I’m not sure who came up with the phrase ‘settled will’ in relation to Scots and politics, but clearly they’d never hung out with the Scots I know. Having lived in Scotland - in tenement, peace camp, semi-detached, bedsit and caravan – I would have to say I’ve never encountered a settled will with anybody. In fact, I’m not sure that any group of homo sapiens are capable of agreeing to a settled will of anything, unless of course the settled will of somebody who is safely deid.
The best we can hope for is to muddle along and resolve any conflicts with mutual respect, common sense and a healthy sense of humour. Far from being something to lament, our all too human failings and flounderings towards messy agreements can have brilliant and creative results that are perfectly suited to the moment. Of course such arrangements, born from human failings and ingenuity, can have unexpected results. The Scottish Parliament that was reconvened in 1999 is a good example of the contradictions, limits and potential of human creativity. Its existence has had some strange consequences and continues to throw up new weird and wonderful realities, not least for the local political flora and fauna.
As an older unionist friend of mine (and committed No voter) often reminds me the Scottish Conservatives were the only party ever to have won a majority of the vote in Scotland. This was in 1955. My friend remembers this election vividly, and has often told me of how he stood in Glasgow Green as the Tory candidate declared to a cheering audience, ‘Vote for us and we’ll do to the Catholics what Hitler did to the Jews!’ Within a decade of that victory the Unionists of Scotland had been merged into the bigger UK Conservative and fell into decline. The advent of Thatcherism speeded up the decaying process. Seemingly intent on self-destruction, the party vigorously opposed devolution in the 1997 referendum.
However, once the Scottish parliament was set up the Scottish Conservatives adapted to the new reality, campaigned vigorously as ‘a patriotic party of the Scottish centre-right which stands for freedom, enterprise, community and equality of opportunity’ and established itself as the third largest party in the parliament. It is still part of the larger UK party but in carving out a separate Scottish identity it appears to have slowed its rate of decline. It would seem, alas and alack, the Scottish Tories are going to be with us for a long time to come.
The fourth largest party in the Scottish parliament remains the Lib Dems. It should be no surprise that they sought to create a stable government with Labour in 1999 and 2003. It was the liberal governments of the late 19th and early 20th century that debated Scottish Home rule 15 times over 25 years. While Labour shamed Scotland and itself with its infighting, corruption, sectarianism and slavish obedience to Westminster diktat, the Lib Dems managed to provide a steadying influence.
When the Scottish electorate kicked the Labour and Lid Dem alliance out of power in 2007, the Lib Dem vote held up, whilst Labour’s fell. The liberals looked destined to continue being a small but respected part of Scotland’s political landscape. However, the Lib Dems too are part of a wider UK party. Following the 2010 UK general election, the UK Lib Dems chose to go into government with the Tories. In the 2011 Scottish election the liberal vote vanished like snow off a dyke. The machinations of its UK parent prove to be as toxic for the Lib Dems of Scotland as British Labour’s machinations had been for Scottish Labour.
Now read: Part Fifteen. A legacy betrayed
All these blogs can be read from beginning at: Social Justice & Scottish Independence
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