1979 – First Referendum

Glasgoe Herald Headline from 1979

Glasgow Herald Headline from 1979

From the Mid 1970′s onwards there had been building political pressure towards separate parliaments in both Scotland and Wales. Labour’s majority had been whittled down in 1974 and after a series of disastrous by-elections had virtually no majority at all. The Scottish National Party was gaining momentum and it was into this environment that a combined Scotland and Wales Bill was introduced in November 1976.

However this bill ended up being debated to death and was withdrawn to be replaced by separate bills. Labour backbencher and Scottish MP representing a London constituency George Cunningham motioned an amendment repealing the Act unless at least 40% of the eligible electorate voted “yes” This motion was carried. This was compounded by Tam Dalyell’s ‘West Lothian Question’ ‘is it permissible that the MP for West Lothian be able to vote on legislation for English constituencies while a Scottish Parliament dealt with issues relevant to his own constituency?’ The doubt this threw up combined with Cunningham’s amendment made the 1978 Scotland Act almost untenable.

on 1 March 1979 the People were asked this question? ‘Do you want the provisions of the Scotland Act 1978 to be put into effect ? ‘

Scotland voted in favour of devolution by 52% to 48% – but only 32.9% of the electorate had joined the majority. The Act was repealed the following month.

The sense of betrayal that the Scottish electorate felt was unrecoverable for the Labour Party and a vote of no confidence in Callaghan’s Labour government 27 days later was carried by one vote. The Labour Government collapsed and Margaret Thatcher swept to power where the Conservatives remained until 1997 despite having virtually no support in Scotland.