Throughout the debate over Scotland’s independence, one question continues to crop up: Why now?
What has brought Scotland to the brink of independence and the dissolution of the political union which we have been part of for 300 years?
The truth of the matter is, this isn’t a question of sovereignty now. The idea of sovereignty and independence for Scotland has been on the political landscape a lot longer than I have walked these Scottish streets. The steps Scotland have taken have been small, and often it’s been a case of one step forward, two steps back; but the journey has always had the end destination of independence as its focus…
On March 1st 1979, Scots took to the polling stations to cast their vote on whether there should be devolution for Scotland in the way of a Scottish Assembly (parliament).
One question: “Do you want the provisions of the Scotland Act 1978 to be put into effect?”, followed by a simple yes or no option appeared on the ballot papers.
A narrow majority (51.6%) voted yes to the proposals of devolution set out in the Scotland Act, which would see matters such as education, health, social services, legal matters etc, which were at the time wholly reserved to the UK Government, devolved to a new democratically elected Scottish Government.
However, due to an amendment to the 1978 Scotland Act, made by the Labour MP George Cunningham, which called for an overall yes majority to be voted upon by at least 40% of the registered electorate meant that even though a majority (although marginal) had voted in favour of devolution, Scotland would not see the devolution she had voted for because only 32.9% of the total registered electorate had voted yes.
This amended rule meant that people who had moved abroad or who had died were factored in as ” registered but absentee voters” and used against the number of people who had voted yes.
During the campaign leading up to the referendum in 1979, many promises were made to the people of Scotland. Even Margaret Thatcher, leader of The Conservatives at the time, pledged that if Scotland voted no it wouldn’t kill off the notion of devolution; and Alec Douglas-Home insisted more powers could be granted to Scotland through a “better Bill” than the Scotland Act 1978.
These promises, and many others like them, have come to be known as “jam tomorrow” – the promises which never materialise.
The ‘Scotland Says No’ campaign at that time put fear at the forefront of their agenda and warned Scots that if they voted yes they could end up with an unstable economy and even more political red tape. They warned that companies would flee the country through fear of instability and that Scotland could not protect or continue the growth of her industries.
There was no devolution granted to Scotland in 1979, and in the following months Margaret Thatcher made history as Britain’s first female Prime Minister. During her career, she destroyed the industries Scots had been so heavily warned that they could not manage alone. Shipbuilding, mining, steel works, car manufacturing, engineering – It was all but gone, and by the time she had finished, Scotland had lost more than 20% of its workforce.
It would take two decades before Scotland finally saw the devolved parliament it had fought for, voted for, and so narrowly missed out on in 1979.
The second devolution referendum took place in 1997, and the campaign once more saw it’s share of heavy opposition. The Scottish people yet again were subjected to fear and thinly-veiled threats from the No side – those same old lines trotted out from the 70s regarding the economy and risks to Scottish business and employment.
The result of the referendum saw almost 75% of voters agree that Scotland should have a parliament of her own, and on the heels of the result the British Government passed the Scotland Act 1998 and the Scottish Government (or the Scottish Executive as it was known then) was finally established in 1999.
The tactics of today’s Better Together campaign echo warnings from the past. The harsh and sometimes threatening words, the MPs speaking them, and even the businesses taking heed of them are the same as they were first and second time around. You could take the speeches, and the newspaper articles from 1979 & 1997 – remove the word devolution, replace it with independence; and there really isn’t any discernible difference.
Independence is no new or radical idea for Scotland. Like all things in life, Scotland is simply trying to evolve in order to protect herself and ensure her survival as the world and environment changes.
The promises made in ’79 were lies.
The warnings made in ’97 were lies.
What makes you think the promises and warnings they make now are to be trusted?!