LEST any irresponsible curs had been tempted last week to express pride in the new Forth Road Bridge, a slew of Unionist commentators were quickly on hand to dampen any reckless displays of enthusiasm.Over the walls they came, rapidly engulfing any bursts of intemperate delight with a film of ash. This week it’s the entire Scottish devolution settlement – all 20 years of it – that’s under siege.

To read some of the analysis of the 20th anniversary of devolution, you’d have thought we’d existed on International Monetary Fund hand-outs for the entire period and that collections have been organised in the back streets of Malawi to send aid to Scotland. Much of the professional rectitude has come from a Scottish political lobby who thought they’d won the golden ticket when it became clear that a Scottish Parliament would be reconvened after a gap of nearly three centuries.

Prior to 1997, Scottish political journalists had to play second fiddle to their Westminster counterparts, who seemed to lead a gilded existence in the Hollywood of western parliaments. There they could drink long into the night in Westminster’s subsidised taverns fawning over Tony and Gordon and Peter and hoping to be patronised with some delicious apercu for the following day’s publication.

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The Scottish political lobby could only look forward to beer and sandwiches with union officials and perhaps a freebie to Cumbernauld to watch Donald opening a new call centre. They were tethered to the mother ship and rarely escaped the editor’s beady eye.

The new Scottish Parliament changed all that. Included within the building was a swanky new media wing that offered life-changing possibilities. The Saturday night dinner party circuit in certain central Scotland Chardonnay estates got a whole lot more interesting overnight. “As I was saying to Alex in the members’ bar … and you ought to have seen the look in Nicola’s face … did you know that Jack name-checked me at FMQs?”

Ah yes, life would never be the same again for the stay-at-home chroniclers of Scotland’s devolved happenings. I have enjoyed the company of many of these fine and stalwart men and women and not once have I heard any of them complain about the amount of taxpayers’ money that was spent constructing their sleek, stripped-pine thinking pods.

In the rush to appear studiously unimpressed by anything that’s been achieved in 20 years of devolved government, it’s largely been forgotten that Holyrood was set up to fail from the outset. At best, you could say that it was a multi-million-pound braking system, designed to ensure that as little as possible in the way of meaningful power would be conceded by Westminster. The big-ticket items such as defence, foreign affairs and social security would all be retained. And while education and health were fully devolved, the spending priorities in administering these were always going to be curtailed when most of the economic levers required to effect radical change remained under the control of London.

The starkest example of this, and one which will become acute as the great Brexit folly founders on the rocks, is immigration. Scotland needs to grow its population by around a million to help it sustain long-term economic viability and this rests on its ability to attract both skilled and unskilled foreign labour. Our NHS will be in a state of crisis if English and Scottish Tories succeed in their aim of rounding up EU nationals and shipping them out immediately after Brexit.

The patterns of inequality which impact heavily and adversely on health and education in the most densely populated areas of Scotland are exacerbated by decisions made by the Department for Work and Pensions. Scots taxpayers are expected to pay £1 billion over the next 10 years to help maintain Trident nuclear submarines on the Clyde as part of a deterrent that the majority of people in this country do not want.

Perhaps devolution was the settled will of the Scottish people, but it was also the settled will of a Westminster-facing cohort in the Scottish Labour Party for entirely different reasons. They embraced it only in the expectation that it would stop the cause of self-determination in its tracks. It wasn’t established to set up new possibilities but merely to strangle them at birth. The Scottish Parliament was like an entrepreneur that builds the most expensive nightclub complex in town but then refuses to sell alcohol in it or permit dancing.

Look, I’m happy to admit here that there’s very little that even the most radical, progressive and enlightened Scottish governments could have done in the past 20 years that would have satisfied me short of nationalising all means of production; taxing the rich and the middle classes until the stones on their artisan driveways crumbled; and effecting a land grab in every shooting estate in the country. I despair at the managerial incompetence at the top of our NHS and the absence of anything approaching innovation in our state education sector. I’d have no hesitation in shutting down all fee-paying educational facilities tomorrow. But I know the hearts of this government and of the Labour administration before have been in a good place. Finally, a start has been made to reverse the ruinous right-to-buy legislation of Margaret Thatcher. A programme of social housing has been initiated, even though it needs to increase pace.

More than a third of Scotland’s block grant from Westminster is spent on the NHS. There’s a commitment here to preserving its founding principles while in England it’s being sliced, diced, and its most lucrative cuts sold off to corporate healthcare firms owned by Tory MPs and party donors.

Access to higher education is free for all Scots and five of our top universities are in a list of the world’s top 200. No other country of similar size can boast of this. In Scotland, the rights of minorities are protected and championed at every level and free care for the elderly is assumed and not begrudged. In 20 years of Scottish devolution I’d like to have seen more happening more quickly. Yet in that period I have looked sadly at England – the England that I have loved and admired – and been thankful that devolution has afforded us a little protection from the dark forces impelling it backwards towards cultural medievalism. In 1997, a new Labour Government promised to reverse the reactionary excesses of Thatcherism; instead it betrayed its mandate by allowing the anti-trade union laws to stand. It embraced the caprices of the corporate elite and its light-touch approach to curbing greed and corruption in the financial sector brought the economy to its knees in 2008. This paved the way for an apocalypse of the hard right and its inevitable by-products: a Brexit fuelled by fear and suspicion of foreigners and the wickedness of putting profits before people that led directly to the Grenfell fire.

Scottish devolution is a work in progress; in Westminster they are presiding over a nation in regress.