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.
Filed under: Politics, Scotland | Tagged: alex salmond, conservative party, devolution, donald dewar, george robertson, james callaghan, labour party, margaret thatcher, referendum, scottish independence, scottish parliament, snp | 15 Comments »