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Key events in Scotland, 1920s-2016: A timeline

Updated Monday 5th September 2016

An interactive timeline of the most important events in Scottish political, cultural and economic history.

Use the timeline to explore key moments in Scotland's history. You can see some of these locations on a map.

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Key events in Scotland, 1920s-2016

Read about events in Scottish political, cultural and economic history. Scroll up and down to see all events, and use the filters in the top right to focus on a specific topic.

The period of the 'Red Clyde'

1915

During World War I wage restraints, high rents and poor working conditions lead to mass militancy in working class communities in Glasgow and across Clydeside more generally. Rent strikes (1915) and large rallies and industrial protests (1918-1919) worry the establishment to such an extent that troops are eventually sent to the area in a ‘policing’ role, especially in the aftermath of Russian revolutions of 1917. The area becomes known as the ‘Red Clydeside’.

During the 1917-1920 period an ‘Independent’ Labour Party (ILP) is found by John Maclean and in 1922 the Communist Party of Great Britain is established. The ILP win 10 out of 15 Clydeside parliamentary seats in 1922, whilst the Communists take Motherwell.

John Maclean calls for a Communist Republic of Scotland

1923

Maclean becomes convinced of the need for a separate Scottish Communist Party, and founded the Scottish Workers’ Republican Party. He invoked the term ‘Celtic communism’ as a means of indicating that the socialist movement needed to look to the past as well as the future, even referring to re-establishing the ‘communism of the clans’.

‘Little Moscows’: sites of communist radicalism in Scotland

1925

In the post-World War I era, the Liberal Party declines, and many trade unions change their ‘political affiliation’ to Labour but also, in some cases, to the Communist Party. The Labour Party rise to prominence but do not have a strong presence in all parts of the country. In some villages dominated by single industries that experienced long-term industrial disputes and high levels of unemployment communist views are prevalent, and the Communist Party manage to gain seats in local and even parliamentary elections. In two places in Scotland (in addition to others in England and Wales), namely the Vale of Leven (East Dunbartonshire) and Lumphinnans (Fife) radicalism is strong enough for them to be nicknamed ‘Little Moscows’.

Read 'Red Strongholds between the Wars' by Stuart MacIntyre for Marxism Today, 1979

Hugh MacDiarmid pens ‘A Drunk Man looks at a Thistle’

1926

Hugh MacDiarmid (real name Christopher Grieve) established a new literary journal aimed at sustaining and reviving the Scots language.  His ‘epic’ poem (in the style of a classical long tale) sums up the state of the Scottish ‘nation’.  It is seen as the starting point for a renaissance in Scottish culture.

MacDiarmid would join both the Communist Party and the new Scottish National Party, and be expelled from both – from one for being a communist and from the other for being a nationalist.

Scottish National Unemployed Workers’ Movement founded with march on Edinburgh

July 1928

Scottish coal miners, following the lead taken by unemployed miners in the Welsh Valleys a year before, organise a march on Edinburgh under the banner of the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement.  The march started in several areas (in Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Stirlingshire) and converged on Edinburgh, with 250 miners involved in the march itself.  Support along the way was strong and the outcome was a shift in attitude by Parish Councils (who had responsibility for ‘poor relief’) towards unemployed workers.

See a programme and timetable of the Scottish Miners March to Edinburgh, 11 June 1928

Foundation of National Party of Scotland

July 1928

The National Party of Scotland is founded. See more about the SNP's road to independence.

A solemn crowd gathers outside the Stock Exchange after the crash. 1929.

The Wall Street Crash

1929

The financial crash on New York’s Wall Street brings about a global recession, leading to mass business closures and redundancies.  In many areas of Scotland unemployment rates reach double figures.

Ramsay MacDonald British Prime Minister, 1924, 1929-35.

Collapse of Labour in power and the Emergence of a National Government

1931

After two years of depression, in August 1931, the Labour Government of Ramsay MacDonald faced a budget crisis and severe cuts were proposed.  The Chancellor refused to consider tax rises or deficit spending.  Many Labour ministers refused to support the cuts, and the government resigned from office.

However, MacDonald was encouraged by the King (George V) to form a ‘national’ government, bringing in Conservative and Liberal MPs as ministers.  It was intended to be a short term solution before normal ‘party politics’ could be resumed at the forthcoming general election, but the deepening economic crisis meant Britain had to move the pound off the ‘Gold Standard’ (exchange rate), and the concept of a cross-party ‘national’ government became more permanent.

The Labour Party refused to take part in the ‘national’ government, and MacDonald and those supporting him left Labour to create a ‘National Labour’ movement in support of cross-party rule.

UK General Election

November 1931

The general election saw a ‘National’ government movement (most widely supported by the Conservative and Unionist Party, but also by National Labour and Liberal organisations) pitted against Labour and Independent Labour Parties.  With the Labour and the Liberals ‘split’ the 1931 general election saw the Conservatives and Unionists gaining more than 50% of the vote and 470 seats.  Overall, Westminster ended up with 554 ‘government’ MPs against 52 Labour and 5 ‘other’ MPs in ‘opposition’.  Ramsay MacDonald (as leader of ‘National Labour’) retained his seat and remained on the government benches.

Nicola Sturgeon, current leader of the SNP.

Formation of Scottish National Party (SNP)

May 1934

The National Party of Scotland and the ‘Home Rule’ oriented Scottish Party merge to form the Scottish National Party (SNP).

Population out-migration from Scotland

1934

Reflecting the demise and crisis of heavy industry in Scotland during this period, one Lanarkshire-based steel-making firm move lock, stock and barrel to Corby, Northamptonshire, the English East Midlands. Many of the workers and their families moved with the firm and settled in Corby which over time became known as ‘Little Scotland’.

The legacies of this past migration in terms of family connections with Scotland continue until today.

‘Special Areas’ and Special Housing Acts

1934

After the 1929 global market crash governments began to take a greater role in economic development. The crisis saw varying fortunes around Britain with heavy industries in the north and west of the country hit particularly badly whilst new light engineering and consumer supply industries managed to recover and develop.  Many of the latter began to concentrate around cities and towns in the south and east, such as Slough, to the west of London.  A similar pattern was found in Scotland where some parts of the country witnessed 17% unemployment whilst Edinburgh saw only 3% (due to its publishing and food industries in addition to government, legal, educational and religious jobs).

As private industry and investors were unwilling to take risks associated with certain outlying activities, government stepped in and provided funding for ‘special’ industries of national importance (such as mining, forestry or armaments), as well as more general ‘assistance’ to specific areas hit badly by recession.

In some respects the ‘special areas’ policy represented the first real attempt at a ‘regional policy’ in the UK. The simultaneous pattern of growth and decline across different parts of the UK reflects what is now termed ‘uneven development’, and these unequal geographies of growth and decline have been a marked feature of UK society since the late nineteenth century at least, today given popular expression in, for instance, the idea of a ‘north-south divide’.

A related problem was a lack of housing for workers to be employed in many of these industries.  Thus, whereas ‘council housing’ (around since 1919) was left to the discretion of local authorities, ‘special housing’ was centrally managed and funded – the first time the central state became directly involved in housing workers (as opposed to the army).  After the war, any ‘special housing’ which had been built in Scotland came to be managed (and further developed) by the Scottish Special Housing Association (SSHA).

Stanley Baldwin, 1st Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

UK General Election

1935

The National Government led by Stanley Baldwin retained power in 1935, though with a reduced majority and the ‘cross-party’ nature of the government was also affected when Ramsay MacDonald lost his seat, and the ‘National Labour’ organization performed badly. 

The Labour Party, now headed by Clement Atlee, made major gains on their 1931 position, whilst the Scottish National Party contest their first elections.

Empire Exhibition, Scotland 1938, aerial view

Empire Exhibition, Glasgow

1938

More widely known as the British Empire Exhibition, the event was a six month long trade show which attracted 12 million visitors.  The Exhibition was staged in Bellahouston Park, in South West Glasgow, and involved the construction of substantial buildings including a 470 foot high ‘Tower’.  The Exhibition was planned and designed with the recent economic depression in mind, essentially as a means of stimulating trade, business and consumer activity to give a boost to the wider Clyde Valley area. One building remains from this Exhibition: the Palace of Art.

Outbreak of World War II

October 1939

Nazi Germany invades Poland leading to declaration of war by Britain and France.

Elections are suspended and a unity ‘national’ government is drafted for duration of war.

The first Luftwaffe raid on the British mainland came on October 16, 1939, with an attack on the Rosyth Royal Navy Base on the Firth of Forth.

As with other industrial and heavily populated areas of Britain, urban Scotland did not escape from bombing raids. Clydebank, a major shipbuilding town along the Clyde from Glasgow was the most bombed part of Scotland during WW2.

