I see a nation as formed by people with a shared historical experience whose customs, practices, social mores, culture, patterns of thought and attitudes form a human group which is quite a distinct part of humanity. When that nation can identify issues and perceive that its members have interest in them and when that nation asserts its right to decide its own attitudes to issues then we have a basic nationalism. (Sillars 88-9)
This definition of a nation and nationalism by Jim Sillars, formerly a Labour MP, now a member of the Scottish National Party, highlights one of the most fundamental problems of our age, that of nationalism. Scotland is a classic case of what could seemingly be called a nation, submerged in a larger state. The aspects of nationalism within Scotland and how those aspects affect Scottish and British politics are the focus of this discussion. In order to understand this subject, one must take a four-tiered approach. One must (1) examine nationalism in general and (2) Scottish nationalism in particular, then , (3) through the lens of Scottish nationalism, the stance of Scotland's four main parties [the Conservatives, Labour, the Scottish National Party (SNP), and the Liberal Democrats], followed by (4) ruminations on further cross-party cooperation on Scottish issues.
For one's purposes here, one must examine numerous conceptions of nationalism in a general sense, in order to form a better understanding of the subject before it can be applied.
In the past, nationalism was considered progressive: "a modern movement of the popular interest against empire or dynasty, a struggle against privilege." (Pfaff 31) Over time, it came to be intellectually surpassed by the universalist ideologies of liberalism and socialism. Although it may occupy "the moral and emotional ground otherwise held by political ideology," it can't really be considered one since it lacks that very capacity for universality. (Pfaff 14) "This national feeling," which William Pfaff describes as a matter of passion, not a "practical commitment", has usually tended to come before "principles of international solidarity and political or religious universalism." (24) Pfaff defines nationalism as "the political (and military) expression" of a kind of group consciousness, attached either to a state or to a community which believes that it should be a state. (197)
Carlton J. H. Hayes finds nationality to be the product of memories and myths "from a people's past" which combine to create the belief that those people are a separate and distinct part of mankind." (Pfaff 53) Karl Marx, father of modern socialism, offered a simple definition of a nation: "common language, territory, economic life, and common mental makeup." (Pfaff 51)
Language is important in national feeling, but that alone is not enough. One finds that "full belonging, the warm sensation that people understand not merely what you say, but what you mean," requires a common way of thought, not just a common language. (Ignatieff 7) As such, language takes on a broader meaning, encompassing ideology and socialization, rather than simple vocabulary.
Nationalism can be looked at as not only a matter of community, but as part of the struggle for power. K. R. Minogue's classic study of nationalism followed this line, mostly due to the era in which he was writing (the post-WWII colonial collapse). He saw nationalism as the struggle of "weaker versus stronger," or as making up "distortions of reality which allow" people to endure in otherwise intolerable situations. (Minogue 148) Daniel Bell approaches nationalism as a "means for disadvantaged groups "to lay claim to privileges denied them by "existing power structures." (Moynihan 61)
This power is not necessarily simply military or economic. Isaiah Berlin says that nationalism "expresses the inflamed desire of the insufficiently regarded to count for something among the cultures of the world." (Pfaff 41) In this case, oppression as fact and oppression as perception are little different. Minogue emphasizes that nationalism involves the" abstraction of the nation," which may have little "connection with the concrete national life." (Minogue 23)
Quebec within Canada provides a simple example. The francophone Quebec of the nineties, desirous of more personal power and freedom, does not tend to care for explanations of how its standing has risen over time. History saw it oppressed, and now that this has stopped, it is not enough. Quebecois must continue to battle, perhaps trying to expunge former feelings of inferiority, and in the process they ignore their true current position.
Nationalism can also be highlighted as a "force which seeks a radical transformation of politics." From this perspective, it is unfriendly to old established institutions, and becomes "a direct enemy of conservative politics." (Minogue 135) For better or for worse, it is a force which rocks the boat, and sometimes tries to tip it over.
