Found in the Archive

Unpacking and cataloguing a new collection is always a voyage of discovery.  When you take in boxes of archive papers you know roughly what subjects you hope it will cover, but there are always unexpected gems.

Kenyon Wright’s archive is no exception and amongst the papers there are personal diaries, photographs and reflections on his life.  This morning I have come across personal notes reflecting on a visit to Auschwitz, his father’s driving licence and an ink stamp with his signature alongside papers from the Constitutional Steering Group.  Who knows what this afternoon’s rummaging will uncover???

Democracy and Devolution in the 1970s Conference

Thursday 26th April 2018

Paterson’s Land, University of Edinburgh

The University of Edinburgh’s Academy of Government and the School of History, Classics and Archaeology are jointly sponsoring a FREE one day conference and roundtable on politics in the 1970s.

Papers will be presented on a range of subjects with particular focus on democracy and devolution in the late 1970s followed by a roundtable discussion chaired by Bernard Ponsonby,  Political Editor of Scottish Television.

Stirling University’s Scottish Political Archive (SPA) will provide posters, leaflets and other political material from the period  throughout the day and Dr Peter Lynch of the SPA will present showcasing material from SPA prior to the evening roundtable.

Tickets can be booked via Eventbrite: https://democracy-and-devolution-in-the-1970s.eventbrite.co.uk

Constitutional Convention newsletters found whilst sorting the Archive

We are mid-sorting the Kenyon Wright archive and amongst papers we found some copies of Scotswatch the newsletter of the Scottish Constitutional Convention

In 1988 the Campaign for a Scottish Assembly published A Claim of Right for Scotland which proposed the establishment of a constitutional convention to agree a plan for devolution. In 1989 the convention was launched with the participation of representatives from the Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, Greens, trade unions, churches and other civic bodies.

The Spring 1991 newsletter includes a message from the Chair of the Constitutional Convention Kenyon Wright.

Remembering Kenyon Wright

On the first anniversary of Kenyon Wright’s death an article in Cable Magazine explores the largely hidden internationalism behind grassroots Scottish politics in the 1990s. 

Kenyon Wright’s archive was donated to the Political Archive in 2017.

Items found whilst sorting through the papers of Canon Kenyon Wright

We have spent time over the last few months beginning to list the donated papers of Canon Kenyon Wright.  Canon Kenyon Wright is best known as the Executive Chair of the Scottish Constitutional Convention which planned for Scotland’s Parliament, which came into being in 1999. Often referred to, by the media, as the ‘Godfather of Devolution’, he was made a CBE ‘for services to constitutional reform and Scottish Devolution’.

Going through the boxes we have discovered that the papers contain a wealth of important material drawn from all stages of his working life which will complement and enhance our existing collections.  Included amongst the material are papers relating to the People and the Parliament project.

People & Parliament was an independent project set up in 1997 on the eve of devolution and chaired by Kenyon Wright. In 1998 they distributed 28,000 leaflets inviting people from all over Scotland to share their vision of what Scotland’s future should be like. The project asked people to form groups to discuss three issues:

  1. We are a people who….
  2. By the year 2020 we would like to see a Scotland in which…..
  3. We therefore expect our parliament to work with people in ways which……..

In 1999 the Project reported back their findings and the archive includes correspondence, minutes, handwritten notes and papers relating to the project.  These papers are still in cataloguing but we hope they will be available to interested researchers soon.

20 years today since the Scottish devolution referendum

The 1997 referendum came shortly after the 1997 General Election, which saw a landslide victory for New Labour. In power, Labour quickly passed the Referendum (Scotland and Wales) Bill. The holding of a referendum on the establishment of a Scottish Parliament was not Labour policy until June 1996 and was not well received by those who had been campaigning for a Scottish Parliament and who had worked a scheme for devolution through the Constitutional Convention.

‘It was just a bolt from the blue considering what work we had done together.  It was seen as a breach of faith and we opposed it’

Jim Wallace, MP for Orkney & Shetland 1983 – 2001, MSP for Orkney 1999 – 2007 (SPA/768)

Labour had reached this position due to Conservative campaigning on the ‘tartan tax’ (the proposal for income taxation powers for the devolved parliament). To escape the problem and ensure there was Scottish popular consent for devolution, Labour decided to hold a two question referendum on the issue.  Voters were asked two questions whether there should there be a Scottish Parliament? And whether this Parliament have tax-varying powers?

The 1997 referendum was a pre-legislative referendum – which meant that the referendum would be held before legislation was put before parliament. However, details of the devolution proposals were published in a best-selling government White paper in July 1997. Voter endorsement for devolution in advance was also seen to make it hard for opponents in the House of Commons and House of Lords to oppose the changes.

The Referendum (Scotland and Wales) Bill was the first public Bill of the new Parliament. The two-question referendum was scheduled for 11th September, 1997. Yes campaigners felt that the early referendum helped their cause

‘It was coming out of a Government that was immensely popular and whose embodiment being Tony Blair, who was immensely popular too. There was not so much of a wind, but a gale force in Scotland blowing behind it.’  

Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat MP for North East Fife 1987 – 2015 (SPA/766)

The 1997 referendum campaign saw cooperation between the main political parties and the formation of two distinct umbrella groups to campaign for a Yes Yes or No No vote.

The No Campaign

The No campaign was entitled Think Twice, a reference to the two questions that voters were being asked. The organisers included Conservative figures such as Brian Monteith and Donald Findlay.  In the 1979 referendum the No campaign had benefited from the backing of the majority of Scottish business as well as from Labour MPs. However, business opposition to devolution was much more muted in 1997 and active Labour opposition was limited to West Lothian MP Tam Dalyell  ‘I was wholly against it but the party was completely committed to it.  I was a relatively lone voice against it’ (SPA/754).

