Wendy Alexander: Blueprint for the future of Scotland

I WRITE this in the Donald Dewar library of the Scottish Parliament. The symbolism appealed. Because as the sound and fury of elections, expenses, political coups and counter coups fade – what will endure?

I am convinced that tomorrow's Calman Commission report on the future governance of Scotland will endure.

It was in Donald's footsteps that I proposed the establishment of a constitutional commission on St Andrew's Day 2007. My message to Scottish Labour was clear: "When Labour are the party of ideas on the constitution it typically commands support. There is unfinished business from the 1999 Scotland Act and it is Labour's job – in partnership with other parties – to fix it. As Donald Dewar said "it would be absurd to pretend that ours is the last word on the constitutional settlement". Scotland wants to see a future that allows it to walk taller within the UK without walking out. And the Union needs to be a comfortable home for all its members."

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The process required to deliver these objectives would be equally challenging. Predictably there were many sceptics convinced it would never get off the ground, would never be a commission, would be strangled at birth by Westminster and would be timid in its conclusions. Such critics neither knew their history nor their man.

The pre-requisite for success was that it had to originate in Scotland and be genuinely cross-party. But it had also to go beyond the parties. This was too important to become a Brown, Cameron, Campbell/Clegg party political horse-trade. Experience in framing the Scotland Act convinced me of the need for expert financial advice free from Treasury and Whitehall self-interest. And in Ken Calman we secured an individual of stature and principle, his own man, with a canny eye to political realities.

With these ingredients the commission could bring fresh thinking to the debate, rigour to its analysis, and critically provide the basis for cross-party consensus around its solutions. It would stand full square in the tradition of the Constitutional Convention two decades previously.

Lest this sounds straightforward, it was a long and winding road. But history teaches that constitutional change has never been gifted to Scotland. It has to be fought and argued for. Two decades previously, Donald had schooled a young generation of Scottish Labour activists well. He never wasted his time briefing the media about Labour leader Neil Kinnock's reservations – he simply led Scottish Labour into the right place. By endorsing the Claim of Right he brought the weight of Scottish Labour, behind consensual, non-partisan constitutional change so creating the foundations for fulfilling the aspirations of the Scottish people. It was brave, it was lonely, but it worked.

But the Calman Commission is far more than just a Labour story. Annabel Goldie and Nicol Stephen both showed remarkable personal commitment and forbearance in getting this unique Scottish Parliamentary/UK Government-sponsored commission under way.

In giving birth to the Commission and letting it go about its business, all of Scotland's main opposition parties deserve credit. The Tories for coming on board despite thereby potentially tying their own hands in the future, the Liberal Democrats for their willingness to compromise and Labour – both at Holyrood and Westminster – for allowing ideas more radical than many foot soldiers favoured to flourish. The SNP adopted their traditional opposition, a reprise of their posture of the earlier Constitutional Convention.

Tomorrow's report will shape the next phase in Scotland's journey – template, or road map, for the cooperative evolution of Scotland's relationship with the UK. The consensus built amongst Commission members should become a consensus among political parties.

We will have to wait until tomorrow for the detail but expect radical plans to strengthen the financial accountability of the Scottish Parliament. Already trailed are plans for the Scottish Parliament to receive half the income tax raised in Scotland, a tax-sharing idea that hails from Canada from where the commission heard evidence. I will be looking for additional tax choices for the Scottish Parliament to complement existing powers over council tax and non domestic rates, and also new borrowing powers.

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Also expect a range of common-sense measures to improve relationships between Holyrood and Westminster. Whilst the powers of the Scottish Parliament are not likely to change much reflecting the durability of the original 1998 Act.

So what is in it for the Scottish people? A more accountable parliament. Calman's recommendations will mean Scottish politicians, whatever their hue, will not be able to simply blame Westminster. In future they will have wider budgetary powers and will have to defend those choices to the Scottish people. The Scottish people will no longer find it credible to blame Westminster every time there is a tough decision to be made. From tomorrow Calman will start to call time on that lazy politics.

Rome was not built in a day. No plan is perfect. Financial change is both slow and complex. But from tomorrow the blueprint is in place.

For Scottish Labour, Calman should act as an inspiration. We can retain our distinctive voice on the governance of Scotland. Donald – my real mentor in politics – advocated doing what you believe is in the nation's best interests because in so doing you also best serve your party.

I salute Ken Calman, his commission and their secretariat for their tireless work over recent months. Tonight they can sleep easy; they have opened a new chapter in Scotland's political history.

Wendy Alexander MSP is a former leader of the Scottish Labour Party