Does nationalism equate with xenophobia? Minogue says that it tends to compose a "collective grievance against foreigners." (25) However, one must not forget the context in which he is writing. Michael Ignatieff clarifies the link when he offers nationalism as a global phenomenon; a conviction that humanity is divided into nations, each of which has the right of self-determination. (3)
Ignatieff divides nationalism into two types, civic and ethnic. Their difference is in their definition of who composes the nation. The civic side claims that the nation is made up of "all those ...who subscribe to the nation's political creed." (3) The ethnic side submits that "an individual's deepest attachments are inherited, not chosen." (4)
People can be moved by Scottish nationalism in many different ways. One of the more prominent means of facilitation recently has been the cinema. Films such as Rob Roy , which glamorizes, and rather fictionalizes, the life of Robert 'Roy', head of the clan MacGregor, raise Scottish sentiment to a fever pitch, and this fever is not difficult to equate with resentment of the English. On October 4, in Kirkaldy, three Scots took this sentiment, as aroused by the film Braveheart , a bit too far. Drunk, they were causing a disturbance in the theater. It might have ended there, had not the two policemen called to handle them had English accents, which caused the three drunks to holler archaic battle-cries along with the usual English insults. Their nationalist spirit led to a brief scuffle. (Baillie)
Colin MacArthur duly pondered such outbursts of "incipient" nationalism in Scotland. He was disturbed that it had "reached such a pitch of comic-opera absurdity," eschewing substance for signs, and preferring showmanship rather than statesmanship. (119)
Education and language factor heavily in the nationalist conception. Scottish education, as in Britain as a whole, subjugated Scotland to the back bench, allowing it to spring forth only in myth and romanticism. Scottish history was British history, and British history usually meant English history. Language was a part as well. Scots, a distinct dialect of English, was frowned upon in schools. Scots Gaelic, a language in its own right, was all but eliminated; less than 2% of Scottish people speak Gaelic today. There are numerous attempts to keep it alive, and the BBC as well as ITV offer segments of Gaelic programming for Scotland, where it survives mostly in the nether regions of the highlands and islands. These pockets are in decline, as are those commoners who speak Scots.
A particular point of contention on the determination of the extent of Scotland's nationalism is the willingness of the people to take up arms. Scottish historian T. C. Smout calls the Scottish people "uninflammable." (417) Andrew Marr claims that "the Scots have little enthusiasm and less talent for insurrection," going so far as to say they are even uncomfortable with "the milder forms of civil disobedience." (166) This is the classic view of the Scottish, one which sits comfortably with most outsiders. The Poll Tax is certainly the most easily cited example of the times. Introduced first in Scotland, dissent was not recognized until the English took to violent rioting. Did Scotland remain silent? Hardly, and it did resist, albeit peacefully: Marr himself notes that over 1.5 million warrants for non-payment of the tax were issued over three years. (179)
A closer look reveals this to be another of the many misconceptions of the Scottish. History demonstrates two events in particular since the Treaty of Union which show a nationalistic spirit given to mass violence. The first event is the period of Jacobite resistance following the Union, which culminated in the 1745 revolt, seeing Bonnie Prince Charlie lead the Scots in rebellion against the Hanoverian regime. That it failed has been generally blamed by modern historians on individual mismanagement, in particular the leaders' decision not to continue on to London from Derby, when the rebels had routed most of the government forces. Instead, the Jacobites turned back, and were subsequently beaten at Culloden the following year. Historians disagree, however, when it comes to how much of this was nationalism, considering that Jacobitism was not purely Scottish, and that much of the defending English army was Scottish.
The other event is the unrest of the early nineteenth century. Although often described as purely a class-revolt, the 1820 Glasgow uprising showed obvious signs of nationalist stirring, distinguishing it from similar incidents in that period south of the border. Although the Scots once again failed to carry the revolt to conclusion, the simple fact that it nearly succeeded is enough for it to warrant serious consideration.
