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Independently Minded

The Scotland I grew up in had a fairly simple political landscape. In those days it wasn’t just TV that was in black and white. Politics, religion and class were strictly monochrome.

Were you one of us or one of them? (which had more than one meaning!)

The Conservative party vied with Labour to be the main political force in Scotland and the SNP and Liberals were peripheral sideshows.

Then came an upsurge in SNP support in the (October) 1974 general election which returned 11 MP’s to Westminster.

Labour panicked and realised that the old unionist v separatist rhetoric which had previously successfully rubbished the SNP would not do any more.

The party which had previously stood shoulder to shoulder with their partners in crime (the Tories) as a party of UK unity, suddenly introduced two new words into the political vocabulary – devolution and assembly.

The Scotland act of 1978 provided for an assembly in Edinburgh. The proposed assembly would have no tax raising powers and many saw it as an unnecessary additional tier of bureaucracy, a talking shop.

A referendum was held on March 1st 1979 in which on a 60% turnout, 51.6% voted yes and 48.4% voted no.

Hardly a ringing endorsement for devolution but a majority nonetheless and first past the post being the accepted democratic system in the United Kingdom meant that the majority carried the day, right?

Wrong. A provision in the act meant that 40% of the electorate and not just a majority of those who voted would have to vote yes for the devolution dream to become reality.

This effectively meant that even before the poll, the act was dead in the water (a phrase I’ll return to)

In the wake of the referendum result the SNP withdrew its support for the Scotland act, brought a motion of no confidence in the Callaghan government which the government lost by one vote thus giving us a general election and…………………..


Despite the anger in Scotland over the reslult and fall out of the devolution referendum, Maggie and her government set their collective face against devolution of any kind.

She and they treated the Scots with utter contempt. The proud nation which as a constituent part of the UK had been a significant contributor to Britain’s pre-eminence in invention, literary, manufacturing and military fields amongst others were now to accept the role of mendicant serfs in Thatcher’s brave new Britain.

All serious support for the Conservatives in Scotland evaporated. This culminated in the UK general election of 1997 when not one Conservative MP was returned to Westminster from north of the border.

By this time (1997) of course the Scots were slavering for devolution and one of the very first pieces of legislation brought forward by the Blair government was for a Scottish Parliament (not an assembly).

Another referendum was called and again the turnout was 60%. There were two questions relating 1) to a yes/no for the establishment of a parliament (the result of which was 74.3% yes 25.7% no)
and 2) a yes/no for such a parliament to have tax varying powers (63.5% yes 37.5% no)

The parliament thus became a reality and sat for the first time in May 1999 with Labour and the Liberals forming a coalition executive under “Father of the Nation” 😉 First Minister Donald Dewar.

At the time Labour’s George Robertson said that the establishment of the parliament left the SNP and independence “dead in the water”.

I remember thinking about this remark.

Quite how setting up the machinery and infrastructure for independence when the only effective opposition (and therefore alternative government) in Scotland was the SNP, would leave independence dead in the water was a mystery to me.

And so to the present. At the SNP’s spring conference yesterday and Alex Salmond, now SNP’s leader and first minister of Scotland, unveiled a new slogan “We’ve got what it takes”.

I strongly believe that in my lifetime Scotland will be an independent country.

The supreme irony here is that it was the SNP’s motion of no confidence in 1979 which gave the UK Margaret Thatcher.

Her government’s subsequent treatment of the Scots undoubtedly finished the Conservative party in this country and paved the way for devolution and possible eventual independence.

Meanwhile, somewhere in a rather nice living room an elderly man sits. George Islay MacNeill Robertson, Baron Robertson of Port Ellen KT GCMG FRSA FRSE PC (for it is he) mutters “Dead in the water I tell you” before once more drifting off to sleep.


15 Responses

  1. […] Original post by bigrab […]

  2. Labour has now tried to hang the Thatcher 1979 albatross round the necks of the SNP for literally decades. Perceptive reading of the politics of the day suggests that Thatcher would have swept to power at the next General Election, ie Labour would have been shafted whatever.

    What the Labourites don’t care to explain however is why they deliberately and determinedly carried on and even intensified the Thatcher political agenda; even the Iron Whore herself baulked at privatising the Post Office for example, and I hae ma doots whether she would have wedged her head so firmly up America’s backside a la Blair.

    Regarding Scotland assuming statehood, we’ll have to wait and see. The Labour vote in Scotland is haemorrhaging rapidly but I worry that the demographics may now be unsuitable up here for the SNP (or whoever) to achieve independence.

    And to anyone from elsewhere in the UK reading this; I have no problem with yourselves but I’m determined to see Scotland break from Westminster, the British establishment and the monarchy.

