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 

LSE launch Brexit Collections

The British Library and LSE worked together to collect campaigning leaflets distributed during last year’s referendum on the UK’s continued membership of the EU.   These have now been digitised and are available open access online https://digital.library.lse.ac.uk/collections/brexit/2016  . They also digitised theirr 1975 common market referendum collection at the same time https://digital.library.lse.ac.uk/collections/brexit/1975

The Political Archive also have collections relating to the EU referendum.  These are available on our Flickr site https://www.flickr.com/photos/scottishpoliticalarchive/albums/72157665525713746

Political Campaigning The Bus Party Way

IMG_0936We’ve all been subject to political campaigning at elections and referendums in one way or another and have some preconception of what it involves. Yet campaigns have seen significant developments and innovations that have changed the nature of campaigning and its reach into our lives. In the UK, the franchise extensions of the 19th and 20th centuries were some of the biggest creators of change in the electoral arena – and the extension of the franchise in 2014 brought it into schools too.

Besides the franchise reforms, technology and the professionalization of political organizations have been important generators of campaign change – such as the impact of television, the development of national campaigns, seat targeting strategies, the role of information technology and direct mail and not forgetting an internet that allows individual communication about politics with friends and family as well as mass campaigning via big data through Facebook and Youtube.

When Günter Grass went on his campaign tours in the 1960s, he was never sure whether what he was doing was actually effective. Yet, he toured West Germany with colleagues in a mini-van, giving talks, speeches and readings, as well as poetry and song. He was adept at using TV, radio and the newspaper to spread his political message but often, his political campaigning involved turning up in the market square of a small town and speaking from on top of the van. As one of Germany’s most prominent authors, he was certainly a draw when it came to events like this and, what he did tells you something about ‘alternative’ political campaigning away from policy platforms, leaflets and earnest speeches: Grass sought a livelier campaign that actually connected with real people in their communities on a daily basis, to break out of the campaign bubble and talk with people.

That’s what Scotland’s Bus Party attempted in both 1997 and 2014 – getting out into the country and meeting people in their towns and villages to take the temperature of Scotland and encourage people to express themselves and to find out what they were thinking. Doing so did not involve the formal politics of speeches, leaflets and direct mail, but rather a tour of readings, poetry and song. Whilst the short 1997 tour stood out amongst the more orthodox political campaigning by the Yes and No sides to devolution, the 2014 experience was quite different.

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The Bus Party 2014 co-existed with a range of other campaigns like National Collective and TradYes– as 2014 exhibited a fair degree of artistic engagement and political carnival and a lot of unorthodox campaigning. For sure, there were public meetings, leaflets, campaign broadcasts, doorstep and phone canvassing and all the things you’d associate with traditional political campaigns but these were interlaced with new voices and unorthodox campaigning. The Bus Party toured Scotland with its artists, musicians and writers, but it was an independent initiative – it sought discussion. It did not advocate for Yes or No in 2014. It had music from Karine Polwart, readings by James Robertson and song from Jamie McDougall, amongst many others.

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By contrast National Collective acted more as a political organization holding local events and campaigning for Yes, before it created its own bus tour of Scotland with Yestival and then a series of events at the Edinburgh festival in August 2014 – mirroring the Bus Party practice of art, music and readings, as well as dance, cartoons and a large dose of satire. The net effect of these types of organisational initiative was to help to the 2014 referendum a unique experience when it came to engagement and turnout.

An exhibition showcasing the Bus Party Archive is now on display at the Lochgelly Centre and Montrose Public Library.

Installation of the Bus Party Exhibition at Lochgelly

A very happy day was spent today installing the Bus Party exhibition at the Lochgelly Centre.  The archive are particularly pleased to be exhibiting at the Centre as it is such a hub for the local community boasting a cafe, theatre, art studios and the local library.

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The exhibition is on display in the lobby of the Centre and also on way down to the Theatre.  We took advantage of the Centre’s hanging system to hang our framed images and several banners from the Scroll of Thoughts including, of course, the banner completed in Lochgelly on 28th May 2014.

These banners are not the original scroll, which is safely stored away in tissue paper in the archive, but robust vinyl copies.  These copies will hopefully survive the rigours of being on display in various open venues and will allow visitors to see what hopes people had for the future of Scotland in 2014.

