THIS week marked the 20th anniversary of the first election to a Scottish Parliament. I was privileged to be elected to serve in that first term with some great and talented people of all parties, too many of whom are no longer with us.

So much has happened since that day in May. In my life and in the country as a whole, so much has happened.

It was a great moment in the story of Scotland’s journey without end. As a supporter of independence, of course, it wasn’t all I hoped for.

READ MORE: Wilson makes call for Scottish Parliament to gain more borrowing powers

It took the powers of the Secretary of State for Scotland and added a Parliament to scrutinise and legislate, and a tax power that was designed to be unusable and more symbolic. But it built a new institution that has provided a voice for Scotland’s head and heart. Without it, we would have no first minister to speak for a nation that voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU and to reach out to European citizens living here. It is now unimaginable that this could not be the case, but once upon a time, not so long ago, it was.

We should never, I feel, underestimate the importance of this reality. Devolution happened because it became the settled will of the majority of people. Each step on our road requires the forging and stewardship of that self-same settled will behind progress.

The referendum that created the Parliament was controversial in its time. Some doubted the commitment of the Blair government to follow through. But what it did was both legitimise the Parliament beyond doubt and give the SNP and other parties that campaigned for a “Yes-Yes” stake in the outcome.

Our Parliament has had many successes throughout the last two decades and many challenges too. The first minister at the time, Donald Dewar predicted as much in his stupendous opening speech:

“We are fallible. We will make mistakes. But we will never lose sight of what brought us here: the striving to do right by the people of Scotland; to respect their priorities; to better their lot; and to contribute to the commonweal.”

His was a historically generous speech that drew the Parliament and country together.

In its 20 years, the Parliament has done more right than wrong, of this there can be no doubt.

Of course, the completion of its responsibilities and our return to the normal status of independence is the reform I yearn for most. But as we think of what we can do with independence, we must begin acting now on building towards it. Dewar again: “A Scottish Parliament. Not an end: a means to greater ends.”

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So it must be with independence. I never thought the SNP would win an overall majority to make an independence referendum possible. But they did and it was, and it created the precedent and means for progress. Twenty years ago, I thought we would progress more quickly if we won the case for more powers, especially over the country’s finances. I remain surprised and disappointed that the pace of meaningful devolution beyond the powers of the 1997 secretary of state for Scotland has been so glacial and reluctant.

One obvious area alongside properly balanced taxation responsibility is the question of borrowing powers. At present, the Scottish Parliament can authorise borrowing for investment that amounts to just over 1% of the Scottish budget. This makes no sense.

Surely all parties could agree that a Fund for Future Generations could be capitalised by a new Scottish Public Bond the first of its type?

North Sea revenues are forecast to bring in £8.5bn over the coming five years – it would be wonderful if they could capitalise a fund. But, absent that, the borrowing powers should be extended and used to create a substantial fund focused on long-term policy making and ambition.

It would bear risk on investments of inter-generational importance: global levels of ambition on renewable energy technologies the best connectivity in the world, innovation and science could all be backed to make a positive return on investment for the taxpayer.

And crucially, too, some of the most intractable economic and social exclusion problems we face could see projects funded that may take years to succeed but are worth trying. The First Minister’s recently announced Social Justice and Fairness Commission could be supercharged to tackle long-term problems with long-term intervention.

All parties could have a stake in determining strategic priorities. Citizens Assemblies could play a leading role.

Surely just such ambition is exactly the sort of initiative the parties could sit down on now to agree as we contemplate the 20 years to come?

All those who are elected to the Scottish Parliament should feel no limit to the possibilities for the country. A lot has been achieved in 20 years, but there is so much more needing done.

How Ruth Wishart gave me the perfect advice

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ONE of the most important things in my view of politics is the ability of people from different parties and perspectives to get on. Understanding one another and having civil and convivial relations enhances dialogue, debate and discourse. 

We in Scotland must never lose our ability to vigorously disagree. But at the end of the day we must be able to share a mutual respect and regard as citizens of the same country and community.

I have been fortunate over my life to have maintained very good friendships with people across parties. I may completely disagree with some, but I don’t doubt the sincerity of their belief that their approach is what is best for the country. 

This Sunday will mark the 25th anniversary of the death of the late Labour leader John Smith. My memory of that moment was hearing the news as a young civil servant economist. I had met him once and knew his youngest daughter from university but no more than that. What struck me then was the outpouring of feeling from across politics and then in the broader country. It was clear he had maintained the warmth of affection of many while not losing any of the  razor-sharp skills of the QC.

Five years later as the Scottish Parliament was reconvened, I was invited to a small party at his family home in Edinburgh and to stay the night before the formal opening. There, senior politicians from across politics marked the occasion and both quizzed and encouraged the young and newly elected politicians in the room. 

The next morning as I was sleepily ironing my shirt, the redoubtable Ruth Wishart gave me two barrels: “Are you proud Andrew”?

“Err Ruth I was just ironing my shirt and waking up.”

“Well you had damn well better be proud because a lot of people worked very hard for us to get to this moment.” 

And so I left to begin my term as an MSP with a joint sense of loving support married with a headmasterly kick in the backside. Just the tonic I needed.