William Beveridge in 1943

The Beveridge Report: The Foundations of the Welfare State

1944

Between the Peoples’ Budget of 1909 (under Lloyd George’s government) and the start of the Second World War in 1939, British welfare policy developed in a ‘piecemeal’ fashion, with many different acts and policies coming into force at different times.  This meant that welfare provision lacked coherency.  In 1942 William Beveridge was commissioned to develop a universal approach to state provision of welfare.  He famously cited 5 giant ‘evils’ which a coherent welfare policy would have to tackle simultaneously: (1) want, (2) idleness, (3) ignorance, (4) illness and (5) squalor. 

These were to be overcome via connected policies on (1) comprehensive (‘cradle to grave’) social security, (2) a government commitment to full employment, (3) universal secondary education to age 15, (4) state healthcare provision, and (5) state-provided housing.

The new Welfare State, as it became known, would have a profound effect on everyday life in Scotland during the post-war period.  This influence was not just social and economic, but also cultural.  The ‘communal’ experience of fighting the war and the introduction of universal social systems which integrated citizens, with equivalent rights, led to a high point in sense of ‘Britishness’ (British identity) in the 1950s and ‘60s.  By comparison, the nascent Scottish nationalism of the 1920s and ‘30s wains and enters a period of relative obscurity.

You can listen to Beveridge outline his proposals for a new welfare state.

The Bruce Report / Plan for Glasgow

April 1945

The Highway and Planning Committee of the Corporation of the City of Glasgow receive a report from the City Chief engineer, Robert Bruce, which advocates wholesale renewal of the city’s infrastructure, including roads and housing. Although the Bruce Plan loses out to a rival regional plan (the Clyde Valley Plan - 1946), the City Corporation still use it as a ‘blue print’ for much of the city’s redevelopment between the mid-1950s and mid-1970s.

Watch footage of the Bruce Plans.

The SNP win their first parliamentary seat

May 1945

On the death of a sitting Labour MP a by-election is held in Motherwell on April 12th.  No parliamentary elections had been held since 1935 due to the war.  As the War was still on-going, the ‘major’ political parties stuck to a political agreement not to stand against each other, meaning the incumbent party would hold the seat under the ‘National’ (unity) government of Winston Churchill.  In the 1920s Motherwell had once been held by the Communist Party, but it also refused to stand a candidate (despite not being part of the agreement).  However, the SNP broke the ‘status quo’ and did put up a candidate in the form of their party secretary, Robert McIntyre. Turnout was low (54%) and rather surprisingly McIntyre beat his Labour rival, Alex Anderson, by 11,417 to 10,800 votes (a majority of 617).

McIntyre only held the seat for 3 months, when Labour retook it at the 1945 General Election.  After this, the SNP would not win another seat until 1967, remaining primarily a fringe party.

UK General Election: Labour win a famous post-war ‘landslide’

August 1945

The Labour Party, led by Clement Atlee, take control of Westminster in an unprecedented landslide victory. Despite being constrained by having to repay war loans and the dilapidated state of the economy, housing and infrastructure after 6 years of war, Atlee’s Government introduce major social reforms based on the Beveridge Report, including the introduction of national insurance, a national health service, state house-building programmes, and numerous ‘nationalisations’ of industries and services (most notably the rail industry).

Interestingly, Labour’s vote in Scotland (as a percentage share of the electorate - 47.9%), lagged behind its vote in England (48.6%),  whilst the Conservative and Unionist vote was 40.3% in Scotland compared to 39.3% for the UK as a whole, indicating that (overall) the Scottish electorate was slightly more ‘socially conservative’.

Prime Minister Clement Attlee introduces and explains the new Social Services.

Arts Council of Great Britain granted a Royal Charter

September 1946

The Arts Council of Great Britain (ACGB) was formed in the aftermath of the war, to encourage the development of ‘fine art’.  Previously known as the ‘Council for the Encouragement of Music and Art’ (CEMA), its remit had been to sustain artistic skills and output during the war.  This post-War body was first chaired by the famous economist John Maynard Keynes (who was married to a ballerina). Its key significance for Scotland is that it formed the parent body for the Scottish Arts Council (founded in 1967).

Clyde Valley Regional Planning Committee (CVRPC) Report

1946

As a precursor to what became known as the ‘Clyde Valley Regional Plan’ or CVRP (1949), a regional planning committee for the Glasgow area investigated the key issues of over-crowding, slum clearance and infrastructure renewal in the western (industrial) central-belt of Scotland. It is often referred to as the Abercrombie Plan, as the committee was chaired by the town planner Sir Patrick Abercrombie who was responsible for the development of the plan and the vision it put forward for post-War Clydeside.

The core issue was that 700,000 people (one 7th of the Scottish population) lived on just 1800 acres of land in Glasgow. Severe over-crowding produced numerous health and environmental as well as social problems. There was vigorous debate (amongst vested interests) as to how to solve this problem. Glasgow City Corporation and their chief planner (Robert Bruce) wanted to build up the way and solve the city’s housing problem whilst retaining the population within city boundaries most notably in higher density housing and in the large ‘peripheral housing estates’. The CVRPC (under the guidance of Patrick Abercrombie) wanted to de-populate the city and transfer the population to ‘overspill areas’, and to a series of new towns across central Scotland.

Whilst both solutions were used, the CVRPC won the day as they were more in line with broader architectural and planning thinking at the time (related to spreading industry out as protection against the ‘carpet bombing’ experienced during the war).

Read Overspill Policy and the Glasgow Slum Clearance Project in the Twentieth Century: From One Nightmare to Another? by Lauren Paice, Department of History, Oxford Brookes University

US inward investment

1946

Following the end of WW2, the UK Government was keen to encourage inward investment to help regenerate the country. Much of the investment that took place came in the shape of US firms who were keen to take advantage of government incentives and also that location in Britain would enable access to European markets. However, this inward investment was largely directed to those areas of the UK that had been in decline in the inter-war period, including Scotland. Numerous US firms came to Scotland from the late 1940s including household names such as IBM, Timex, NCR, Hoover and Honeywell. Some of the inward investment was located in New Towns, others in areas of declining industry.

In the 1970s and 1980s, in the context of deepening economic crisis, many of these firms were to leave Scotland in search for cheaper places to invest elsewhere.

End of Empire and Migration

September 1947

Indian independence sees the end of the ‘British Raj’ (or ‘rule’). The moment is important in that much of the British Empire would follow suit over the next 20 years as colonies gain independence. Migrants did come to Scotland during this period but given the faltering state of the post-WW2 Scottish Economy, fewer jobs were available and the numbers settling were proportionately smaller than in England. 

Read From Empire to Independence: The British Raj in India 1858-1947 by Dr Chandrika Kaul

First Edinburgh Festival of the Arts

1947

The Edinburgh International Festival is founded, making it the second oldest post-war arts festival in Europe.  Initially it begins as a ‘high’ art festival of classical music, opera and ballet, about bringing the best of the world’s performers to Edinburgh and Scotland, but it begins to grow into the largest arts festival in the world with the addition of ‘fringe’ events, with many amateur productions taking a lead role.

Hydro-Electricity and Highlands and Islands Boards founded

1948

UK government regional development policy is implemented and extended. Building on pre-war experience in the 1930s, when the ‘special industries’ act was used to stimulate moribund industries and areas of the economy, the post-war approach involves government taking a ‘lead’ role in developing industries and regions rather than leaving economic development to the market and private investment.  Such an approach becomes central to developing new ‘markets’ (for private industry) in providing key infrastructure which no private company would have the resources to supply (such as electricity, roads, ferry and postal services to remote locations.

Scotland witnesses the foundation of two institutions which ‘integrate’ Scotland into a ‘nation’ for the very first time in significant ways, by providing a common ‘standard of living’ – no matter where people live.  The Hydro-Electricity Board (HEB) and Highlands and Islands Development Board (HIDB) were focused on developing rural areas by providing both employment and investment.

Whilst not all of the HIDB programmes are a success (such as the Lochaber paper mill project), their main policy of developing 6 key town centres helps to ‘arrest’ population decline in the Scottish Highlands.  The 1961 Census is the first in 150 years not to show population decline on a previous census / survey.

Read 'Power From The Glens'

New Town construction (1948-1976)

1948

The 1930s ‘special industries’ act, which attempted to stimulate industry in certain areas (such as mining) ran into the problem of their not being enough local housing for workers, and this was addressed with a ‘special housing’ act, where central government built houses for the first time.  After the war, the nationalisation of many industries (alongside policies on regional development and the notion of a ‘planned’ economy) brought the development of whole new communities into view. Often based on earlier ideas of ‘Garden Cities’, drawing on powers laid down in the Town and Country Planning Act (1947), which gave the state rights of ‘compulsory purchase’ and the ability to develop strategic level housing plans, many ‘planned’ new towns were founded.