The Lochgelly exhibition is part of a larger tour bringing the exhibition back to the communities who participated in the 2014 Bus Party and helped to create the archive collection which is held at the University.

Living With Günter – The Origins of Scotland’s Bus Party

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Because of the Bus Party, I’ve been spending a lot of time with Günter Grass. I’ve been reading his varied works or reading about his life and literature. I took him on holiday and have been reading him at work, at home, on trains and aeroplanes (and on the bus). I even took him to the pub one evening – he’d probably have liked that, as there was beer, football and political conversation. I’ve been searching out his books where I can and I suspect this may all result in a slight royalties boom for the Grass estate.

And, I’m not just reading Grass, I am also permanently consulting a map to search out the locations of his life and work, which stretch out across several countries – one of which no longer exists (the DDR – German Democratic Republic).

I’ve spent time finding his holiday home in Portugal, places he has lived in Germany, where he served in the army (and was wounded), places he has given talks and speeches and received awards, the various towns and cities in his literature, the locations of his political tours in 1965 and 1969 (Dinslaken, Kleve, Castrop-Rauxel, anyone?) or the town he was born in, the Free City of Danzig and its environs and the location of the Kashubian minority in the area (some of which proved hard to locate due to language change). It’s all a geographical puzzle to provide context for his writing and role as a political campaigner – and some clues as to the role of the artist in politics, especially when the author was not actually able to vote at the 1965 election because he lived in West Berlin.

The reason for all of this book and map-reading is simple – Grass formed the original Bus Party in West Germany for the 1965 Federal election. He was the inspiration for what Scotland’s Bus Party did in 1997 and 2014. With other artists and writers, Grass took the road less travelled around smaller cities and towns to speak about the election and to promote the centre-left Social Democrats – the SPD – and also his friend, Willy Brandt, to become the new Chancellor. He spoke at meetings, gave readings and made speeches in 52 halls and market squares – sometimes 4 in a day – to connect with as many sympathetic voters as possible. Electorally, it didn’t really work – the SPD gained 14 seats and increased its share of the vote, but the Christian Democrats remained strong and the governing coalition with the Liberal FDP continued for a time after the election. Four year later, Grass was to do it all again and more, with the result that Brandt came to power as the SPD won an election for the first time in the post-war period.

 

Finding the Bus Party 2014

 

How did we find out about the Bus Party 2014? Partly by luck, partly by paying close attention to what was going on around us. We’d been busy collecting referendum material for over a year and, as active collectors, we were always on the lookout for something distinctive to help to convey the tone and colour of the long campaign. Lots of people sent us material, whilst our volunteers were also good at sending photos and items (see our referendum collection on Flickr here – https://www.flickr.com/photos/scottishpoliticalarchive/albums/72157630278967682.

But, a lot of the time it was just the core SPA team capturing everything we could and that meant we collected everything we could get our hands on – leaflets, badges and every kind of campaign material (t-shirts, flags, mugs, key rings, etc.). We photographed billboards, events, stalls, meetings and any campaign activity we could find. It all went into the archive and lots went online too. It won’t sit around in boxes though, as we planned to work on a series of exhibitions on the referendum campaign once it was all over (hence the Bus Party 2014 exhibition). We were always clicking away on our camera phones and checking social media for events we could record and that’s where we found the Bus Party Listening Lugs tour – forgetting the fact that I’d read about the 1997 version in Neal Ascherson’s book Stone Voices way back in 2002 (which was republished in 2014).

We caught two of their events in quick succession – in the Waterstones bookshop in Falkirk’s High Street on 29th May 2014 and at the Church of the Holy Rude in Stirling on 31st May. At each venue, we had an essential Bus Party event – with an introduction by Will Storrar and readings and music from the Bus Party participants. At Falkirk, there were readings from James Robertson, Janet Paisley and Neal Ascherson. There was also music outside by the Lazyboys of Banknock. At Stirling, the Bus Party featured David Greig, Billy Kay and James Robertson.

On both occasions, there would be performances followed by discussion and also, by people contributing to the scroll – a huge roll of wallpaper bought at B&Q in Wick. As the Bus Party travelled around Scotland, the scroll filled up with people’s thoughts about the kind of Scotland they wanted to live in. And, in time, SPA became the fortunate recipient of the scroll and a number of photos from the Bus Party events – for careful archiving as well as use in any future exhibition.