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My thoughts on the Referendum (4)

In 2011 what was supposed never to happen, did. The SNP won a huge overall majority in the Scottish election. One of their promises was to hold an independence referendum. Despite the party’s apparent electoral popularity, the referendum did seem like a bridge too far.

But they pressed on with plans to hold a referendum in the ‘second half of the parliamentary term’. In the Edinburgh Agreement on how the referendum would work, Alex Salmond wanted three possible answers to the question on independence which were Yes, No and Increased Powers. This option became known as Devo Max but was rejected by the Westminster government. It was to be a simple Yes/No option to the question ‘Do you think that Scotland should be an independent country?’

I wonder in his quieter moments if David Cameron now regrets vetoing the third option? In recent days he and Messrs Miliband and Clegg have been falling over themselves to offer de facto Devo Max if Scotland votes No..

And despite the fact that I have decided to vote Yes, I wonder if Devo Max is still the most likely outcome in the event of a close vote either way?

There are only two possible reasons that Alex Salmond could have wanted the third option. One was that he maybe felt that he couldn’t deliver a Yes and the other was that he maybe thought that this was the best option. I suspect that it was a combination of the two.

Whatever their choice I wish my fellow Scots well and understand the difficulty for some people in making a choice. Whatever you do though, please vote and please choose.

I have avoided going into the issues of the referendum here. Suffice to say I am aware of the scare stories, the exaggerations, the doubts and the uncertainties. They have been well rehearsed in recent days, months and years and everyone has had an opportunity to hear them. It’s now down to the judgement of the electorate and who they trust.

I’ll give my thoughts on the outcome on Friday. In the meantime, here is a picture of ‘Independence House’ in Helensburgh adorned with a quote from Nelson Mandela


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?’

Behind the Scenes


The Vow

It sounds like a horror movie, but in fact it it the front page of today’s Daily Record.


For some perspective, here is Nick Clegg vowing to do something:


My thoughts on the Referendum (2)

I was at secondary school when I really became aware of the SNP. Margo McDonald made big news by winning the Govan by-election in 1973. Both Winnie Ewing and Donald Stewart had previously won Scottish seats but the winning of a Glasgow parliamentary seat in Labour’s heartland made big news. The fact that the winner was a young working class woman whom the media quickly dubbed ‘The Blonde Bombshell’ was important too. There were two general elections in 1974. In the first the SNP secured 7 seats and in the second 11.

It was clear that a seismic change had taken place in Scottish politics with the Nationalists winning over 30% of the vote in the October 1974 election. There seemed little ideology behind the new political force. Labour called them ‘Tartan Tories’ and the Conservatives portrayed them as Scotch Socialists but really neither was true. Their romantic view of Scotland centred on an annual rally at Bannockburn. This was a party of tartan, haggis, whisky……and oil. It was no coincidence that their new popularity was born on the back of the discovery of the black stuff in the North Sea.

Their message seemed to be striking a chord throughout Scotland, except for in the vital central belt where the traditional Labour vote was holding up well. However the SNP continued to do well in local elections during the 70s.In 1979, the SNP Parliamentary Group voted against the Labour Government in a Vote of No Confidence, causing the dissolution of the government and subsequent election. The then Labour Prime Minister, James Callaghan famously described this decision by the SNP as that of “turkeys voting for Christmas”. After the 1979 general election, the SNP had only two seats, representing a net loss of nine seats. Margaret Thatcher became the UK’s Prime Minister.

Although this did at first seem a disaster for the SNP, subsequent events would see Thatcher preside over the annihilation of the Conservative party in Scotland and establish the SNP as Scotland’s second party.

Despite the SNP’s losses at the general election, the 1979 referendum produced a 51.6% vote in favour of the setting up of a Scottish ‘assembly’ to allow devolution within the United Kingdom. However, due to a clause in the Scotland Act, the assembly never came to fruition. The clause stated that 40% of the total electorate would require to vote in favour. This was never a realistic prospect as the 51.6% represented 32.9% of the total. The issue of devolution was temporarily kicked into the long grass whilst the complete dismantling of manufacturing industry took place in Scotland in the 1980s

The Chrysler factory at Linwood, British Steel’s Ravenscraig works, Invergordon’s aluminium smelter, the coal mines,  British Leyland’s truck plant at Bathgate and others were allowed to fall to the free market politics of the government. The only intervention seemed to be to hasten the death of these industries rather than to prevent or defer them.

As part of their free market ideological fervour, the Thatcher government seemed hell bent on privatisation of everything that wasn’t nailed down. British institutions, which I had grown up with and took for granted were national assets, were sold off to institutional and private investors. British Petroleum, British Telecom, British Rail, British Steel, British Coal and British Gas were sold off. It seemed to me that Britain was being carved up and sold off and not even to the highest bidder -it was being sold cheaply. Former Conservative Prime Minister Harold McMillan accused the Thatcher government of selling off the family silver – probably his second most famous quote next to ‘You’ve never had it so good’.

Another thing being sold cheaply was the UK’s council housing stock. The Conservative plan to have people who had never before owned shares or heritable property, converted to their cause seemed to be working just fine and dandy – at least for those who could afford it.

