What surprised me most as polls closed on Super Thursday wasn't the speed of William Hague's slap-down for Alan Duncan over his alleged 'back to the drawing board' candour in the New Statesman. Neither the gaffe nor the slap-down really amounted to much. No, it was the way in which Westminster and Edinburgh were placed at loggerheads almost immediately.
Admittedly not over health policy, but over education. Both have long been devolved to the Scottish Office, so, in theory, there should be little problem with transition to the new Parliament or its wee Welsh cousin. But the row over the fate of student tuition fees, which may be resolved (I suspect not) by the time you read this, showed what a McPandora's box has been opened by the new constitutional settlement.
As a permanent member of the Keep Calm Tendency, I say 'let's wait and see'. But I am surprised how little ministers seem to have thought deeply about the new demarcation problems, how their views range from the relaxed to the outraged at the thought of, say, the Scottish Parliament abolishing prescription charges if 65 of its 129 members decide.
Can they do that? Why yes, my child. Double them too, if they want. They can raise nurses' pay, shift money from schools to wards, abolish the entire Scottish health board tier and restore GP fundholding (as the Tories would have done if they'd won) or demerge new trusts. They may end£1,000 a year student tuition fees, though they may fudge it, as ministers in London would like them to. They hesitate to say so out loud. Hey, this is meant to be devolution. But it might easily unravel the new fees in England and Wales.
In reality, the parties have been quite cautious on health. As HSJ noted (news focus, 22 April), they are wary on tax rises and the SNP suffered at the polls for Alex Salmond's 'Scotland's penny' policy which - a bit like the Lib Dems in the south - offered to cancel Chancellor Broon's 1p cut in income tax next year. That's worth£230m in Scotland, the bulk of the extra money it promised the NHS's£4.6bn annual budget.
Labour's offering in both Wales and Scotland was, as you'd expect, more of the same medicine nationwide - PFI hospitals, and all that extra revenue spending over three years from Gordon Broon. Ditto the Lib Dems who want 1,000 extra Scots nurses and 500 medics to help ease what is admitted to be an industrial legacy of bad health, despite the extra£1,000 a year spent on Scots health.
Yes,£1,000 a year, much of it from the extra block grant Edinburgh gets under equalisation rules known as the Barnett formula. If you're English and didn't know that, you might murmur 'fine, but they can pay for it themselves now (pause) and the money lost from tuition fees'. That's what devolution may do, stir up English resentment, or cases at the European Court.
Turn to Wales and a similar story emerges, a sense that the principality's health is poorer than England's (no Barnett formula here) and that more must be done to reduce the health gap between classes. Professor Allyson Pollock of University College London, an expert in the field, made the point last month. 'Devolution is to a large extent a response to long- term inequalities,' she says.
In the event, as you know, Plaid Cymru did better than expected and deprived Labour of a majority in Cardiff after genial Dafydd Wigley ran a better campaign than Mr Salmond. Plaid proposes abolition of trusts and the internal market, with their replacement by five new democratic health authorities and 22 democratic health councils.
That contrasts, incidentally, with the SNP plan to create a central, cross-party Health Care Commission to bring patients and professionals together. Will any of it happen? No, says Labour. But it hopes to run a consensual minority regime in Cardiff without a formal coalition. Who is right? We don't know. Thus is a journey with high expectations, but without a map. This Scotland's health minister, Sam Galbraith, is now an MSP and will quit Westminster. Win Griffiths, his Welsh counterpart, will not.
By the way, it's London turn for devolution next: May 2000.