1 Mar 2009

30 Years Ago Today


March 1st, and a happy St David’s Day to Taffs the world over

But this day will always have sad memories for me – the day Scotland bottled it in the first devolution referendum of 1st March, 1979, exactly 30 years ago today.

True, we “won” and were victims of the notorious 40%, rule. But we knew of that rule well in advance and should have been able to overcome it, even if it was essentially undemocratic.
But here are the facts in an otherwise free vote:

Yes 51.6%
No 48.5%.
Turnout 64%

So this was poor, we bottled it, messed up.

The lessons? Take nothing for granted - the YES campaign started with a 20 point lead. And always try to work together to achieve common goals.

As a 19 year old Labour Party member I still recall my own revulsion at being forced to hand out “Labour Says YES” leaflets, with big photos of failing Welshman and then UK Prime Minister Jim Callaghan on it. “How stupid” I though – “branding us in with a failure, pissing off everyone but the most loyal of Labour voters”. But as the then General Secretary of the Labour Party in Scotland Helen Liddell ( later Bob Maxwell’s bagman, , now the UK High Commissioner in Australia) infamously said, “It not enough just to win. The Scottish Assembly has to be seen as Labour’s achievement, Labour’s Assembly

Wrong, Helen. It had to be seen as Scotland’s assembly to have any chance of success, hard enough given it very limited powers it was to have, powers that make our current devolved Parliament look like the US Senate.

The SNP , the Scottish Liberal Party (in the days when it supported referenda, Tavish), and lest we forget the tiny but immaculate Scottish Communist Party (the late and great Mick McGahey to the fore), together with the Scottish TUC , and fab folks like John Pollock, oor ain Margo and many others, did their best. But it was just not enough against the brewers, the fag manufacturers, the Tories; and lots of people who sensed the whole thing was just one big con, a half baked sop, to shore up Labour ailing vote at the dog end of a failed regime. Here I have Robin Cook in mind specifically, a great man who paid a price for his disloyalty in leading a Labour Vote NO campaign, alongside the equally honourable Tam Dalyell. Brian Wilson? - well there were exceptions.

But my hero was on the right side – Scotland’s side. Jim Boyack, late father of current Edinburgh Central MSP Sarah Boyack. Jim, a Labour Party member, was always an all-party man, his commitment to a broad consensual approach for sure depriving him of a political career in which he would have done well. But how right he was, as subsequent events would show, going on to co-found The Campaign for a Scottish Assembly on 1st March 1980, an organisation that morphed into the Campaign for a Scottish Parliament a decade later. The CSP was instrumental in establishing the Scottish Constitutional Convention which delivered the goods - on 11th September 1997. 9/11 – a great day for Scotland, in 1297 and 1997. Just too neat to be a pure coincidence. And my favourite number is 7

Back to 1st March 1979, or to be more precise 2nd March 1979, the morning the results came in and the grim reality of failure hit home. I watched this from the Glasgow University Men’s Union extension bar, not the Union smoking room where I normally would have. It was just too much for me to watch it surrounded by all these gloating Tories and understandably angry nats, let down by Labour, if not by me. I watched instead with a girl called Roisin Donnelly, who I had the hots for. Her gender alone excluded her for the Union Smoking room, her name not a helping either. ( this was 1979 in Scotland , not that long ago, and in a student union!….look how far we have travelled!)

But who would leave his men only smoking room comfort zone to come find me? None other than committed Tory, and NO voter, Fred (Sir Fred) Goodwin, ( see below to explain why) No gloating from Fred though – he came to consol me. “Come play some pinball” he suggested. I was keen, but as my would be bird could not join us in the all male union basement, Fred stayed in the mixed sex ( shock horror) extension and watched the last rites with us.

I forget the precise details, but I remember the massive NO vote in Edinburgh did us in, and the less than overwhelming YES vote from the Western Isles which confirmed that the 40% barrier could not be breached

Never again” said Fred, “Next time” said I. Rosin said “maybe... and do you want another coffee”. And gave me that date, I think out of sympathy. But she was good!

And there was a next time. And always will be.


Kim Ayres Monday, March 02, 2009  

Unfortunately I was 12 at the time, and not living in Scotland so have little memory of the event. Was glad of the yes vote in the 90s though as a step in the right direction.

Anyway, wanted to say thanks for taking the time to visit and comment on my blog :)

Alan Smart Monday, March 02, 2009  

Ta Kim - and a fellow Scorpio! The best star sign i have always thought - a sting in the tail.

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