The development of these communities is into three ‘phases’. In Scotland the first phase New Towns where East Kilbride and Glenrothes, and Phase 2 followed with the development of Irvine, on the Firth of Clyde coast, in Livingston in West Lothian and at Cumbernauld to the North East of Glasgow.

As time progressed specific problems emerged with new towns, and one conclusion reached with regards to attracting industry and population was that the earlier new towns were too small and often centred around one or two key industries. Thus, in Phase 3 the aim was to create much larger towns, with Livingston becoming Scotland’s largest new town.

A plan had existed to create one more new town at Stonehouse in Lanarkshire, but these plans were indefinitely postponed when the funds were redirected to go into GEAR (the Glasgow Eastern Area Renewal project, 1976-1987).

Read Post-War Housing and the New Towns

Foundation of the National Health Service (NHS) Scotland

August 1948

A key plank of the overall Beveridge welfare plan was to deal with ‘illness’, which was directly related to poverty through inability to work but also due to the high cost of private healthcare.  Nye Bevan, Labour’s Minister for Health in the 1945-50 government, was the key driving force in founding a national health service based on universal contributions (national insurance) that was to be ‘free’ at the point of use. Bevan’s plans were resisted at first by the British Medical Council (representing doctors), but Bevan managed to convince the BMC that doctors would be better and not worse off under the scheme.  The National Health Service (NHS) came into being on 5th July 1948.

As with many institutions in the UK, the NHS was brought into being using separate ‘acts of parliament’ for England & Wales (on the one hand) and Scotland on the other.  Thus, NHS Scotland was provided for under the National Healthcare (Scotland) Act (1947).  The reason for this legislative approach was due to the Scottish legal system which impacted on different policy areas and specifically so in relation to ‘welfare’ issues (such as the Scottish Poor Law system, which was very different from the system used in England).  In 1948 Scotland already had an existing ‘state-funded’ healthcare scheme in the Highlands, known as Highlands and Islands Medical Service (HIMS), which had existed since 1913 on a state-subsidised but ‘charged at point of use’ basis. Pre-1999 and the introduction of devolution for Scotland, we can see that a number of policy areas were already operating differently when compared with other UK countries.

Listen to Bevan: one year after its introduction, the founder speaks on the Health Service.

UK General Election – Atlee wins a second term, but only briefly

March 1950

Labour are returned to Westminster as the largest party with a very slender majority of 3 seats.  Compared to the previous ‘effective’ administration, Atlee’s second government was viewed as moribund, forcing a return to the polls within a year-and-a-half.

As with the 1945 election, a lower percentage of the Scottish electorate (46.2%) voted for Labour compared to the English electorate (48.8%).  Indeed, Scottish Labour’s percentage share of the vote had gone down (from 47.9% in 1945) whereas Labour’s share in England had risen slightly (from 48.6%).  Whilst the Conservatives and Unionists had 42.9% of the UK vote, their Scottish vote was almost 2% stronger (at 44.8%).

Churchill speaking at a Unionist rally in 1949

UK General Election – Churchill returns to Downing Street

November 1951

The Conservative and Unionist Party, still led by Churchill, return to power with a majority of 17 seats.

Despite the many social reforms of the immediate post-war Labour government (most notably the NHS), one area Attlee’s administration failed to improve was that of housing.  Housing was part of the Health Ministry under Bevan, who concentrated on the new NHS.  Churchill wanted to make ‘housing’ a key Conservative / Unionist issue and gave Harold Macmillan a housing minister portfolio, with the aim of building 300,000 council houses per year.  The new Conservative / Unionist government followed in the socially reforming footsteps of the ‘post-war consensus’ on national welfare, raising pensions and ‘assistance benefits’, but were against industrial nationalisation and ‘centralisation’.  Policies against the latter meant establishing ‘local’ boards, which in the case of Scotland meant Scottish ‘branded’ ones.

The Conservatives / Unionists won the largest share of the vote in Scotland (48.6%), whilst they remained second to Labour in England.  However, in terms of parliamentary seats, the Conservatives and Labour were evenly split in Scotland with 35 each, and on Liberal making up the 71 Scottish seats.

The British Empire and Commonwealth Games

1954

Formerly known as the ‘British Empire Games’ from 1930 to 1950, the organisation change their title to become the ‘British Empire and Commonwealth Games’ in 1954, reflecting the changing ‘status’ of Britain within the world. In 1970 the word ‘Empire’ is finally dropped at the Edinburgh Games, becoming the ‘British Commonwealth Games’. In 1978 the word ‘British’ is also dropped, and the event simply becomes the ‘Commonwealth Games’.

Scotland and the other ‘Home countries’ have always competed as a distinct nation at these games, with sport being a consistent point of Scottish identity, alongside religion and the legal and education systems.

Copyright Peter Hodge and licensed for reuse
A replica stone. The original is now in Edinburgh Castle.

Stone of Destiny temporarily taken from Westminster Abbey

1954

A politically symbolic event takes place when a group of students from Glasgow University manage to remove and ‘repatriate’ the Stone of Destiny, which sits under the throne in Westminster Abbey.  It is ‘missing’ for a month before being taken back to Westminster, although an apocryphal story claims that only a replacement (----) stone was returned.  As part of devolution agreements in the late 1990s, the Stone is eventually returned to Scotland and is displayed in Edinburgh Castle, along with the Scottish Crown Jewels.

UK General Election – Eden and the high point of Conservatism in Scotland

June 1955

The Conservative and Unionist Party consolidated their grip on powers at the 1955 general election, winning 49.2% of the vote share across the UK.  In both England and Scotland (excluding Wales & NI), the party won more than 50% of the vote.  However, unlike the 1945, ’50 and ’51 elections, the Conservatives and Unionists vote in England was slightly stronger (at 50.3%) than it was in Scotland (at 50.1%).

It is notable that in the mid-1950s the Conservatives and Unionists held a majority of parliamentary seats in Scotland (36 out of 71).

UK General Election – MacMillan becomes Prime Minister

November 1959

Former housing minister Harold Macmillan leads the Conservatives and Unionists to a third victory and term in power. Although their overall vote share drops, compared to 1955, they win an increased majority over Labour, with the UK split being 48.8% to 44,6%

In Scotland the Conservative and Unionist vote (47.2%) still outstrips that of Labour (46.7%), but notably Labour manage to win more seats and return more parliamentarians, with 38 Labour to 31 Conservative and Unionist seats. 

This indicates that Conservative and Unionist voters are more concentrated in specific constituencies whilst Labour’s appeal is growing more widely across Scotland. At this point in time the Liberals can only muster 4.1% of the Scottish vote (returning 1 MP) whilst the SNP are on just 0.8%.

British Motor Corporation (BMC) establish new plant in Bathgate

February 1960

BMC (later British Leyland) announce that their new £9 million truck assembly plant is to be sited in Bathgate, West Lothian. The plant is established in 1961 but was eventually closed in 1986. This hit the economy of West Lothian badly following successive decades of industrial decline in the area.

The Holy Loch seen across the Firth of Clyde from Tower Hill, Gourock, with Hunters Quay on the left, and Strone to the right

Holy Loch US Nuclear Submarine Base

1961

At the height of the Cold War the US military had thousands of troops and personnel based in Western Europe.  They also needed protected dock areas for their nuclear submarine fleet, and a floating dock was moored in Holy Loch, with the US-base remaining there for the next 30 years, closing in 1992. The base originally serviced Polaris and then Poseidon submarines, carrying the same missiles that the UK would lease from the US (later in the 1960s). This location was therefore important as a base for the US Atlantic Fleet. The town of Dunoon, which sits close by to the Holy Loch, benefited hugely from the investment that the US Navy brought to the town.

Linwood Car plant expanded and re-opened under ‘regional development policy’

1963

A new Rootes company car assembly plant, costing £23 million, opened at Linwood, near Paisley. This was built on the site of the ‘Pressed Steel’ factory that had been there since 1947.  Famously Rootes produced the Hillman Imp, a small car seen as a mass market rival to the successful ‘Mini’.  The plant was funded and planned under government ‘regional development policy’. Given its state ‘planned’ creation the plant faced a number of issues with regards to the existing structure of car production within the UK, and almost immediately ran into financial difficulties, including under-investment in future development, and a managerial ‘inability’ to access suppliers. It was eventually taken over by the US Chrysler Corporation and in turn by French car manufacturer, Peugeot Citroen.

