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Assembly – Bella Calédonie


1979 – an alternate history

Alister Jack’s wheezing “60%” follows a long line of Unionist attempts to gerrymander and distort democracy and undermine Scotland’s path to independence. It brings back memories of 1979 when an amendment to Scottish law stipulated that it would be repealed if less than 40% of the total electorate voted ‘yes’ in the referendum.

Scotland voted yes to devolution in 1979.

This simple fact is often removed from recent airbrushing history. The turnout was 63.72% and the Yes won 51.62%. But the victory was rigged. The Scottish Assembly would have legislative control over education; the environment; Health; Internal Affairs; Legal affairs; and Social Services. As we try to imagine ways forward in 2021, this is an exercise in a counterfactual story.

Geoff Shaw’s first act as First Secretary was to further delegate the Assembly to Glasgow Aberdeen Inverness and Dundee with consecutive sessions with special audiences from each city-region. While this caused Stirling’s fury, it created a sense of ‘national’ parliament and a momentum for real change that took Westminster by surprise and inspired Scots from top to bottom of the country.

The innovations came thick and fast. In 1982 the post of Makar was created and Ivor Cutler as a first date was a huge success. Working swiftly and freely within the Restricted Devolution Regulation, he immediately made an impression by inviting members of the Gorbals Group to Cabinet and establishing a Poverty Task Force at the heart of government. The difference was not another ‘task force’ on poverty, the difference was that it was the government’s number one priority and the whole group was staffed and managed by people with lived experience. poverty.

The effect was transformative.

Rent control and mass social housing have created a firewall for Thatcher’s agenda and fueled support for the new assembly.

The Assembly was meant to be a marginal and marginal piece of the constitutional facade. But that’s not how it happened. When Shaw appointed Jimmy Reid and Margo Macdonald as industrial and union co-chairs, it caused a stir within the SNP and the Labor Party. But what emerged was a new new national project.

When Shaw announced – after months of debate within the Church of Scotland – that St Columba was Scotland’s new patron saint and that Patrick Geddes’ proposal for a statue atop the Lawnmarket was to be commissioned, the outcry from the Scottish establishment has been hysterical.

It came to a head when Shaw’s Education Secretary announced the abolition of private schools and their inclusion in the overall system. But the Assembly had all-party support and enormous public appeal, so demands for extension of their powers kept growing. While much of the Assembly’s actions were severely constrained, symbolic acts were powerful and the convergence of the Labor movement invited into tangible projects of social justice and the nascent nationalist movement uniting around Shaw’s inspiring leadership. has become an irresistible force.

Thatcher’s regime boosted the popularity of the assembly, and attempts to hamper its autonomy only amplified its support.

On the environment, SCRAM has been aided by the powerful peace movement, the women’s movement and the First Secretary’s position as a steadfast opponent of weapons of mass destruction. The British state’s convergence of nuclear power and nuclear weapons was opposed by a mass movement against Torness and Faslane. This would become the backbone of the independence movement which led the Labor movement from the appeasement of the Assembly to inspiration by the potential for radical change. The Scottish peace movement which has its roots in the Committee of 100 has become the motivator and center of a national renewal.

At a massive rally on the meadows in 1984 in front of 80,000 famous people, the new Edinburgh festival director, Richard Demarco, presented a line-up of Billy Connolly; Big country; firefighters; the Publishers; Hipsway; Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie; Simple minds; and the Waterboys who were seen as a milestone in the Scottish democracy movement.

The move from devolution to independence was inspired by the threat of a good example.

What was happening was a mass mobilization around a new idea, that of Scottish independence and the full extension of the powers of the Assembly.

By the time of the 1987 general election, support was such that all Scottish parties (except the Scottish Conservatives and the Liberal Party) withdrew their consent to turnout and caused a constitutional crisis like the UK did. had never seen one. Thatcher’s government fell and a referendum for Scottish independence was demanded by the Scottish Assembly. The stalemate resulted in the occupation of Holyrood Palace as an upper chamber and the establishment of a standby dual power government.

When the Glasgow Garden Festival of 1988 was usurped as an example of permaculture and the national organic farming network as part of a movement that was to lead to land reform and the shattering of land power, the British state met with representatives of the Assembly and agreed to a law of dissolution.

In 1990, Scotland overwhelmingly voted for independence in the referendum with 87% yes votes.