  3. My money is on we stay as we are….although there might be some greater fiscal autonomy. My feeling has always been that the logistics of breaking away would likely drag us so far down as to be a disaster…As I’ve always said, I get the emotional argument over independence, it’s just the practicalities that are the tricky bit.

  4. Richard,

    Do you mean dragged so far down to a disaster such as the banking system going into meltdown? or a recession more serious than any of us can remember? or getting involved in illegal wars?

    That sounds very scary indeed.

  5. Another excellent piece Rab – a concise timeline of developments that have led to where we are today –

    I was amused by a throwaway paragraph by Tom Shields in thwe Sunday Herald yesterday….

    FINALLY, it appears that when Prime Minister Broon was in residence up in Scotlandshire last week and wished to treat the native political leaders to their tea, he could not find a suitably non-devolved venue.

    That is, one which was not within the grace and favour of First Minister Alex Salmond. So Broon invited them to his house in Fifeshire. Which was nice of him but surely something of a domestic imposition.

    Maybe next time a UK PM comes north to entertain Scottish politicians, there will be suitable facilities. At the English embassy

  6. Rab, I’m not impressed with those things but that’s confusing the argument. Being independent would have changed things but financially and practically we still could have been worse off. In politics as in life we cannot turn the clock back, it’s from here we have to start and to judge things.

    The banking system in particular would have likely been no different in an independent Scotland…although neither of us can say with any certainty what it would have been like.

    We’ll never agree on this no matter how long we debate it. Suffice to say I love Scotland, I love living in Scotland and wouldn’t move in a hurry. Mrs H., who is a Fifer, is even more pro Union than I am! Although what that proves I’m not sure!


  7. Richard the point is that we are told the disaster that awaits us with independence when on the disaster front successive UK governments have been doing a sterling job.

    I love Scotland and living in Scotland too. And I love England and Ireland and Wales (My kids have the distinction of having genes from all four home nations in their make up simply by going back three generations).

    I do wonder though, if as looks likely, a Conservative government is returned at Westminster at the next election how this might focus thoughts on the different mindset north and south of the border.

    Mrs. Bigrab is orginally from deepest Lancashire and I would not be so presumptuous to publish her voting intentions. I’m pretty sure she’s one of us though 8)

  8. The last two postings have reinforced the point I was trying to make earlier; where you were born and brought up may not be relevant to what you wish for in your present locale and life.

    My feelings of Britishness have evaporated almost completely, and I do not wish the apparatus of the British state, whether it be Trident, ID cards, war in Afghanistan or Iraq, privatisation of the Health Service and creeping PPP and the House of Windsor.

    My recourse is therefore for myself and like-minded citizens to take control of ALL our decisions; fortunately here in Scotland we have the ability to reclaim the statehood of an ancient nation – there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

    • Ferncake a perfect illustration of your point is Bashir Ahmad the SNP MSP who died recently. Respected and liked by all sides, this “new Scot” embodied everything that could be possible in an independent Scotland.

  9. Ultimately I think most MSPs would secretly like to be independent, no matter what hey party’s policies are. Politics has increasingly become about ‘me’ and not about the rest of us. It’s what’s buggering things up at every level…in Westminster and in Holyrood. Somehow or another it would be great if politicians could be a little less self; given the expenses row I cannot see that happening though. As I get older I get more cynical, nothing unusual there, but d try to fight it, to remain optimistic, but it’s hard!

  10. FC, you have a point but there’s no guarantees with Scottish statehood that you will get all you wish for. You are probably right and we wouldn’t have those things in Scotland. We would have other th things that you don’t agree wth, some of wich might be even worse…..it’s called democracy.

  11. Very informative post Rab. When filling out a form, I have always wanted to see Scotland as a choice when selecting my country from a list of options. For Scotland to become truly independant, we would need to break the ties that bind, so to speak. The thing that springs to my mind is how we break and replace the interconnected bureaucracies between the two countries. Don’t you agree that this would be a major issue?

  12. It wouldn’t be easy that’s right Dylan. However certain cross-border institutions could remain (I’m thinking the BBC and the like as Britain is a physical land mass as well as a current political one) funded separately by Scotland and England/Wales. In that regard BBC Scotland could remain, the entity of “Britain” assuming similar status to Scandinavia.

    As for separating taxation/bureaucracy etc. It has been done in many modern countries so it’s not insurmountable (Czech Republic and Slovakia to give one recent example)

    Also with a separate legal and education system already in place as well as a parliament, the whole thing perhaps wouldn’t be the nightmare that would be faced by Wales for example should they attempt the same thing.

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