Violence continues to be a factor in nationalist issues into the modern era. No longer faced with the threat of a violent Scottish uprising, the modern UK has still been besieged periodically by the so-called 'tartan army.' While this catch-all term for the various terrorist groups may offer them far more importance than they deserve, it does belie their aims, which are quite clear. Active in the eighties, Arm Nan Gaidheal, or Army of the Gael, evolved out of the militant wing of the Siol Nan Gaidheal group, after the SNG were thrown out of the SNP in June 1982 for being too extreme. Like others before and to follow, they were involved in mostly minor robberies and bungled bombings and assassinations. The ANG explained their behavior: "all peaceful means have failed and will continue to fail, while we face an aggressive imperial enemy such as the English." (Scott 113) Although usually inept, sometimes to humorous extents, the army remains a factor of which all groups in Scotland and the UK must take note, especially for their damnation of the system as it stands. The violent extremism is an outgrowth of continued frustration in the political realm.
Marr rightfully believes that the Scots have found ways besides unrest of that sort to channel their political aspirations. He emphasizes the operation of civil politics, a process involving either idealistic amateurs from outside the established parties, or a significant amount of cross-party cooperation. (165) This carries a fair bit of weight, since Scots have most often worked within the system to get the best possible for themselves, as well as working without it in hopes of changing the system. Jim Sillars notes that since Scotland's political elite were reduced to a mere lobby in the Union, Scotland has been "politically unsophisticated," making it simpler to engage in the system than to try and control it. (104)
For a long time, it was in Scottish interests to work within that Union. However, many of the benefits which accrued through the Treaty have been lost. Empire was something the Scots knew from experience they could not achieve, after their Darien scheme to colonize Panama failed miserably. However, through the Union, they were part of the British Empire and profited immensely. As the Empire declined, so did Scotland, and that imperial decline is one of the main factors cited by many as to the reason for the post-second world war resurgence of nationalism in Scotland.
Continuing Scottish support for the Union would seem contingent upon their satisfaction with their status within it. Since a disdain for regional interests can only be tolerated as long as the whole system is operating effectively, it is unsurprising that Scottish nationalism has been on the rise in the last thirty years which has seen great strife and change throughout the UK as a whole. It is with this in mind that one must turn to the stance of the four major parties in Scotland on the issue of Scottish nationalism.
Being the ruling party of the UK, the policy and practice of the Conservative party would seem the most important. The Tories are decidedly against Scottish nationalism nowadays (Though not anti-nationalist: there are few qualms about appealing to British nationalism [even if they often call it English]). Although not as vehemently stated as when Thatcher was prime minister, the premise remains the same: autonomy through the central government and the cabinet, in the guise of the Scottish Office and the Secretary of State for Scotland.
There is a radical Thatcherite wing of the party which cannot abide even this. They would wish to further integrate Scotland by transferring most of the powers of the Scottish Office to London, centralizing even more decision-making structures. Such radicals claim that Scotland's current political structure is too intransigent and "extremely resistant to change." (Kellas 428)
Tory policy has not always been of this sort. One must examine the evolution of this policy, and evaluate the most current policy. Although considered the party of unionism, Tories have been friendly to nationalist aspirations in the past. A majority of the moves to devolve power to Scotland have been under Tory regimes, and have always been supported by the party when in opposition. That support, of course, has tended to be more an "attempt to stifle demands" for greater devolution, than "to make such demands a reality." (Burch 192) Even so, the support was given and the attempts made.
Edward Heath in 1967, as party leader, established an investigation into Scottish government, and followed it up in 1968 with his 'Perth Pledge,' for an elected Scottish Assembly. The details of this assembly were worked out by several committees, and were finally presented in October 1973 by the Royal Commission on the Constitution. During the mid-1970's, Scottish Tories voted consistently for devolution. Shortly after the trouncing his party received in the October 1974 general election, the shadow Secretary announced that Labour's devolution proposals would be supported and hopefully could be hurried forward. (Miller 241) In 1976, Margaret Thatcher herself publicly reaffirmed the party's support for an elected assembly. Lord Home declared on the eve of the 1979 referendum that although he was sympathetic to devolution, a 'no' vote would bring Conservative proposals which would prove even better, including proportional representation and broader capacities for taxation. It was on such a platform that the Conservatives led the 'no' campaign, and won it.
