TWENTY years ago this morning the newly elected members of the first modern Scottish Parliament took their oaths or made their affirmations and were then addressed by the oldest member, Winnie Ewing, who had chaired the proceedings.

After thanking the clerks she said the words that went on to make headlines and history around the world: “The Scottish Parliament, which adjourned on 25 March 1707, is hereby reconvened.”

The text of the Parliament’s official report – recording everything in the chamber verbatim, as it has done ever since – adds at this point the word “Applause”.

There certainly was.

Winnie went on to thank all those who had worked to achieve a Scottish Parliament and finished her short speech by quoting from the actual Treaty of Union debate in the last Parliament that had sat in Scotland.

She chose Lord Belhaven’s words. Belhaven was an eloquent opponent of Union and his great speech of November 1706 was printed in full in the History Of The Union written by that arch pro-Union plotter, Daniel Defoe.

His words should be kept before us today: “Show me a man who respects the rights of all nations while ready to defend the rights of his own against them all and I will show you a man who is both a nationalist and an internationalist.”

Some commentators have recently attacked the very existence of the Parliament claiming it has allowed nationalists to set the agenda, though that observation reveals a contempt for what the people themselves have decided in the ballot box.

Others have opined on what they think the Parliament has failed to do, implying that they could have done better (even if they didn’t when there).

But the reality is that we have much to celebrate 20 years on, and it is a celebration of both achievement and potential.

The actual legislative changes have been wide ranging and significant.

People have forgotten that, before devolution, very little time was allocated by Westminster to modernise or change Scotland’s laws.

Now we can do that job for ourselves.

For example, just last week the Scottish Parliament concluded work on two big issues – changing the age of criminal responsibility to bring it more into line with European norms, and protecting vulnerable witnesses.

Much more will be put on the statute book between now and the summer, including major improvements to planning, better ways of managing offenders, a big step forward in our attempts to combat climate change and the setting up of a South of Scotland Enterprise Agency.

The long list of things that the Parliament has done – legislative and non-legislative – over 20 years is impressive, and every member, across all the parties, has contributed to the work.

But we should also celebrate the continuing potential of the institution.

There were big debates within the SNP in the 1980s and 1990s as to whether the party should back a devolved Parliament. Some people felt that it would make it harder to move on to independence, but the majority came to believe that if the people of Scotland saw that we could govern ourselves well in some things, then they would want more.

That “slippery slope” argument was troubling to Unionists, and still is. That is why the Tories, Labour and the LibDems constantly try to belittle the achievements of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament and exaggerate every problem.

They want Scots to believe, in the words of Parnell, that devolution is “thus far, and no further”, and that being independent is both unnatural and selfish, as well as being beyond the talents of those who live here.

Belhaven, more than 300 years ago, knew that wasn’t true. Independence – in his time preserving it and in ours regaining it – is about normality. Respecting the rights of all nations while defending our right to run our own is what countries and citizens do across the globe.

Belhaven’s anti-Union compatriot Fletcher of Saltoun took it a stage further, equating good government with autonomy at home as well as co-operation with others across Europe. That is normal too.

As a nationalist I am therefore happy to celebrate 20 years of devolution this week. Not because it has given Scotland everything we need, nor because it has done everything perfectly (it hasn’t), but because it has done much well and will, I am sure, do a lot more even better when it has all the powers the Scottish people need – the full, normal powers of independence.