The Scottish media produced scarce, if any, analysis of what motivated the grass roots campaigns in the 1990’s. The omnipotence of Labour in Scotland meant access to stories covering a range of subjects - business, cultural, social and political – had to be mediated through Labour controlled bodies. More importantly, the Tory government posed a real threat to the independence of journalists. In 1987, BBC Scotland had been raided by police and journalist Duncan Campbell’s door kicked in by special branch after Campbell had produced a documentary on the Zircon spy satellite project. As a result the Labour party in Scotland, like the monarchy in the UK, was treated as an institution that, occasional eccentricities and bad moment’s aside, was in the main a benign, unifying and positive force.
However, the culture of the Labour local political machines could not remain ignored forever. It had long been common knowledge that Labour not only used sectarianism to control working class areas, but that sectarian groups vied for power within the Labour party. In 1994 allegations of sectarianism and nepotism almost lost Labour the by-election that was being held after the death of John Smith. Labour was quick to treat the Monklands scandal as a one off aberration, with Jack O’Connell the then general secretary of Scottish Labour promising ‘we must never allow this situation to develop in the Scottish Labour Party ever again.’
However, sectarianism, corruption and nepotism continued unabated, and continue to this day. The Labour party though is a robust organisation. Despite the growing allegations of corruption and the storm of Social Justice Campaigns battering against the door of Keir Hardie House, Labour ended the 1990s seemingly stronger than it had ever been. Following the Govan be-election defeat of 1988, Labour helped set up the Scottish Constitutional Convention to examine how Scotland should be governed. The Convention also included the Liberal Democrats, trade unions and other civic and religious bodies. It was a tangible and respected example of Labour being seen to listen to the concerns of the people of Scotland. Its credibility was boosted by the Conservative Party’s refusal to participate. The discussions within the Convention would later form the basis of the devolved government in Scotland. Yet even the Convention was not free of Labour machinations.
There were two fundamental problems with the Convention, Firstly, the Constitutional Convention was portrayed as a progressive movement, yet not one member ever took the time to talk to the communities and activists that were then struggling to defend and promote social justice in Scotland. This is not surprising as those struggles were mostly taking place in the Labour heartlands.
Secondly, the Convention was said to be an open and neutral body that sought to examine future possibilities for governing Scotland. However, it refused to include Independence amongst options to be examined, even though the drive for Independence had played such a huge role in Scotland’s civic development since the late 1960s. Indeed a 1991 opinion poll found independence to have more support than devolution, 37 % versus 33 %.The SNP walked away from the Convention. The Green party would eventually walk away too.
The Labour party turned the nationalists’ non participation into another powerful propaganda tool. Not only had the nationalists brought in a Tory government but now they were refusing to work with other progressive groups in Scotland. Rather than an unaligned civic forum the Convention began to emit the whiff of good old fashioned political carve ups and wheeling and dealing between the Lib Dems and the Labour Party. In 1995 the Scottish Constitutional Convention published its proposals. These would form the basis of the future Scottish Assembly.
In the 1997 general election the Tories were routed in Scotland, being left with no seats at all. The SNP and Lib Dems increased their representation but the greatest victory went to the Labour Party who gained 56 of Scotland’s 72 MPs. Making good on its election promise the new UK government held a referendum in September asking Scots if they wanted an assembly with limited tax raising powers. Following a massive yes vote the Scottish Parliament was reconvened in 1999.
Yet even this momentous achievement was sullied by Labour duplicity. The Labour MP, Denis Canavan, announced his intention to retire as an MP and stand for the Falkirk West in Scottish election in 1999. The Labour Party refused to select him as a candidate though he was supported by the overwhelming majority of his local labour branch. He stood as an Independent candidate. In response the Labour Party expelled one it’s most gifted and talented politicians. Denis won the seat in 1999 and 2003 before retiring in 2007.
The treatment of Denis Canavan was a clear signal that the Scottish parliament would not be an autonomous body in which the Labour party participated; rather it would first and foremost serve the needs of the Labour Party in Scotland, which in turn took its orders from the UK leadership.
That leadership was determined to keep an eye on Scotland and in particular any future threat of a nationalist revival. As reported by newsnetscotland, on the eve of the opening of the new parliament the Labour government secretly reclassified 6000 square miles of Scottish sea - and thus the oil and gas fields in them - as being English.
In the Scottish elections of 1999 and 2003 Labour was the biggest winner and formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Under the Labour and Lib Dem goverment Tution Fees were abolished, as were Poindings and Warrant Sales; child poverty was tackled and free meals introduced into Scottish schools. In the heady early days of the new Scottish parliament it seemed as if the cause of Social Justice, the legacy of the ILP, had been reignited in Scottish Labour. However, Scottish Labour soon found itself confronting its most implacable enemy and the momentum for change ground to a bitter halt
Now read: Part Eleven. War, Wealth & Power
All these blogs can be read from beginning at: Social Justice & Scottish Independence
Follow me on twitter
For on my published books see: Rab’s Books
* * *
There’s a wheen o Yes campaigns and campaigners out there on twitter. But you might want to check out these to start with
@NewsnetScotland @bellacaledonia @WeAreNational