The party made an about-face towards the end of the decade. This can be seen as a form of harassment of Wilson's minority government, where the Tories opposed Labour's legislation on devolution with the promise of better offerings of their own once they were returned to power. William L. Miller cites the "instincts of Unionism" and opposition habits as leading to a "policy defined only by what it was not." (241) In all, devolution was not an important issue for the party, and once Thatcher, who carried a "personal antipathy to constitutional change in Scotland," had come to power, it was effectively buried. (Burch 194)
Grass-roots activism within the party had been the motor behind the drive for devolution, and continued as such. Dissent was rampant within the Scottish Conservatives on how to deal with their country, but there was no well-defined demand made of the greater party. The regime's solution to the problem of Scottish dissent both inside and outside the party was to "keep dousing the natives with radical legislation," assuming that the Scots would convert to the regime's ideology; it proved "singularly ineffective," and enraged the North even as it converted the South. (Marr 173) Scottish Conservatives were likened in 1987 to shaky "McDonald's franchisers: the brand name was doing well; they were not." (Harvie 200)
With John Major replacing Thatcher in 1990, there was some hope of change in policy, but this has yet to be fulfilled. The Conservatives remain staunchly unionist and the only party to oppose some form of devolution for Scotland. Scottish Secretary Ian Lang has tried to express to the Scottish the heavy costs of devolution and independence. Along with other Tory ministers, he has also chided other Scottish politicians, asking them in which Parliament they would serve come devolution, Scotland's, or the UK's. This brought home the difficulty that self-serving politicians would find more to be earned serving in London, than in Edinburgh. The strategy has backfired, as numerous devolutionists have committed themselves to serving in a Scottish assembly rather than in Westminster.
Major has expressed his "willingness to talk about anything short of substantive change." (Marr 234) He characterizes Labour and Liberal Scottish policy as crass opportunism. Major compares Labour's devolution policy to a "ride on a tiger" which could turn and consume the Union. (11) He expresses his fear that devolution would prove both expensive and unworkable, and that the opposition's devolution plans amount to simple "teenage madness." (Darnton A7)
The Conservative party in Scotland is faced with three main difficulties. First, there is Northern Ireland. Tory policy there is hypocritical in its support for devolution while denying it on the mainland. Second, there is their mandate. The party lacks more than a few votes, and certainly carries no mandate to rule when the Scottish vote is separated from the rest of the UK. They must overcome this in order to regain their moral authority in the North. Finally, the party may be turning a trickle into a tidal wave. Labour's Donald Dewar said that people were being driven to extremes by the policy which hardens the choices in Scotland to simply 'Union or no.' (Marr 212) In so doing, they may be losing any hope of containing nationalist demands, driving them from acceptance of devolution to more widespread demands for independence. However, none of these three problems can compare to the possibility of losing the next general election in the rest of the UK, where the Tories have their main electoral base. For them, Scotland is mostly a write-off these days.
While the Conservatives might be suffering from a lack of a Scottish mandate, Labour operates under no such restraints. Labour does happen to lack a wider UK mandate, although polls indicate this should change after the next election. There is merit to Labour 'speaking for Scotland' in a sense, certainly more so than the Conservative party. The difficulty is that the SNP already claims that position is uniquely its own, and as we will see later, this historical cross-party tension shows no signs of abating.
Labour has proven far more supportive of Scottish desires for autonomy. The party's position has not been without difficulty as long as it has remained a predominantly socialist party. Socialists have proven "uncomfortable" with nationalism, since it conflicts with the internationalism inherent in their philosophy. It presents what they call a 'false consciousness' and detracts from their greater concerns of bettering everyone regardless of differences.
Under John Gollan, its Scottish General Secretary, the Communist Party in Scotland surpassed Labour's difficulties in this regard. The early 1960's were the stage for the Communists to campaign on Scottish economic issues. Also, even before the post-1956 Hungarian revolt split the party, the party had been supportive of an independent Scottish Parliament. (Harvie 165)
Still, Labour had generally been sympathetic to ideas of political devolution, despite the discomfort these ideas cause, even if the Conservatives had offered more devolution bureaucratically. With Scotland seemingly taking on grand importance for the party as it became the main center of Labour power, that sympathy was "coupled with an equally genuine fear" of losing that power. (Miller 235) William Miller contends that Labour adopted devolution as policy "to appease its friends, the Scots, not its enemies, the SNP." This ignores the strong voice of the SNP, which will be dealt with later.
