In the twenty years between the 1979 referendum and the Scottish Assembly election in 1999 the Labour party had to overcome many obstacles in order to retain its pre-eminence in Scotland. During the Decade of Dissent, coercion, corruption, propaganda and a compliant media helped the Labour Party face down threats from grass roots Social Justice Campaigners and an emboldened SNP. Yet in all the heat and hustle of power politics Labour failed to recognise that its most dangerous enemy was the very political machine it had created in order to maintain power. Social Justice Campaigners and the SNP played a part in Labour’s eventual fall from power, but more than anything it was Labour that mortally damaged itself.
Previous Labour governments had attempted, initially with some success, to harness two ideological opposites: the creation of a progressive society based on equality and tolerance; and the pursuit of a super power status that relied on the costly (and corrosive) old Imperial mainstay of overwhelming military power.
Scotland was central to this project. The UKs nuclear arsenal was stored in Scotland; much of the UK’s oil wealth was located in the waters around Scotland. UK government’s (both Labour and Tory) were – and remain – adamant that nuclear weapons stay in Scotland and that oil wealth be controlled from London. Historically the issue of oil and bombs has caused considerable friction between Scots and the UK parliament. However, that friction was softened by the not inconsiderable progressive policies that Labour governments passed.
With the election victory of 1997, Scotland’s importance to the UKs wealth and military status was reflected in Tony Blair’s cabinet. George Robinson was Defence Secretary from 1997 to 1999. He then went on to become Secretary General of NATO from 1999 to 2004. Another Scottish MP Adam Ingram was Minister for the Armed Forces from 2001 to 2007. In charge of the UKs wealth, much of it dependent on the oil around Scotland, was Scottish Labour MP Gordon Brown who was Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1997 to 2007. In 2007 he became the new British prime minister.
Scottish Labour was at the heart of the UKs wealth and war capabilities. The early legislation of the new Scottish parliament suggested that Scottish Labour would be also central to the creation of progressive policies. Yet having won a UK election on the promise of devolution, then campaigned for a Yes vote in the referendum, Labour in Scotland was badly divided about the new Scottish parliament. Many of Labour’s leading Scottish members remained utterly opposed to any form of home rule. Others, such as George Robinson, only accepted it as a way of killing nationalism ‘stone dead’.
Following the death of Donald Dewar, the new Labour First Minister of Scotland, Henry McLeish, appeared committed to creating a parliament in Scotland that would pass progressive laws as well as listen to proposals from the opposition (the ending of warrant sales and the introduction of free meals were Scottish Socialist Party initiatives). However, while the UK government needed Scotland for wealth and weapons, it did not welcome the passing of progressive laws in Scotland.
It soon became clear that it was not only nationalism that New Labour sought to destroy. Legislation based on Social Justice was seen as equally dangerous and undesirable.
Now read: Part Twelve. New Labour. New realities.
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