A LABOUR peer has said there is a “still quite strong” sense of parochialism in Scotland during a discussion on the successes and failures of devolution.

Lord George Robertson, the defence secretary between 1997 and 1999, was pulled up for comments he made claiming an alleged narrow-mindedness of Scots when Holyrood was established in the 1990s during a meeting of the Scottish Affairs Committee on Monday.

The peer had served in Tony Blair’s opposition team as shadow Scottish secretary and was moved to defence after Labour’s 1997 election victory with Donald Dewar moved to the Scotland Office to oversee the creation of the Scottish Parliament.

Lord Robertson (below) said his change in role was sometimes described as a "demotion" by others, adding that he had to “go along with this mythology at the time, such is the parochialism in Scotland”.

The National: George Robertson, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen

A defence secretary would not ordinarily be considered a more junior government minister than a Scottish secretary. 

Asked about whether the Scotland Act which created the Scottish Parliament did enough to anticipate problems in the relations between Holyrood and Westminster, Lord Robertson replied: “Well, remember my involvement, my detailed involvement with the devolution settlement sort of ended on May 3, 1997 because I became the secretary of state for defence.

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“A lot of people claimed that that was a demotion. And occasionally I had to sort of go along with this mythology at the time, such is the parochialism in Scotland as a whole.”

Later in the session, which is marking the 25th anniversary of the Scotland Act with an inquiry into its successes and failures, SNP MP Alan Brown asked whether the belief Scotland was parochial was widespread in Government at the time and whether this contributed to the limited powers devolved to Edinburgh.

Brown, the MP for Kilmarnock, said: “Lord Robertston earlier on you made the joke that, when you became defence secretary you went along with the joke that was a demotion, you actually said ‘such is the parochialism in Scotland’. How many of your colleagues actually thought Scotland was too parochial at that time?”

Lord Robertson defended his comments and quoted the toast “here’s tae us, wha’s like us” – sometimes invoked as an example of Scottish “parochialism” in the context of its riposte: “Gey few and they’re a’ deid”.

The Labour peer said: “There is a degree of parochialism that we have north of the Border. I live in Scotland, you know, so I’ve never been away from it, or part of it as well. And a ‘here’s tae us, wha’s like us?’ sentiment as well is still quite strong.

“I was in the lounge this morning along with other people with guys in kilts on their way to Georgia.

“They looked to me like prosperous middle-class businessmen but they were still dressed in T-shirts and kilts and boots as well."

Brown replied: “I’m not sure about the observation of guys in kilts but did attitudes like that, did that influence the powers that were given to the Scottish Parliament, when it was set up for example?

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Robertson: “Not at all. Donald Dewar [below] took over from me the Scottish portfolio because Tony Blair wanted it to be given the highest rank. He was chief whip in opposition.

The National: Donald Dewar

“So you know it was giving him something that he believed in very strongly and with the clout and authority that he had within the national Labour Party.

“They wanted me to go to defence because they wanted somebody there to be able to handle the issues that were facing the country at that time.”

The committee heard evidence from Lord Andrew Dunlop, a former Scotland Office minister who penned a review of inter-governmental relations in recent years, as well as former deputy first minister Lord Jim Wallace (below).

The National: Question Time in the Scottish Parliament/ Jack McConnell

MPs were told reasons for the poor relations between Edinburgh and London were because of a variety of factors including a lack of foresight on the potential for different governments at either level to work less collaboratively.

LibDem Lord Wallace said he believed when devolution was being devised there was not much thought given to inter-governmental relations.

Earlier in the session Lord Robertson admitted: “Devolution for Scotland was the method by which we actually bound Scotland into the United Kingdom […] it might not have been as wonderful as we made out or as we thought it could possibly be and it’s got its imperfection – but it’s certainly better than it was when four Conservative ministers who had no public support in Scotland at all were running the whole mechanism of government north of the Border.”