In the 1970's, following the lead of the Tories before them, Labour became publicly enamored with devolution. What this amounted to, most likely, was the reasoning by Harold Wilson that the offer of a Scottish parliament would "end the Scottish tantrum," and derail the SNP's meteoric rise to power. (Marr 122) Because it did not embrace the concept wholeheartedly, a Labour government distracted by other problems opened a debate which turned Scotland inside out, and, although it countered the SNP and nationalism for a time, did not defuse the nation's problems.
In November of 1977, a bill came before the House of Commons requiring an advisory referendum on Scottish and Welsh devolution for the second time. On Burns Night of 1978, the bill passed, but with a peculiar amendment. This amendment, added at the behest of staunch critics, required that a forty percent majority of the whole electorate would have to vote yes in order for it to be recognized. This addition was made against the wishes of more than 80% of the Scottish MPs.
The campaign that led up to the referendum was messy, like the EC membership referendum which had taken place in 1975. Labour refused to run the 'yes' campaign because it would have meant working with the SNP. With strikes crippling the country as a whole, the political stage was shaky.
The vote took place on March 7, 1979, and resulted in 32.9% in favor, 30.8% against. This was out of 63.9% of the electorate, so the measure had failed the 40% mark defined in the Scotland Act. Labour, accused of betrayal by the SNP, was given its comeuppance by the SNP not long after; what led to the non-confidence vote which dumped the Callaghan government was a single deciding vote from the SNP.
Following the election of the Conservatives, Labour turned in on itself. The resulting inner party warfare led to the secession of the Social Democratic Party and some of the right wing of the party. Labour settled in to opposition status as a loud, but impotent party. It still accepted and played by the Westminster rules that kept them in such a position. Support was still given for Scottish devolution. In 1983, a statement from the National Executive Committee, later echoed in the general election manifesto, committed them to the establishment of a directly elected assembly with taxation and industrial control powers. (Geekie 400)
Despite the passage of time, the question for the party remained the same: how important was Scotland and devolution to Labour as a whole? The answer, highlighted in a slip-up made by Neil Kinnock in 1988. He failed to mention the issues at a Scottish Labour conference, and when pressed as to the reason for the ommission, likened them in importance to the weather in the Himalayas. (Marr 185) Even with such crass carelessness, the desire for government intervention to ease the Conservative-induced pain continued to feed Labour votes north of the border.
Whereas in the 1970's, the devolution pressure had originated from the top, by the 1990's it was coming from the Scottish activists. The party became more truly supportive of devolution as a result. Donald Dewar of Labour went so far as to utilize nationalist arguments at an election rally in Edinburgh in 1992. (Marr 223)
In the lead-up to the next general election, which must fall soon, Labour has the chance to clean-up in Scotland, as well as in the UK as a whole. With the Tories looking at what could be a serious defeat, what remains is for Labour to not lose a possible majority due to strong showings from the rival Liberal Democrats and SNP.
The SNP was formed in the 1935 general election, with the merging of a radical activist party, the National Party of Scotland, and the middle-class, more moderate Scottish Self-Government Party. The SNP, for much of its existence, proved ineffective, but it did survive. That survival was due to its 'one thing needful', its "singular political tenet": Scottish independence. It suffered little of the quarrelsome difficulties of other parties, always able to rally around a simple, and differentiating goal, when the other parties tended to drift towards centralization. (Harvie 173)
As the SNP surged to popularity in the late 1960's, especially in local government, their appeal drew in mostly inexperienced citizenry. The fresh blood pushed the SNP even further. In 1968, the SNP had the largest party membership in Scotland. This newfound power led to new problems. The 'tartan army' violence was often pinned on the SNP, despite its keeping to the "letter and spirit of the law." (Harvie 181) Also, the SNP began to get bogged down in ideology. Under pressure from below, the party remade its overall policy to the left in 1969.
