Leading Article: A messy start for the brave new world of Scotland

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The Independent Culture
THE QUEEN will today officially open the Scottish Parliament, a body designed to usher in a brave new world. But nobody is happy with the diluted pomp and pageantry of the proposed ceremony. Many invited celebrities, from Sir Alex Ferguson to Billy Connolly, have turned their noses up at invitations to the historic day.

In terms of its political style, too, the Parliament has disappointed many. It was supposed to provide an end to adversarial politics. In practice, it has often seemed like shadow boxing rather than the real thing, and merely a pale imitation of Westminster. There have been endless arguments over members' allowances, which hardly endears the politicians to the voters. And members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) will scarcely have a tough summer: they meet for today's opening and tomorrow - and then adjourn until September. They are doing everything to make themselves distrusted by the electorate.

The ruling coalition of Labour and Liberal Democrats has bickered non- stop. The issue of university tuition fees separates the two sides so completely that any lasting accommodation still seems well out of reach. The disillusion is so widespread that the Parliament is in danger of appearing a dead duck. People may be reluctant to vote if the body's deliberations seem pompous and irrelevant.

There are reasons for optimism, however. Proportional representation opens up the political scene in a way that was unthinkable before. It is not just that there are now Liberal Democrats in government. The Scottish Parliament boasts Britain's first parliamentary Green and the independent Socialist Tommy Sheridan (who has said he will boycott the opening in favour of a "star-studded" ceremony of his own). The Scottish Parliament has a functioning opposition - the Scottish National Party and the Conservatives. In Edinburgh, even the Tories give Labour a run for its money.

That Scotland now has a voice of its own, even a confused one, is good news. Paradoxically, this may have weakened the position of the SNP, at least in the short term. Recent European experience suggests that the less flexibility a government shows, the more likely a break-up becomes. Margaret Thatcher was a great recruiting sergeant for the SNP; Donald Dewar is less effective. It was inevitable that the achievement of a longed- for goal would be accompanied by disappointment, not least because of uncertainty over where to go next. A Roger McGough poem summarises the dilemma: "Can I be the leader? Can I? I can? Yippee, I'm the leader, I'm the leader", and then: "OK, what shall we do?" For Scotland, the question of "what shall we do now?" is acute. But the messy start is no reason to feel that the project is a lost cause. Messy or otherwise, this is a beginning that counts.

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