Immortalised in the now famous song from The Proclaimers in 1987, ‘Letter from America’, Linwood car plant is now no more having closed in 1981. The site is now a retail and leisure ‘park’ along with private housing developments. Some of the streets built to accommodate the new housing have been named after the Hillman Imp.

Read: Paisley: A Town of Variety and Linwood: the first ten years

The Beeching Report – The Reshaping of British Railways

1963

The British Railways Board commissions a report which takes the name of their chairperson, Dr. Richard Beeching.  The report is entitled The Reshaping of British Railways and was in response to falling passenger and freight traffic on one-third of Britain’s rail lines.  The report highlighted cases of some lines carrying only one passenger per mile of railway.  The recommendation was to close numerous branch lines and concentrate efforts on maintaining and increasing mainline routes.

The report and its adoption had major consequences for many communities in Scotland.  The most significant closure was the Edinburgh to Carlisle route, known as the Waverley line, along with several other Border branch lines, which meant towns such as Hawick, Galashiels, Peebles, Melrose, Kelso, Penicuik, and Gorebridge lost all their rail links.  In other areas, such as West Lothian, Stirlingshire and around Dalkeith lines were retained only for heavy freight, such as coal and shale.

The Beeching Report was published in the same year as the Buchanan Report (by chief traffic engineer Colin Buchanan) which outlined ‘national’ (UK) standards for road signage and use of lanes on Britain’s roads.  Together the reports highlight a shift from rail to road which would continue throughout the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s with the development of the UK’s motorway network.  The cities of Birmingham and Glasgow, in particular, were transformed by urban motorways.

UK Continental Shelf Act

1964

The implementation of this Act sees the issuing of the first licenses for exploration of oil and gas in the North Sea.  The discovery of oil and gas would bring major changes to many remote northern and eastern communities in Scotland, as well as down the east coast of England.

Development of the Glasgow’s Motorway system: Changing the urban Landscape of the City

1963

Glasgow has the lowest rate of car ownership of any local authority area in Scotland and is among the cities with the lowest rate on a UK wide basis. Despite this it has one of the most developed, if not the most developed, urban motorway and road systems in the UK. By the early 2000s, Glasgow had no less than 4 Motorways within its limits: the M8, M74, M77, M80 and other major roadways such as the Clyde Tunnel (1963) and Clydeside Expressway (1973).

Fewer UK cities have experienced the huge transformation that has taken-place in post-1945 Glasgow. 'Transformation', however, is not being deployed here as a byword for successful urban regeneration and economic renewal. Transformation means both positive and negative outcomes. This means that claims that a city has been 'transformed', as was widely reported in the story of post-WW2 Glasgow, need to be taken cautiously.

However, there is considerable evidence that following the Bruce and Abercrombie plans for the city, and for the Clydeside region more generally in the late 1940s, large-scale changes took place in the built environment and wider urban landscape of post-war Scotland. Large-scale housing developments, primarily in the form of new housing schemes, radically altered the geography of the city. In addition to new housing developments on green field sites on the periphery, other measures that impacted on the city's lay-out and urban fabric included the large-scale demolition of overcrowded slum housing in inner Glasgow, which saw the wholesale uprooting of working class communities across the city.

Older tenements were demolished and slum housing removed to make way for new motorways and this also impacted on communities across the city – communities that were overwhelmingly reliant on public transport. This feeds the argument that the motorway system is of greater use and value to people living outside the city – than those within it, though the price paid for this in terms of uprooting communities, pollution and other environmental impacts is largely borne by those very communities.

The construction of the M77 through the Pollok Park area in South West Glasgow in 2008 sparked a well-publicised campaign to protect the park and to oppose the construction of the M77. A less well-known campaign against the extension of the M74 Motorway through the south of the city also saw the establishment of Jam 74. While ultimately both campaigns failed to stop motorway construction, they raised the wider issues around the social and environmental costs of motorway development against investment in public transport.

The construction of Scotland’s main Road Bridges

1964

On September 4, 1964 the Forth Road (suspension) Bridge opened, creating a fast motorway link between Fife and Edinburgh.  It was part of a general motorway expansion scheme, and witnessed the end of ferry crossings on the Forth.

Two years later, the Tay Road Bridge opened on 18 August, 1966. These two bridges were important in not only easing road links between the main cities on the East Coast of Scotland, Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh, but improved road links were seen as economically important in attracting inward investment to Scotland. The idea that large civil engineering projects could help with the economy, as well as providing badly needed employment, was already recognised in the inter-war period. The prime example of this is the Kincardine Bridge (or to use its official title, The Kincardine on Forth Bridge), was opened in 1936 amidst the economic depression gripping much of central Scotland at the time. Still in use today, its role as a key upstream link across the River Forth has been largely replaced by the Clackmannanshire Bridge (2006-2008).

Over the decades to come, other new bridges were built to enable easier links around some of the most difficult parts of the country, geographically. These include in the west of Scotland, the Kingston Bridge (1966-1970) over the River Clyde in central Glasgow. A key part of the M8 between Edinburgh and Port Glasgow, it is one of the busiest road bridges in the UK. Still on the Clyde, the Erskine Bridge downstream from Glasgow (1967-1971) enabled faster travel between the North and South of the Clyde west of Glasgow. The Ballachulish Bridge (1974-1975) is located in the west highlands of Scotland. It carries the A82 over the narrows between Loch Leven and Loch Linnhe, enabling faster road travel between Glasgow and Fort William. On the East Coast, the Friarton Bridge (1978) carries the M90 over the River Tay near Perth. In the north the Kessock Bridge (1976-1982) carries the A9 from Inverness to the northern highlands over the Beauly Firth. In the North West Highlands, the Skye Bridge (1992-1995) replaced the historic ferry link that had been operating since 1600 between the mainland and the Isle of Skye.

This proved to be hugely controversial. The Skye Bridge was funded under a Private Finance Initiative agreement put in place by the Conservative Government. The Skye Bridge Limited company was established to run and manage the collection of tolls. Following many protests and a long campaign of non-payment, resulting in numerous court cases, the tolls were finally abolished in December 2004 by the Labour-Liberal Democrat Scottish Government.

In 2017, the latest large bridge to span Scottish waters, and the third major road bridge over the River Forth will open at Queensferry, alongside the Forth Road Bridge and the Forth Bridge (railway). It will carry the M90 to Fife and Tayside.

Watch: The bridge that changes the Isle of Skye

UK General Election: The first Wilson Government

November 1964

After 13 years out of power, the Labour Party return to government in Westminster under Harold Wilson.  Wilson’s initial majority was slim, so his government went back to the polls in 1966, winning a secure majority.  The period was still one of relative ‘boom’ though the UK economy was slipping behind leading rivals (Germany and Japan in particular) in terms of productivity and exports.  Indeed, the Conservatives lost control because of recession in 1963.

Wilson promised people would feel the ‘white heat of technology’ with many modernization programmes under his government.  Whilst the economy would remain troubled, Wilson’s first term in power (1964-70) are now remembered mainly for social liberalisation policies (for instance, key Acts on decriminalising homosexuality and on legalising abortion) and the foundation of The Open University (under Education minister Jennie Lee).   Jennie Lee was responsible for ‘culture’ and encouraged the ‘regionalisation’ of arts funding in the UK.  Whilst the Arts Council of Great Britain (ACGB) remained in-tact, Royal Charters were used to found the Welsh and Scottish Arts Councils as ‘autonomous’ bodies.

In Scotland, as elsewhere in the UK, politics is dominated by an ‘even split’ (to quote Wilson) between the Conservatives and Labour.

UK General Election - Labour secure their existing majority

May 1966

Whereas the Conservatives had appeared as the ‘natural’ party of government in the 1950s, the 1966 General Election indicates a shift in the status quo, with Labour consolidating their grip on power at Westminster.  Labour end up with 363 seats compared to the Conservative’s 253.

The beginnings of an Open University

1966

Foundation of The Open University. A key part in this is played by Jennie Lee, the Fife-born Labour MP for North Lanarkshire.

Her 1966 White Paper, A University of the Air laid the ground for the establishment of an Open University. The White Paper makes clear:

There can be no question of offering to students a makeshift project inferior in quality to other universities…Its aim will be to provide, in addition to radio and television lectures, correspondence courses of a quality unsurpassed anywhere in the world. These will be reinforced by residential courses and tutorials.

The Scotland headquarters of The Open University in Scotland in Edinburgh is named Jennie Lee House in her honour.

The Hamilton by-election victory for SNP

1967

Winnie Ewing wins a notable by-election victory for the SNP, producing its first MP since McIntyre’s Motherwell by-election victory in 1945.

The high point of Scottish Football?

1967

1967 was arguably one of the most important years in the history of Scottish football. Three major footballing events taking place that year saw Scotland and Scottish teams rise to the top of world football. At least this is the claim made by most Scottish football supporters.

