There was huge optimism at the return of a Labour government in 1997. But even in the early years, as thousands of Scots joined the Labour Party, other Scots were involved in local campaigns to prevent the closure of schools and community centres. Protests and blockades also met the convoys that were bringing trident nuclear warheads into Scotland. Trident nuclear submarines remained based at Faslane Naval Base, again under protest and constant observation (I had the unnerving experience of witnessing an emergency evacuation there following an accident on one of the submarines).
On a cold December evening in 1998 protesters gathered in George Square, Glasgow (and in other parts of Scotland, the UK and USA) to protest at the violent gunboat diplomacy of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. Using information gathered from US spies in the UN Inspectorate team in Iraq, the UK and USA attempted to topple Saddam Hussein through a four day cruise missile bombardment of Baghdad. The Big Lie was that the bombardment was to rid Iraq of the nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, which it did not have.
While much attention was on the grand opening of the new Scottish parliament in 1999 these other narratives and conversations (and many more besides) were being played out across Scotland. Though the Scottish parliament soon fell into disrepute, the election results of 2003 did succeed in reflecting new ideas and concerns. At a superficial level nothing much seemed to have changed. Labour, with the LibDems, remained in control of Scotland’s executive, while the SNP remained the official opposition. However both the SNP and Labour lost seats, whilst a hail clanjamfry of new and enthused voices entered the parliament.
Seven seats were won by the Green Party which campaigns for an independent Scotland based on the protection of the environment and equality for all. Six seats were won by the Scottish Socialist Party, who believe in an independent Scottish republic ‘run for people not for profit’. Four independents were also elected. They were: Dr. Jean McGivern Turner a general practitioner won a seat after campaigning against Labour’s attacks on the NHS; Denis Canavan, a former Labour MP, who stood as an independent demanding a progressive and socially just Scottish parliament; Margo McDonald, a former SNP MP who was a left wing critic of the SNPs fundamentalist Independence or nothing position; John Swinburne who represented the Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party, which campaigned to end poverty for all senior citizens in Scotland.
The message was clear: While Labour and the SNP liked to portray themselves as the two main antagonists struggling heroically over the destiny of the Scottish nation, Scots had blown both parties a big and bold raspberry. Scotland was far bigger than either the SNP or Labour or even the Scottish parlaiment. Scots had shown quite clearly that they had plenty of other options. If Labour and the SNP refused to listen to the needs of Scots, then they and the parliament they used for their school yard rammies could all go the way of the dodo.
As it was Labour and SNP did listen and they listened very carefully. Labour though simply could not believe that Scots would vote against it. It responded with an arrogance and contempt that grew bigger and shriller as its vote base vote grew smaller and smaller. The SNP, however, reacted very differently. Alex Salmond was a former leader of the SNP. His left wing leanings, gradualist approach and support for devolution had led to his losing the leadership to the fundamentalists. In 2004 he announced he was standing for the leadership again. He won a landslide victory. Suddenly it seemed as if the joker of the pack was about to become the ace in the hand of Scottish politics.
Now read Part Fourteen: Local flora and fauna
All these blogs can be read from beginning at: Social Justice & Scottish Independence
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