The campaign on the ground was quite low key as the majority of No campaigners came from a Conservative Party that had lost all of its seats in Scotland at the 1997 election and expected to lose the referendum too.

‘The Conservative Party in Scotland was just three months after the ’97 General Election – was deeply unpopular and the mood of a number of people in the Conservative Party was pretty depressed.  It was extremely hard to get anyone to campaign against’

Peter Fraser, Chair of Think Twice (SPA/791).

Organisation was described as ‘embryonic in form’ and campaigners felt that they did not have the time to build up any head of steam in the No campaign.

The Yes Campaign

In contrast to the No campaign the Yes campaign was highly organised.  One of the key campaigners Esther Roberton described the mood of Yes campaigners following the return of a Labour Government in the General Election  ‘As soon as we knew the result of the election we had to be ready to push the button’ (SPA/776)

The Yes campaign was entitled Scotland FORward and included representatives from Labour, Liberals and the SNP.  Although each party produced its own literature in its own colours there was uniformity in design for those involved in the Yes campaign.  Although campaigning on the ground was often done separately by the individual parties, the perception was of cooperation to secure a Yes vote. Campaigners knew that this was crucial to the campaign as is illustrated by Nigel Smith, Chairman of Scotland FORward.

 ‘The only strategic aim of the campaign was to prevent an outbreak of argument about policy or person between the SNP and Labour’.   

Many campaigners on the Yes side felt that the outcome was inevitable and that the establishment of a Scottish Parliament was, as John Smith put it ‘The settled will of the Scottish people’.  Activists recognised the danger of voters becoming bored with a drawn out campaign and planned an intensive last few weeks of campaigning before polling day.

‘But my only fear was, maybe a bit of complacency,  that we might not get the people to turn out.  So I still campaigned hard to get the people to turn out’

Dennis Canavan, Chair of Yes Scotland (SPA/158)

The death of Princess Diana on 31st August, however, suspended all campaigning until 6th September, which meant that many planned campaign events did not take place.

The polls opened on 11th September and 60.4% of the Scottish electorate came out to vote, which was 3.4% less than the turnout for the 1979 referendum.  However the result was much more conclusive with 74% voting yes to the establishment of a Scottish Parliament and 63% voting in support of tax-varying powers.

This was a decisive victory for the Yes camp and paved the way for the establishment of the Scottish Parliament.   The Scotland Bill was published in December 1997 setting out a Parliament of 129 MSPs. It included details of the powers which would be reserved by Westminster and those that would be devolved to Scotland, as well as financial arrangements and tax varying powers. With the momentum provided by the overwhelming yes votes the Bill passed quickly through the Commons and Lords with minimal amendments and received Royal assent in November 1998.

The first election to the Scottish Parliament was held on 6th May 1999. The outcome was a coalition government between Labour and the Liberal Democrats led by First Minister Donald Dewar. Following the Scottish Election Acting Presiding Officer Winnie Ewing opened the Scottish Parliament on 12th May 1999 with the following words. 

‘The Scottish Parliament, adjourned on the 25th day of March in the year 1707, is hereby reconvened

Bus Party People 1997

Tracking down everyone associated with the Bus Party from either 1997 or 2014 is a challenge. And it’s one you can help us with  – we know who most of the people are in this photo:  we can identify from left to right Danus Skene (who drove the bus), Neal Ascherson, Will Storrar (standing tall on a box), William McIlvanney, folk music performers David Francis and Mhairi Campbell (with their bairn in a pram) and Alan Miller at the end. But who are the others? Can you help us to identify them and their roles in the Bus Party or with Common Cause?

In 1997, this Bus Party undertook a dash around Scotland in the last days of the devolution referendum campaign  – covering 750 miles with meetings in Arbroath, Montrose, Aberdeen, Inverurie, Huntly, Keith and Inverness, before heading down to the South Lanarkshire and the Borders and back to Edinburgh. Other people joined them on the tour than just the folk pictured here and we’re keen to find out everyone who took part too.​

Bus Party exhibition on display in West Dunbarton

A very enjoyable day was spent yesterday installing the Bus Party exhibition in four libraries in West Dunbarton who had hosted Bus Party events in 2014.  We started in Alexandria, moved on to Dumbarton, then Dalmuir and finally Clydebank.

The Bus Party visited these venues over two days in May 2014 and musicians and writers present included James Robertson, Neal Ascherson, David Greig, Hamish Moore and David Francis.

Many thanks to the West Dunbarton staff for allowing us to install the exhibition there.  Particular thanks go to to Allan for facilitating the exhibition and Graham for helping to hang the banner up high  in each of the libraries.

The exhibition will on display in each of the libraries until the end of August.  The banners show what each community said when asked by the Bus Party in May 2014 ‘What kind of Scotland do you want?’

Please help us to collect photographs and leaflets of the General Election camp

As well as collecting leaflets for the General Election we are taking photographs to document campaign activity.  These posters for the Local Council Elections were spotted gardens in Dalry, North Ayrshire.

If you spot any campaign posters please take a photograph and email it to scottishpoliticalarchive@stir.ac.uk Please remember to also keep the leaflets that you get through the door as we would like to add them to the archive.

Please help SPA to collect General Election Leaflets

With a new General Election upon us the Political Archive are as usual collecting election leaflets to document the campaign messages of the individual political parties all around Scotland.  However, we need your help to collect leaflets from as many of the 59 constituencies as possible.

If you are willing to collect the leaflets that you get through your door please get in touch and let us know your constituency.  Please contact Sarah Bromage scottishpoliticalarchive@stir.ac.uk