On April 11, 1967, England played Scotland at Wembley in London. Winning 3-2 and thereby defeating England, the 1966 World Cup Winners, was taken to mean that Scotland would now be the World Cup Champions – albeit unofficially. The famous ‘Wembley Wizards’, as that Scotland team became known, are celebrated to this day.

In the following month the two largest clubs in Scotland, Celtic and Rangers, were to compete in the two main European finals. Within a week of each other, these two football institutions put Glasgow on the global football map. On May 25 in 1967, Celtic became the first British team to win the European Cup (now the Champions League), beating Inter Milan 2-1 in Lisbon. Less than a week later, their great rivals Rangers played Bayern Munich on May 31 in Nuremberg, Germany, in the final of the European Cup Winners Cup. It was not to be a glorious hat-trick of victories for Scottish football with Rangers losing 1-0.

First Well is drilled in North Sea

1967

Oil companies starting drilling exploratory wells in the North Sea.

Steel industry nationalisation and ‘rationalisation’

1967

Ravenscraig in Motherwell becomes the centre of a ‘rationalised’ Scottish steel industry, with the aim of increasing economies of scale and productivity using more advanced and up-to-date equipment.

Discovery of oil in the North Sea

1969

Oil is discovered in the North Sea, and extraction begins.  The process would lead to a economic transformation of the East and North of Scotland, particularly in Aberdeen, the Shetlands and the Nigg Bay (to the South of Aberdeen) areas.

Scottish Ballet founded

1969

In attempt to develop and diversify Glasgow’s economy, the Scottish Development Board (SDB) convince Peter Darrell to move his ballet company from Bristol to Glasgow.  The aim was to provide more in the way of tourist attractions and evening entertainment in the city.  The move of the company sees it change name to ‘Scottish Ballet’, giving a sense of a ‘national’ company.

The ‘Troubles’ begin in Northern Ireland

1969

After the failure of the Civil Rights movement to make headway in Northern Ireland (under ‘autonomous’ governance), the situation becomes one of armed and violent conduct.  The UK eventually dissolves the existing Northern Ireland assembly and takes ‘direct’ control of the ‘province’.

Given Scotland’s strong and long-lasting connections with Ireland, especially in terms of population movement and community ties and allegiances, the ‘Troubles’ have an effect on sectarian problems in Scotland, specifically in Glasgow and the West.  However, given the close historic links, even an ‘affinity’ between Scotland and Northern Ireland, Scotland is never targeted by Ulster based paramilitary organisations throughout the ‘Troubles’.

UK General Election – The Heath Government

July 1970

After six years of Labour in power, the Conservative and Unionist Party return to government, although for only one term.  Led by Ted Heath the new government would face the UK’s biggest economic problems since the end of the war, including the OPEC (Oil Producing and Exporting Countries) crisis of 1973 which would literally see petrol stations run out of fuel.  The period would also witness ‘decimalisation’ of the currency in 1971.

Significant to Scottish politics, the SNP win their first seat in a General Election, when they take the Western Isles.

Commonwealth Games are held in Scotland for the first time

1970

The Edinburgh Commonwealth Games see the tournament coming to Scotland.  The Games are generally seen as both a sporting and commercial success.

Foundation of 7:84 Theatre Company

1971

Drawing on a statistic published in The Economist, noting that 7% of the British population owned 84% of its property, the 7:84 Theatre Company was created as an ‘agitprop’ theatre group aimed at publishing and performing new works which challenged the establishment. It was started by John McGrath, Elizabeth MacLennan and David MacLennan.  It’s most famous work was turned into a BBC ‘Play for Today’ and broadcast in 1973.  Entitled The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil, it tells the story of the Scottish Highlands in terms of the way the ruling classes have abused the land and the people.

It remained an important company within Scotland’s theatre culture until changes to arts funding in the 2005-2008 period when the company ceased to exist.

Heath tackles inflation

December 1972

In November 1972 the Heath government announce a wage and prices ‘freeze’, aimed at tackling rising inflation. The policy is to be rolled out piecemeal precisely to avoid a confrontation with unions, but the Trade Unions Congress (TUC) do object, and ultimately 1.6 million workers are brought out on strike. 

The government’s policy led to a number of key industrial disputes over the following year, including miners and firemen, but also covering local authority workers, bakers, car makers and steel workers.

UK enters the European ‘Common Market’

February 1973

The Heath Government signs the UK up to the Treaty of Rome, and the country enters the European Economic Community, more widely called the ‘Common Market’, on 1 January 1973.

Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) ‘work-in’

1973

A key plank of Heath’s government policy in the 1970s is to end state support for what it terms ‘lame duck’ industries – ones which are deemed ‘unviable’ on the open market.  Inevitably the struggle comes down to workers’ livelihoods versus government finance and the ‘purpose’ of government.

The company Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) were a product of 1960s ‘rationalisation’ of the UK shipbuilding industry by the government, including the amalgamation of 5 Clyde shipyards in 1968.  It was 48% owned by the state. However, the company was troubled from the start and made worse when the most profitable yard in the group (Yarrow) was sold off.  In 1973 it was announced that the UCS yards would shed 6,000 jobs (out of 8,500), with equipment being sold off.  In response, workers and union officials at the yards (including the main leader, Jimmy Reid) set up a workers’ co-operative called Upper Clyde Shipyard Workers Limited, which ‘occupied’ the sites, preventing removal of equipment whilst continuing to work on orders.  The UK Government were eventually forced into a public enforced climb-down.

Watch: Jimmy Reid - UCS work-in

Govan By-Election victory for SNP

December 1973

A young teacher named Margo MacDonald wins the Govan by-election for the SNP and shocks the political establishment. Interestingly, Govan had been held by all three of the established parties – the Liberals before 1918, Labour from 1918 to 1945, and by the Conservatives in 1950, before it once more became a solid Labour seat.  The SNP only managed to gain 10% of the vote at the 1970 General Election.  However, in 1973 the Conservative government of Ted Heath refused to provide a public loan for Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS), resulting in the Conservative vote collapsing at the by-election (they lost their deposit).  Meanwhile, Labour failed to make gains out of Conservative losses and MacDonald took the seat with 31.2% of the vote.

Her victory meant that the SNP had two MPs at Westminster for the first time ever. Although MacDonald subsequently lost Govan at the February 1974 General Election (after only 4 months), this SNP victory was viewed as a major breakthrough by the party, and was reflected in the 1974 election’s results.

Miners’ Strike

December 1973

The National Union of Mineworkers come out on strike in November 1973, causing electricity power stations to lower output. With petrol prices rising due to the OPEC crisis, the miners’ felt they were in a strong position to bargain with the government, especially going into winter.  Heath’s government responded by announcing an emergency and imposing a ‘three day working week’ on business and employees.  Heath eventually went to the polls on the question of ‘who governs Britain?’

SNP campaigns on ‘It’s Scotland’s Oil’

February 1974

The SNP campaign for the forthcoming general election on the slogan ‘It’s Scotland’s Oil’. The ‘oil issue’ has rarely been absent around the debate about Scotland’s constitutional future and it has generated questions about the main beneficiaries of oil revenues, how much revenue might accrue to an Independent Scotland and could Scotland emulate Norway by accumulating vast funds with which to invest in other areas of the Scottish economy and society.

The collapse of the oil price in 2015 reignited this debate.

UK General Election: Wilson defeats Heath and the SNP gain a parliamentary group

March 1974

Harold Wilson “wins” his third election as leader of the Labour Party.  Despite the parliament being ‘hung, with no clear overall majority for either of the two leading parties, it is Labour which manage to gain slightly more seats (301) to the Conservative and Unionist’s 298. 

The most significant change notable in Scotland is the emergence of the SNP, who increased their vote share from 11% (in 1970) to 22%.  This gives them 7 seats, meaning they can form a viable political ‘group’ in the parliament, which gives them more time in debates and seats on committees. The SNP group is actually larger than that of the Liberals on 6 MPs.

UK General Election: Wilson returns to the polls

November 1974

With the previous general election producing a hung parliament, Wilson soon returned to the polls (only six months later).  However, he still failed to gain an overall majority, achieving only 319 seats out of 635.  But the Conservative and Unionists lose 22 seats (down to 277) and the Liberals gain 7 (up to 13).  Thus, Heath is able to effectively rule with Liberal help.  Labour begin to appear as the ‘natural party of government’ in the UK, especially given the importance of industrial unions in supporting any government.

In Scotland Labour is now the dominant political party despite the emergence of the SNP, which gained another 4 MPs at the second election in 1974, bringing their ‘group’ to 11 MPs. The SNP share of the vote stood at 30% of the electorate, representing a high point for the Nationalists for the next couple of decades. By comparison, the Conservative and Unionist Party hold on to seats in areas that are traditionally strong for them.

