About 15 years ago, I made myself rather unpopular at the Signet Library, a grand Georgian edifice in Edinburgh owned by the splendidly named Society of Writers to Her Majesty’s Signet. Attending a Law Society of Scotland reception, I was the first journalist to ask whether Scotland planned to emulate England and Wales by liberalising its legal services market a la Clementi. Would Scots be happy that Britons resident in Berwick-upon-Tweed would soon be able to avail themselves of a cheap supermarket will, while their fellow citizens just up the road in Lauder would not? (Remember ‘Tesco Law’? Google it kids!)
The conservative panjandrums of sedate Drumsheugh Gardens, where the Society was then resident, were not amused. Why, they demanded of this impertinent Sassenach, should it be assumed that Scotland cared a fig about how England chose to configure its legal system? Scotland would go its own way.
As indeed it did. The Scottish legal establishment has dragged its feet for years on implementing 2010 Holyrood legislation that officially sanctioned market reforms far less radical than Clementi.
Arriving at the Law Society of England and Wales a few years later, it was clear to me that many solicitors south of the border envied the Scots their seemingly inviolable autonomy. I would imagine that many of a liberal bent still envy them, judging by the accelerating divergence of the two jurisdictions. As Westminster targets judicial review, and mutes ‘noisy and annoying’ protesters, the Scots plan to embed ‘a whole range of human rights conventions and instruments into Scottish legislation’. A national taskforce for human rights leadership began work last October to propose a new statutory rights framework.
I should stress that such bien-pensant initiatives are not uncontroversial, even among self-styled progressive Scots. Some allege the SNP’s preoccupation with human rights and identity politics masks its dismal failure to alleviate what a former colleague at the Herald recently described as the ‘continuing obscenity of deprivation in our poorest neighbourhoods’.
He has a point. But perhaps, once again, it is none of my business.