Guide to Scotland
   Gateway to the British Isles since 1996
A Brief History of Scotland

Presented by Peter N. Williams, Ph.D.

Chapter 15: After the War, Steps towards Independence

The idea of a separate Scottish Parliament, after centuries of being incorporated in that of Britain, did not seem so far-fetched after all. A great impetus to the growing nationalistic feelings of many Scots had come with the outstanding success of the Edinburgh Festival of Music and Drama founded in 1947. It did much to revive links with Scotland's glorious history as a country of enlightenment in so many different spheres. Though economics seemed to rule most of the time, literature and the arts played powerful parts in reminding the people of Scotland that they had once formed a powerful, independent nation. Perhaps they could do so again.

When the Conservative Churchill Government replaced Labour in 1951, denationalization of major industries took place. Several constitutional changes affected Scotland. To serve under the secretary of state, a minister of state was added who was free from parliamentary duties at Westminster. A year later a third under-secretary of state gave Scotland even more autonomy, but continued successes by the Conservative party, an arch-foe of devolution in any shape or form, meant that both major parties were officially opposed to a separate parliament for Scotland. It was as if the government was doing everything it could to keep the Scots happy, but the idea of devolution wasn't even considered. The British Union remained unchallenged.

One problem was the attachment of many Scottish M.P.'s (and their Welsh colleagues) to "the best club in London," the Parliament at Westminster. To leave such cozy surroundings and such convivial company to return to work in their own constituencies was a horror not worth contemplating. It would mean relearning the knack of self-government, lost for centuries and being directly responsible to the wishes of those who elected them in the first place. As James l had realized centuries ago and Henry VIII before him, it was much easier to rule Scotland and Wales from London. The Capital had been skimming off the cream of both countries without too much protest.

Yet, Scotland and Wales remained Celtic countries in many ways. Old resentments continued and winds of change were beginning to blow strongly north of the border. Though very much a minority party, and still suffering from the stigma attached to the very idea of nationalism during the war years, the SNP began to build its organizational skills and to work on political strategy; its share of the vote steadily grew. This also was a period of intense activity in Wales by members of Plaid Cymru, and by the fervent, and some say overzealous and destructive activities of the Welsh Language Society (Cymdeithas yr Iaith Cymraeg). In any case, discontent in both areas of Britain led to a feverish proliferation of committees soon at work in Westminster looking at further measures of devolution for Scotland and Wales.

Defenders of the status quo were a small minority; nine out of ten Scots were in favor of some form of constitutional change. Ambivalence as to the nature of this change, meant that the overwhelming vote in favor of devolution in 1997 and the desire of the Scots to have their own parliament once more reflects a sea change over the situation that prevailed in the 1960's and 70's. However, the seeds had been deeply planted. Again, we can use a favorite American expression to justify the changes: "it's the economy, stupid!"

Support for the SNP was greatly increased by the British government's failure to fulfill the aspirations of the Scottish people. As succinctly expressed by historian Richard J. Finlay, "the economic history of Scotland in the sixties is a woeful tale of missed opportunities, bad management, poor productivity and under achievement." "It is the under achievement, I believe, that needs more emphasis." Overlooked by many chroniclers of the period is the stranglehold that trade unions began to exert on their members and the self-defeating practices in which they engaged.

Chapter 15: After the War, Steps towards Independence continued