Referendum on European ‘Common Market’ membership

1975

Labour government in the mid-1970s was heavily reliant on trade union support.  The Trade Union Congress (TUC) took a position against being in Europe, thereby causing a split on the issue at the heart of the Labour movement.   To put matters to rest, Harold Wilson called for a referendum on European membership.  With both the party of government and the former Conservative and Unionist prime minister in favour of membership, the referendum was won by the campaign to ‘stay in the EEC’, gaining 67% of the vote.

UK Government request help from the International Monetary Fund (IMF)

1976

Having managed unions and industrial strife in a way the Conservative and Unionist government of Heath had failed to, Wilson’s mid-70s administration faced a mounting financial challenge, leading to a fiscal crisis in 1976 when it had to apply to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a ‘bale out’ loan of $4 billion.

In return for the loan, the IMF imposed stringent targets and budget cuts for Wilson’s government (later headed by Jim Callaghan).  These cuts were unpopular with workers and the public more generally and led to several industrial disputes and protest movements in the late 1970s.

Industrial Disputes – The ‘Winter of Discontent’

1978

In the winter of 1978-79 the UK witnessed its largest strike since the 1926 ‘general strike’. Various factors caused the strikes, but the most prominent was the continuation of a ‘curb on wage rises’ in 1978.  The curb had been introduced in 1976 when inflation was at 26%, and was intended to tackle inflation during a crisis (which included seeking an IMF bailout). But by 1978 inflation had been halved to 13% and the ‘consensus’ between government and unions began to break down.

One of the key memories people have of the strikes is rubbish piling up in the streets due bin-men walking out on strike, and the dead going unburied as gravediggers also took industrial action.

Watch: Winter of Discontent

The First Scottish Devolution Referendum

April 1979

People in Scotland are asked if they want the 'provision of the Scotland (1978) Act to be put into effect?' The Act provided for a devolved Scottish ‘Assembly’ (as opposed to a full parliament) and was in general favour by the UK Labour Party leadership. The turnout was 63% (below General Election average).  A majority (51.6%) voted in favour of the provision being 'put into effect' (and 48.4% voted against).  However, thanks to the intervention of a number of anti-devolution Labour MPs in Scotland, the referendum was set up on a threshold basis, whereby at least 40% of the ‘electorate’ (not just who came out to vote) had to be in favour for the Act to take effect.  Thus, whilst 1,230.937 people voted ‘Yes’, this fell short of the 1,498,845 figure which represented 40% of the electorate.

Read: 1979: The First Scottish Referendum on Devolution

UK General Election – Britain’s first woman Prime Minister is elected

June 1979

Margaret Thatcher leads the Conservative Party to victory at Westminster.  Her government’s approach is profoundly different from previous Conservative governments, breaking with what is known as the ‘One Nation Tory’ tradition.  At first her government follows a ‘tight monetary’ policy known as Monetarism, which restricts credit availability, raises interest rates and leads to recession.  By 1981 she is the most unpopular prime minister ever according to polling records.  However, the opposition (Labour) are in turmoil and eventually split (into the Labour and Social Democratic parties) whilst the Falklands War (in early 1982) help to restore Thatcher’s popularity in many parts of Britain.  Her government then abandon Monetarism and begin to open up access to global credit markets, leading to the start of a mortgage fueled property price boom.

Alex Salmond (First Minister in the Scottish Parliament 2007-2014) later described Thatcher as ‘the hand maiden of Scottish independence’.  Whilst a significant number of Scots voted for Thatcher in 1979, her governments and she herself (on a personal level) became deeply unpopular in Scotland, leading to a collapse in the Conservative vote north of the border.

With regards to the election Thatcher wins an overall majority with 339 seats out of 635.  In Scotland, the election sees the SNP losing 9 seats (being reduced to 2 MPs and losing their ‘group’ status), with more of these lost seats going to the Conservative and Unionists (on 22 seats) than to Labour (on 44).  Labour remain the dominant Scottish party.

Read: The 1979 General Election in Scotland: A Highpoint for Thatcher and the Tories? and Economic problems of 1979 were buried, not resolved

Right to Buy (council housing) introduced in Scotland

1980

The Tenants' Rights, etc. Act (Scotland) (1980) establishes social-renting tenants' 'Right to Buy' (RTB) houses at a discount.  Over the next 36 years 500,000 council and housing association homes would be sold off.  Before 1980 more than 70% of people in Scotland were tenants of state bodies or agencies (mainly local governments) with Glasgow Council the largest landlord in Europe with over 185,000 properties on its book. Living in a council house in a ‘scheme’ (a council estate) was the norm for a considerable proportion of the Scottish population. RTB significantly changes the nature of housing tenure in Scotland, but leads to rising waiting lists and homelessness as insufficient replacement homes are built in social renting sector.

Right to buy was to remain in place in Scotland until it was abolished in 2016 by the SNP Scottish Government.

Read: The post-1945 Pollok Housing Estate in Glasgow

Major recession in UK economy and the re-emergence of ‘regional’ inequalities

1981

Unemployment begins to rise as many businesses lay off staff and others cease to exist.  Unemployment would continue to rise until 1986.  Job losses are actually read out on the evening news each day.  The majority of losses are in the UK’s manufacturing sector, especially heavy industries, which means the north and west of the UK are more severely affected compared to the south and east.  The term ‘North-South Divide’ comes into modern usage.

Scotland as a whole suffers in a similar fashion to the north of England.  But within Scotland there is a significant divide between the main manufacturing cities like Glasgow and Dundee, compared to Edinburgh and Aberdeen.  Whilst Edinburgh could look to financial services jobs, on top of government ones, Aberdeen entered a period of growth based on the North Sea oil industry.

The SNP point out that if North Sea oil revenues were solely spent within Scotland then the country would not be relatively deprived compared to the South East of England.

Read: the North-south divide

Lee Jeans Strike

1981

This strike by 240 workers at the Lee Jeans plant in Greenock became a celebrated episode in Scottish Labour History. Echoing the sit-in of the UCS shipbuilding workers in the early 1970s, the Lee Jeans strike took the form of a sit-in, which lasted 7 months. This strike was notable in that all the workers were women, marking a growing militancy among this section of the labour force in Scotland.

While the plant was ultimately to shut down in 1983, initially the workers were successful in securing some jobs and continuing production through a management buy-out.

Read: The 1981 Lee Jeans occupation: women showed how to win and Lee Jeans women remember seven-month sit-in success

Peugeot Talbot announce closure of Linwood car plant

March 1981

Now owned by French state-owned Peugeot Talbot, the Linwood car plant is brought to a halt in 1981 and closure is announced, leading to the loss of 4,800 car assembly jobs which can have a big ‘accelerator’ effect on the local economy, not least in an already hard-hit and depressed economy such as that in Paisley and Glasgow.

Linwood became a byword for the failure of ‘regional policy’, however, debate continued over the real reasons for the plant’s failure, and whether it was ‘regional development policy’ or lack of political commitment to the project.

Read: Paisley: a town of variety

UK General Election: Landslide re-election of Thatcher government

1983

Despite being the most unpopular prime minister since records began in 1981, Margaret Thatcher managed to turn her and her party’s fortunes around.  Most notably, through the Falklands invasion and war she came to be seen as a patriotic leader.  More importantly, she dispensed with her government’s policy of ‘Monetarism’ (which entailed tight fiscal controls and budget cuts) and switched to one of credit growth, opening up the UK domestic market to overseas lenders.

However, the beneficiaries and losers with regards to her government’s policies left the country deeply divided, by class as well as location.  Across the UK the Conservative and Unionist Party win 397 seats (up 58 on 1979) whilst Labour slump to 209.  However, Thatchers’ gains were not mirrored in Scotland, where the Conservative and Unionists’ lost one seat to the Liberal Democrats (taking them to 21 seats).  Interestingly, whilst the SNP make no gains on their 2 MPs, Labour also loses 3 seats (down from 44 to 41), meaning the Liberal Democrats where the ‘winners’ in Scotland (going from 3 to 8 MPs).

Read: 1983: Thatcher Triumphs Again

Miners’ Strike

1984

Along with a series of key ‘privatisations’ (such as British Gas, British Airways and British Telecom), the second Thatcher government make plans to reform British Coal, and bring in an American manager, Ian MacGregor.

The plans involve closing down numerous pits, and in response to the closure plan the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) come out on strike.  The dispute is a bitter, year long struggle.  Led by Arthur Scargill on the principle that one miner should not be able to vote another out of work, the strike action is held with a vote being held.  The strike involves whole communities given the concentration of the industry in specific locations.  In Scotland key picket lines are formed at mines like Bilston Glen in Midlothian, but also at Ravenscraig steelworks in Motherwell, Lanarkshire, where the coal was used to fuel the furnaces.