In November of 1970, British Petroleum discovered oil in the North Sea off Scotland, at Forties Field. The discovery of oil altered the devolution arguments irrevocably. Even though production did not begin until 1975, the topic became resonant with the public much sooner. The SNP launched a fresh campaign, 'It's Scotland's Oil,' in September 1972. Oil prices were rising dramatically, soon to be driven further by the OPEC price hikes following the Israeli Yom Kippur War, and this made every bit of possible oil count for even more. Where Scots once thought of themselves as poor, wealth seemed within their grasp. London downplayed it on the Scottish scale, and propaganda from the South softened its impact on the political agenda. Jim Sillars bemoans that "we were the only nation ever to discover oil and get poorer," (105) which may not be necessarily true. North Sea oil was, however, exploited as deftly as possible by the SNP.
The SNP was allied to various other radical grassroots movements. In particular, the SNP supported and had common policies with both the environmentalist Greens, and the peace movement's Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The SNP and CND shared in particular an opposition to NATO and its nuclear weapons.
The SNP supported the 1978 Scotland act as far as it was seen as a step towards independence. They led the 'yes' campaign, and took the brunt of the blame for its failure. That failure, coupled with their refusal to support Callaghan's government in 1979, resulted in a dismal showing in the general election that they themselves precipitated. The SNP was thrashed from eleven seats to two in the House of Commons. What followed over the next ten years was essentially a civil-war in the party, between left and right, and radicals and moderates of all shades. This encompassed both individual members, as well as new associations and groupings within the party, such as the 79 Group on the left and the Siol Nan Gaidheal on the right. These groups were eventually expelled, and members reincorporated slowly into the greater party.
In the 1992 election, the SNP was able to promote itself as "the trendy, exciting alternative to the cautious, old-before-their-time style favored by" Labour. (Marr 213) This still could not win them glory, as they settled in once more as the fourth party.
The Kilbrandon Commission in 1973 had "discerned the role of the SNP to be that of a barometer of discontent." (Gallagher 10) Statistical polling has shown that the SNP has certainly operated at times as a protest party, with electors voting for it "as a warning to their party of first preference" as to their wishes for Scotland. (Brand 621) Some argue to the contrary, that the SNP is a new social movement. This would explain why its members and voters are so difficult to organize and are less loyal to the party itself than to its overall aims of Scottish autonomy. (Brand 622)
One of the most basic problems for the SNP, in the past decades, and currently, is Labour. The SNP has been consistently undercut by Labour's moderate and more realistic promises of Scottish autonomy. Tom Gallagher points out that Labour is not the "same old predatory unionist beast" that killed devolution in 1979. (17) Until recently, particularly with the ascendancy of Tony Blair as Labour leader, the SNP suffered from near redundancy, since its political precepts were nearly identical to Labour's, save for their policies on home rule. "Both appeal to the same voters with remarkably similar policies, using the same sorts of imagery." (Brand 629) To boot, the SNP must still prove to the majority of Scots that it is a party capable of governing, not simply a party of opposition. Even where it has had the chance to rule, in local government, the SNP has not always proven particularly competent.
The broadness of the SNP's electoral base is uncertain. Die-hard socialists in Scotland may have more reason to turn to the SNP now than ever before, as the last saving grace for both their ideology and their nation. There appears to be a certain "fluidity of voters between the parties." (Brand 619) Although the SNP has recovered from the chaos of the failed referendum in 1979, it has not achieved the power it once had. Still, its base is more stable, following the resolution of much of its internal squabbling in the last decade. How the SNP might fare in the coming general election is anyone's guess.
The Liberals have been a part of the political landscape since the early nineteenth century. Overtaken by Labour, they did not return to preeminence until the late 1970's, when they formed a pact with Callaghan's Labour party to keep his minority government in power after 1977. Although the pact did not hold for long, their return to political importance in the 1960's, primarily in England, mirrored the meteoric rise of the SNP in Scotland.