Meanwhile the SNP was being riven by political division. The ’79 group, a left leaning faction within the party which included a young banker called Alex Salmond, were expelled from the party.

Despite the downright hostility that was fermenting towards the Tories in Scotland, the 80s was a bleak time for the SNP. Labour argued that the only way to get rid of the Tories was to vote Labour. With no devolution, this seemed a logical argument. The SNP was caught up in an internal battle on whether to return to their 1970s single issue stance or whether to progress as a left of centre party. The decision of Jim Sillars to dissolve his Scottish Labour Party and join the SNP was a vital factor in the political direction of the party, as was the defection of Labour’s Dick Douglas to the Nats.

Sillars won a sensational victory at the Govan by-election in 1988. In 1990, against expectations and two years later former ’79 group member Alex Salmond scored a election victory over Margaret Ewing to become party leader.

The 1992 General Election had promised much for the SNP. It proved to be mixed in fortunes. The SNP held three seats they had won in 1987, but lost Govan. They also lost Dunfermline West, but this was not helped by the sitting MP Dick Douglas deciding to stand against Labour MP Donald Dewar in his Glasgow seat instead of defending the seat he had represented for years.

The SNP had failed to make headway in terms of winning seats. However, their campaign proved a success in terms of votes won, with the SNP vote going up by 50% from their 1987 performance. It proved too much to bear for Sillars though, and he quit active politics, famously describing the Scots as ’90 minute patriots’. It also signaled the breakdown of the political relationship between Sillars and Salmond.

The intervening years between the 1992 and 1997 general elections were marked by some SNP electoral success. In the 1994 elections for the European Parliament the party managed to secure over 30% of the popular vote and return two MEPs (Winnie Ewing and Allan MacCartney). The SNP also came very close to winning the Monklands East by-election of that year, caused by the death of the leader of the Labour Party, John Smith. In 1995 they went one better, when the Perth and Kinross by-election was won by Roseanna Cunningham who later became the party’s deputy leader.

The 1997 General Election saw the SNP double their number of MPs from three to six. More importantly it brought the Labour party to power in the UK. They promised in their manifesto to hold a referendum in Scotland with a view to setting up a Scottish Parliament.

Next – “Devolution will kill Nationalism stone dead” and “Do you bloody well think so?”

My thoughts on the Referendum

Hello everyone. It’s been four months since I posted here and apologies for the break.

I thought I’d share my thoughts with you on the Scottish Independence Referendum (hopefully there are still some readers looking in), the decision I’ve made on how to vote and the reasons for that. I’m going to do this in a series of three (or perhaps four!) posts over the next few days leading up to the referendum.

I have to say that when the process started, and despite being an SNP voter, my inclination was to vote no. Like many of my fellow Scots I have a tendency to be conservative (small c) and would choose a ‘safe’ option over a risky one. However I resolved to study the background, evidence and the arguments before making my decision.

First step on that journey was to consider why we have a Scottish Parliament at all? Then it was to study how the SNP achieved a convincing majority in that parliament.

I recall when I was growing up. There were reminders of Britishness everywhere. The word ‘British’ was woven into the fabric of society (remember that word). There was British Rail, British Coal, British Steel, British Gas and British Leyland. Although the name wasn’t mentioned in other institutions’ titles, there were innately British institutions. These were things like the Post Office, the Royal Mail, the National Health Service and The Welfare State.

At school I remember the maps on every classroom wall with half the world identified in pink. Massive diverse countries like Canada, Australia, India and many in Africa defined by their common history of British colonialism. There was a school visit to the Peoples’ Palace in Glasgow where a massive Terracotta fountain has Queen Victoria standing aloft a huge waterfall cascade symbolising the four corners of the Empire. The Empire and the world seemed somehow interchangeable.

I had two stamp albums. One for Britain and the Commonwealth and one for the rest of the world. They were roughly the same thickness.

When even a minor member of royalty visited your town, the schoolchildren would line the streets waving the union flag just for a glimpse of a limousine and a waving hand.

A visit to the circus or the theatre would end with the playing of, and respectful standing to God Save the Queen, as would the day’s viewing on BBC television.

The political landscape was delineated to reflect the mixed economy of nationalised industry and capitalist endeavour of the post war period. Labour stood for the working man, the nationalised industries, the welfare state and the NHS. The Conservatives stood for business big and small, Royalty, Christianity and the remainders of Empire. Neither party made any bones about this and there was a clear and ever present ideology in both. There was really no other significant political movement in the UK. Even in Northern Ireland, the different political parties (other than those on the fringes) could broadly be identified with the two main British ones.

So that was the background of my childhood and young adult life.

Next will be a look at how the old certainties of the UK/Britain described above began to disappear.

Oh Danny Boy!

Danny Alaxander, quoted on the BBC. From the Lady Thatcher school of political humour:


“The Liberal Democrat MP for the Highlands said: “There is actually one Scottish myth I absolutely cannot and would not be able to disprove.

“She’s about 40-foot long, publicity-shy and she lives in my constituency, and if anyone here today or any of your families wants to come up to Loch Ness and spend a weekend looking out for her they will be very welcome indeed.

“In short, there is more evidence for the Loch Ness monster than there is for many of the calculations and the claims that have been put forward by the nationalists to support their case for separation.”

What a funny chap he is.