Read: Ten days that shook Scotland - Fear on the Ravenscraig frontline and 1984 Miners Strike - Timeline

CND protests at Faslane

1985

Protests commence at the Royal Navy nuclear submarine base at Faslane on the Firth of Clyde. These protests have continued to this day and have been a key plank in the opposition to the presence of nuclear weapons in Scotland. These protests have also been linked with demands for Scottish Independence, with the SNP promising that an independent Scotland would be nuclear free.

See: Gie's Peace: 30 years of the Faslane Peace Camp

Bathgate ‘giant vehicle’ plant closes

July 1986

The Bathgate truck plant in West Lothian is closed after 25 years of production, increasing unemployment in an already economically depressed part of the country.

The ‘Boycotted’ Edinburgh Commonwealth Games

1986

Unlike the 1970 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games, the 1986 Games were troubled on two fronts. Firstly, despite promises of funding from several sources, much sponsorship does not actually materialise. The games organisers turn to government for help, but Thatcher (given her ideology) is adamant that central government will not help. Consequently, the Games almost don’t go ahead until they are ‘saved’ by billionaire publisher Sir Robert Maxwell (owner of the Mirror Group). Secondly, because of the presence of South African athletes in the England team, African nations consider boycotting the Games, reducing their commercial viability further. Thatcher is famously heckled and booed when she attends the Games’ ceremony.

UK General Election – Thatcher gains a third term in office, but faces defeat in Scotland

1987

The appeal of Thatcher remains strong south of the border, and the infamous ‘democratic deficit’ begins to make itself felt.  Whilst the Conservative and Unionist government lost 22 seats across the UK (going from 397 to 375 seats), exactly half of these were lost in Scotland, where they went from 22 to 11 MPs.  Their previous worst showing in Scotland was 16 MPs in 1974 (Oct), when the SNP had won 11 seats.  Meanwhile, Labour under Neil Kinnock only gained 20 seats across the UK, but with 9 of those coming in Scotland, where they went from 41 to 50.  The SNP gained only one seat (going from 2 to 3).

Labour were now the dominant party in Scotland, but the Scottish nation’s voting patterns where ‘reverse’ to those of England (and the rest of the UK).

Read: How history turned against Tory-voting Scotland

The Proclaimers release ‘A Letter From America’

1987

This is arguably one of the most poignant songs written about Scotland, or about particular dimensions of Scottish society, in recent decades. The Proclaimers, featuring Edinburgh-born and Fife raised twins, Charlie and Craig Reid, are well known as supporters of the SNP (and of Hibernian Football Club!). The sentiments expressed in A Letter From America reflects their politics. It weaves together the history of population emigration from Scotland – the clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries along with the closures of some of the key flagships of inward investment in post-1945 Scotland. The places that are presented as ‘no more’ reflect the closures of car plants at Bathgate and Linwood, for instance, together with other areas of industrial decline, for example, at Methil in East Fife.

The ‘Red Card’ Scottish Cup Final

June 1988

Prime Minister Thatcher attends the 1988 Scottish Cup Final between Celtic and Dundee United. The result of the match (Celtic winning 2-1) attracted less attention than the reception given to the appearance of Mrs Thatcher at beginning of the game. Roundly booed and jeered by the overwhelming majority of the fans attending – from both teams – thousands of ‘red cards’ were displayed as soon as she was seen by the crowd.

The decision taken to invite her to Hampden Park, Glasgow, for this match, was made in the hope that it would increase her popularity in Scotland. Subsequently, this decision was widely queried, not least because of her unpopularity in Scotland, and with overwhelming working class supports, Celtic and Dundee United fans would be among the most anti-Conservative/Thatcher sections of Scottish society. That a large proportion of the Celtic support was committed to the re-unification of Ireland and included supporters of republican groups, only added to the hostile atmosphere she encountered.

It is hardly surprising that the visit to Hampden Park did little to improve her reputation in Scotland – or that of the Tories more generally.

The Poll Tax is introduced in Scotland

1988

The Conservative government’s new ‘flagship’ policy for local taxation, formally entitled the ‘Community Charge’ is introduced in Scotland one year before the rest of the UK.

Scotland was due for a ‘rate’ review, in which property values would be re-assessed. The Thatcher government thought this was bad news for property owners as it would see their ‘rates bills’ rise, specifically on the back of a property-led economic boom in the UK.  Thus, the ‘Community Charge’ was designed as a personal tax on each person in a household, quickly becoming known as the ‘poll tax’ (or ‘head’ tax).  It was viewed by the vast majority as extremely unfair, since a single wealthy person living in a mansion would now pay less than a couple socially-rented single bedroom flat.

Read: The poll tax in Scotland 20 years on

Closure of Bilston Glen Colliery

May 1989

The decision is taken to close Bilston Glen Colliery in Midlothian, along with its sister pit, Monktonhall.  While Bilston Glen once supported 2,700 jobs (in 1970), with a similar number at Monktonhall, at the time of closure 800 jobs were lost at Bilston and 200 at Monktonhall.  Nevertheless, whilst Monktonhall was kept open under a workers ‘buy-out’ scheme for another few years, the closure of Bilston Glen represented the end of deep coal mining in Midlothian (where coal was first mined by monks in the 12th century).

Anti-Poll Tax struggles

1990

The Labour Party decide to campaign against the poll tax, but refuse to ‘condone’ non-payment of it as a form of resistance.  The Trade Union Congress (TUC) take the same stance.  However, non-payment (the refusal to pay the tax when demanded by local councils) soon takes off, and community groups are organized to prevent Sheriff’s Officers (the Scottish equivalent of ‘bailiffs’) from carrying out payment order and fines.

The Militant group within the Labour Party are to the fore in the wider non-payment campaign, most notably in figures like Tommy Sheridan in Glasgow, but the non-payment campaign is much more widespread than ‘traditional’ campaigns and political groupings. In particular it galvanises support in the large working class housing schemes around Scotland’s main towns and cities.

Payment order and fines accumulated during the anti-poll tax campaign are not finally abolished until 2014.  And it is argued that many people kept themselves off the electoral register because the poll tax and the refusal to pay it acted as a means of dis-enfranchisement.

In 1990 (a year after Scotland) the poll tax is introduced in England and Wales, where one of the largest demonstrations in a decade leads to riots in London.

Read: Thatcher's downfall - 25 years since the poll tax riot

Closure of Ravenscraig steelworks

1991

A key symbolic moment in the history of Scotland’s deindustrialisation was the closure of the massive Ravenscraig steelworks, in North Lanarkshire. Established with government help in 1954, it was to be central to the regeneration of industry in post-war Scotland and it employed 12,000 workers at its peak. However, the pace of industrial decline was such that it never reached its full potential and was eventually closed. Its demise was regarded by many as emblematic of the neglect of Scotland by successive Conservative UK Governments.

Read: Life after Steel

Mandela thanks Glasgow and Scotland

1991

After release from Robbins Island, South Africa, the leader of the African National Congress (ANC), and its most famous prisoner, Nelson Mandela, visits Glasgow in 1993 to thank the people of Scotland for their support of the ANC in its struggle against the apartheid regime.  The event is significant in indicating the extent to which Scots have supported international and overseas struggles.

Read: Why did Nelson Mandela thank Glasgow?

UK General: Kinnock loses to Major

1992

After losing to Thatcher in the 1987 election, Kinnock leads Labour to another defeat in 1992.  Whilst the opinion polls had put Labour in the lead and a Labour government was generally expected, the actual election returned the Conservative and Unionist Party, now under John Major, for a fourth term in office.

The story in Scotland was actually very similar, despite the strong ‘starting point’ contrast.  Labour lost one seat (reflecting their poor general situation), but managed to maintain 49 out 72 seats in Scotland, where they had 50 before.  Meanwhile, the Conservatives and Unionists gained one seat, going from 10 to 11 MPs.  Thus, Scots remained ‘at odds’ with UK electors, but generally the shift required for Labour to win at the UK level was not evident even in Scotland.

Attempt to ‘privatise’ Scottish Water and the 1994 ‘Strathclyde Referendum’ on privatisation

1993

Throughout its four terms in office the Conservatives and Unionists pushed constantly for ‘privatisation’ of state held and community owned assets.  Water and sewage services had already been privatised in England and Wales in 1989, and in 1993 an attempt was made to privatise Scottish water authorities. The attempt failed but reforms led to the creation of a single water authority for the whole of Scotland (Scottish Water).