The Liberals had been a third-party force for some time, but became even more so when they allied with the new Social Democratic party after it had split from Labour. The Liberal Democratic Alliance, keen on constitutional reform for the whole of the United Kingdom, was also friendly to Scottish desires for devolution. It was the Liberals who spearheaded the Home Rule movement in the first place, around the same time as they were working for home rule for Ireland beginning in 1886. Of course, they held as much of the blame for delaying Scottish home rule later on when they helped destroy the devolution bill the first time it came before the Commons in 1977. Having wanted it as part of a more federalist settlement for the whole country, and hoping to include proportional representation, their disappointment led to outright hostility. They offered grudging support on the second round.
Constitutional reform notwithstanding, the Liberal Democrats are a party of moderate policies, and do not give much credence to the SNP's calls for full independence. Malcolm Bruce, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, lamented in 1992 that the Tories offered such meager options to Scotland. He asked where the democracy was in taking a vote for reform rather than independence to mean simply the status quo. (Marr 221) Bruce was forced to come down hard on his Scottish vice-president, Bob McCreadie, when McCreadie advocated that Scottish Liberal Democrats and Labourites should move from "passive acceptance of independence to active encouragement of it." (Marr 223)
The party does not figure prominently in works on Scottish politics, despite it's placement as third party in Scotland as well as England (9 seats in Scotland to the Conservatives' 10). As such, it figures most importantly in this essay when discussing cross-party cooperation.
In dealing with this final subject, cross-party cooperation, one must examine the efforts for more 'civil politics' in Scotland through the cooperation between parties in dealing with Scottish autonomy, and analyzing their effectiveness. For the purpose of this essay, the focus will be on the Scottish Constitutional Convention.
The Campaign for a Scottish Assembly (CSA) was established in the spring of 1980. Its aim was to keep the debate on devolution alive across the parties and to try to build some genuine consensus. It was more or less successful on these counts. The CSA masterminded a scheme to bring together the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, Labour, and all other home rulers and nationalists. To achieve this end, they brought together a set of intellectual and political heavyweights to publish their 'Claim of Right for Scotland' in Edinburgh in July 1988. It was "a mix of cogent historical analysis and proposals for a convention." (Marr 198)
The Liberal Democrats were enthusiastic, but the other parties were wary. Donald Dewar moved the Labour party into the Convention slowly and carefully, much to the surprise of most involved. The SNP reluctantly agreed to talks on the Convention. The new SNP MP for Govan, Jim Sillars, was keen to bridge the gap between his new party and his former allies. However, "Sillars was regarded as the ultimate traitor by Labour," and they made every effort to insult him. (Marr 202)
Cross party talks on the Convention began in late January 1989. Every party expressed reservations about the 'Claim.' Labour feared the overly nationalistic imagery. Malcolm Bruce was afraid he would be stuck with an agreement which would not include the Liberal Democrats' commitment to electoral reforms. The SNP wanted more representation from its party in the Convention. Labour had no problem with that, since the Convention would work only by consensus. The talks crashed before too long when some people in the SNP got cold feet about working with Labour, and Sillars announced the SNP's withdrawal.
Despite the SNP boycott, and the simple absence of the Tories, the Convention met for the first time on March 30, 1989. It encompassed many of Scotland's 72 MPs, its 8 Scottish MEPs, plus representatives from across Scotland's social and business landscape. Some dissident members of the SNP attended as well. It produced real plans for Scottish autonomy and an independent Scottish parliament, elected by proportional representation. The Convention purported to speak for Scotland, as opposed to any one party, and in this it was unique.
The Convention proved fruitless in the 1992 general election. The parties went back to adversarial politics, and they lost once more to the Tories. As Andrew Marr points out, unless they were willing to utilize anti-Parliamentary tactics, such as seemed to be called for in their Convention, they would get no where.
This is where Scotland stands at the moment. Nationalism has returned to the Scottish forum, from the grassroots rather than from London this time. All signs say that it is here to stay, no matter who is ruling in Westminster. If the Tories are to be beaten at the next general election, and this is certainly in the interest of all the Scottish parties, then it will require more than the usual squabbling. The parties will need to find a common ground to unite on in order to defeat the Conservatives. Only once that has been accomplished, it seems, can progress be made towards true Scottish autonomy.
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Dec 29, 1995 (1)
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