatcherism in the 1980s. I was bursting with pride when Donald Dewar gave his bravura performance as First Minister at the opening of the new parliament. It's just that I have always remained convinced that, for devolution to flourish, we need to win power at a UK level. To put it simply, we need a Labour Government.
The Scottish Parliament has become the settled will of the Scottish people just as John Smith said it was. Even the Scottish Tories have made their peace with devolution. Why wouldn't they when it gives them a substantial presence in parliament? Many of us on the Labour side saw it as having the potential to give Scotland the political security and advances Britain enjoyed under Labour Governments in 1945 and again in 1964. There have been high spots like the Smoking Ban and Land Reform, and real advances in equalities, but it hasn't delivered the brave new world of politics some predicted. I never believed PR would change politics for the better.
The Scottish Parliament certainly hasn't delivered the fresh political talent that we were told was waiting to make a difference. Where are the substantial political figures like Gordon Brown, Robin Cook, Harriet Harman, Mo Mowlam or Charles Kennedy? And the procedures of the parliament seem to stifle any serious debate or the development of political argument unless it can be reduced to an insipid soundbite.
Scottish politics isn't a new politics at all. Political power sits not with the Scottish Parliament, but with the Scottish Government. There is rampant adversarial party politics and a centralisation of power in newly created bodies such as Police Scotland. Local authorities have been firmly put back in their box as Scottish ministers gather more and more power into their own hands with few checks and balances.
Yes, Westminster can be dull, hopelessly outmoded, pompous and irrelevant, but it has always been capable of rising to the occasion. I can look back on so many moments of real political significance and excitement over the past decades. The introduction of the National Minimum Wage voted through after an all-night sitting; the Scotland Act leading to the Scottish Parliament; the Good Friday Agreement bringing peace to Northern Ireland; the great international debates and votes on Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo and Syria; debates on Trident; the atmosphere in the public gallery on the night the Civil Partnership legislation passed, the Human Rights Act, the Equality Act; the solid progress towards reaching the International Development goals and the cancellation of Third World Debt; the ban on fox hunting; the Climate Change Act.
The Scottish Parliament has been responsible for many good things, and I desperately want devolution to succeed for the benefit of Scotland, especially those in greatest need. But I have to be honest. It just doesn't generate the buzz for me that I have felt in the past when Westminster has been at its best – when it has been making a real difference. So far nothing has enticed me to step over Holyrood's threshold. But never say never. Perhaps next Movember I will be having a prawn curry with Sir Keir in the Holyrood cafeteria.