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My thoughts on the Referendum (3)

When Alex Salmond became leader of the SNP in 1990 he energised the party and sloganised it too. We had been used to slogans from the Nats – ‘It’s Scotland’s Oil’ for example.


oil oil2

However, this was negative, chip on the shoulder politics. Salmond’s slogans were more about possibilities, however remote they seemed. ‘Scotland free by ’93’ and ‘Independence in Europe’ were two which highlighted not only a change to positive campaigning but also policy shifts. Salmond realised that the anti European stance of his party wasn’t sustainable.

Importantly he also got behind a gradualist approach to independence – supporting devolution as a means of achieving the party’s raison d’etre. This made him unpopular with some party members and led to a fall out with Jim Sillars who famously dubbed the Scots ‘ninety minute patriots’ following the loss of his Govan seat.

When Labour won the 1997 election and delivered their promise to hold a referendum on devolution in 1999 there were several important changes from the referendum 20 years earlier. All four Scottish major parties were behind the Yes vote with only the Conservatives, by this time a fringe party in Scotland to lead the voice for no. There would be not an assembly but a parliament.

Having helped deliver the parliament, Salmond resigned as leader in 2000 to concentrate on his role as a Westminster MP. He was the most vocal critic of Britain intervening in foreign conflicts, most notably Iraq which he highlighted as a war that Messrs Bush and Blair were determined to prosecute come what may.

John Swinney succeeded Salmond as leader but didn’t exactly set the heather alight during his four years in that post. Labour and the Lib Dems formed the ‘Scottish Executive’ in coalition. The way the parliament had been set up under a proportional representation system, it was thought unlikely that one single party could gain a sufficient majority to govern alone.

At the setting up of the parliament, senior Labour politician George Robertson famously declared that devolution would leave Nationalism ‘stone dead’. Many wondered quite how by building the infrastructure of government, it would extinguish further ambition.

Salmond returned unexpectedly as leader of the SNP in 2004 and led the party to a similarly unexpected victory in the 2007 Scottish election. However despite being the largest party, they had no overall majority. After the Lib Dems refused an offer of coalition, the Greens pledged support on an issue by issue basis. The ‘Executive’ was renamed ‘The Government’.

Next – And you may ask yourself, ‘How did we get here?’, ‘Where are we?’ and ‘Where are we going?’

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