As part of the campaign against privatisation, Strathclyde Regional Council, which was overwhelmingly Labour controlled, held a region-wide referendum on water privatisation, were the electorate re-soundly rejected the idea.  1,194,667 voted against the privatisation of water and sewerage services with only 33, 956 voting in favour, on a turnout of 71.5%. That 97.2% voted against was also taken as a sign of large opposition to privatisation more generally. In this respect it also linked with previous campaigns around the Poll Tax and against the Tories more generally.

The notion of Strathclyde Region holding a referendum was significant as the council area accounted for nearly 3 million people, 3/5th of the Scottish population – so it was the ‘next best thing’ to a Scottish referendum. The Conservatives were to get their revenge only two years later as Scotland’s regional councils were abolished.

The Timex factory dispute, Dundee

1993

The American owned Timex Corporation came to Dundee as part of the wave of American investment in Scotland following the end of the Second World War.  Employing over 5,000 workers at its peak in the 1970s, the largest private sector employer in the city, a seven month long strike in 1993 against plans to cut wages and the number of workers ultimately failed to prevent the final closure of the factory, some 47 years after it was established in Dundee.

John Smith, Leader of the Labour Party, dies

1994

John Smith was a well-respected Scottish politician. His sudden and untimely death meant that the Labour Party was subsequently to take a different direction under new party leader, Tony Blair. Arguably New Labour would never had been invented had Smith lived to be Prime Minister. He is also credited with developing the plans for devolution in 1979 and which also laid the basis for the subsequent referendum and devolution legislation in 1997-1998. 

Read: John Smith would have led us to a decent world

Scottish local government reorganisation

1996

In 1975 a local government structure of 9 Regional and 53 District Councils, and 3 Islands Areas (Orkney, Shetland and Western Isles) was introduced under the legislation of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973. This two-tier system of regional and district councils remained in place until the Conservative UK Government abolished them in 1996. The 1975 system was hardly beneficial to the Conservatives in that their general and widespread decline in Scotland was directly mirrored in their poor election record, not least in the largest local authority, Strathclyde Region.

A new system of 29 unitary authorities was introduced, replacing the two-tier system that existed until then, and the 3 Island Councils (for Orkney, the Shetlands and Western Isles) remained in place giving the country 32 local authorities.

Read: About local government in Scotland

UK General Election – New Labour win a landslide victory

June 1997

After 18 years of Conservative government, UK voters elected Labour back into power under the banner of ‘New Labour’ and led by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. As elsewhere in the UK, Scotland voted Labour in huge numbers, returning 56 MPs to Westminster. The Liberal Democrats won 10 seats and the Scottish National Party 6. The Conservative and Unionist Party lose all of their seats in Scotland.

The Second Scottish Devolution Referendum

1997

A referendum is held on (a) whether or not Scotland should have its own 'devolved' parliament, and (b) whether or not that parliament should have tax-varying powers.  The turnout is 60.2% (below General Election average).  74.3% vote 'yes' to the Parliament (25.7% vote 'no').  63.5% vote for tax-varying power (with 36.5% against taxation powers).

Scotland Act: Devolved and Reserved Powers

1998

Following the results of the 1997 Scottish Devolution Referendum, legislation is passed under The Scotland Act 1998. It establishes a system of devolved (to the new Scottish Parliament) powers and reserved (to the UK Parliament) powers. The Scottish Government, building on the fact that since 1707, the legal system/law and policing, education and religion, were always distinctively ‘Scottish’, takes responsibility for a range of powers around social policy areas such as health, education, housing, social work and so on. In some respects, the organization and delivery of these services was already different in Scotland compared with the rest of the UK.

By 2016, additional powers had been devolved to Scotland, taking devolution into areas well beyond the proposals in 1998. This also highlights that devolution is far from being a one-off event in 1999 – but a process of change.

Read: The politics of devolution

Scottish Parliament Election – Establishment of the Labour-Liberal Coalition

June 1999

The first elections to the Scottish Parliament are held on 6th May 1999.   The Parliament is to be made up of 129 MSPs (Members of the Scottish Parliament), with 73 MSPs being elected by constituency and the remaining 56 on a regional list system.  The partial use of a proportional representation (PR) system, known as the ‘single transferable vote’, to ‘top up’ constituency seats with regional list members, means the Parliament’s make-up will reflect voter choices more accurately than Westminster’s ‘first past the post system’.  However, it also means majority government (where one party gains an outright majority) is much harder to achieve.

At these first elections, Labour (led by Donald Dewar) win 38.8% of the constituency votes (giving them 53 constituency seats) whilst the SNP (led by Alex Salmond) come second with 28.7% of the constituency vote, but gain only 3 of those seats.  When the regional list seats are added on, Labour are ‘topped up’ by just 3 MSPs whilst the SNP gain 28.  Thus, the final MSP totals are Labour 56 and SNP 35.  Consequently, Labour fall short of an outright majority by 9 seats (65 out of 129 representing a majority).  In order to govern Labour enter into a coalition agreement with the Liberals, who have 17 MSPs.  The Conservatives and Unionists end up with 18 seats, whilst the regional list system allow ‘outside’ parties to gain MSPs, with the Greens and Scottish Socialists gaining one each.  Finally, one constituency seat is won by an independent candidate, a former Labour MP, Dennis Canavan, won Falkirk West.

Reconvening of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh

August 1999

Almost two months following the first Scottish Parliament elections, on July 1 the Scottish Parliament is reconvened for the first time since the Act of Union in 1707 which abolished the Scottish and English Governments, forming the United Kingdom Parliament.

Scottish parliament became 3rd best legislature in the world for women’s equality… gone back since. 

Scottish Maritime Border is moved

1999

One year before the re-convening of the Scottish Parliament following the 1998 devolution settlement, the New Labour Government of Tony Blair changes the maritime boundaries between Scotland and England in the North Sea. In moving the border north, some 6000 miles of Scottish waters were transferred to England.

At the time little was heard about this – but when this was discovered some years later, considerable controversy was ignited. The main issue here was who would be entitled to any of the oil, gas, fishing or other resources in these waters, were a future Scotland to become Independent.

Labour MSP Donald Dewar becomes initial First Minister

1999

Followed by two other Labour FMs (-------- ‘acting’ FMs), and two SNP FMs (Alex Salmond in 2007 and Nicola Sturgeon in 2011 and again in 2016.

Donald Dewar dies on October 11, 2000. He is replaced by Labour MSP Henry McLeish on October 27, 2000.

Repeal of Anti-Gay ‘Section 28’/Section 2A in Scotland

July 2000

Despite considerable opposition from the various faith organisations in Scotland, and including well-known Scots, Parliament repeals the Section 28 legislation. Some notable Scots, such as the millionaire businessman Brian Souter (of the Stagecoach Bus Company fame) who privately funded a postal ballot as part of his Keep the Clause campaign, which returned an apparent 86% support for keeping the clause, from a response from slightly less than one third of the 3.9 million registered Scottish voters, also strongly came out against the repeal.

However, Section 28 (although, more accurately this was known as Section 2A of the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1986), was successfully repealed as part of the Ethical Standards in Public Life etc. (Scotland) Act 2000 on 21 June 2000 with a 99 to 17 majority vote with only two abstentions.

UK General Election – Labour’s second victory as ‘New Labour’

July 2001

Tony Blair wins a second term in office.  After 4 years in power during a period of relative economic growth, the Labour party are returned to Westminster with a reduced majority, but one that is still commanding with regards to the Conservative and Unionist benches.

Blair’s government had a number of notable achievement in the 1997-98 period, including the devolution of power to Scotland and Wales, and the signing of the ‘Good Friday’ Agreement in Northern Ireland (bringing an end to armed conflict in the ‘Provence’).  However, only 4 months into the new term, Islamist terrorists attacks in the USA, on 11th September 2001, cause a significant shift in Blair’s foreign policy, leading to two wars involving British forces (in Afghanistan and Iraq).  The conflict in Iraq is opposed by 50% of the population, but is voted through in the House of Commons.  The SNP’s ‘anti-war’ position is diametrically opposed to that of the majority of the parliamentary Labour party.

Labour hold a commanding lead in Westminster with 412 out of 635 MPs.  In Scotland, Labour lose just one seat (going from 56 to 55), whilst the Conservatives and Unionists regain a foothold north of the border, with one MP.  However, the Conservative seat arises out of boundary changes and the creation of a new rural South of Scotland constituency. The SNP win 5 seats.

Scottish Parliament Election: ‘The Rainbow Parliament’

June 2003

The second Scottish Parliament elections produce what is known as the Rainbow Parliament, due to the emergence of a number of smaller parties.  Whilst Labour, under Jack McConnell, lose 6 MSPs compared to 1999 (to end up with 50) and the SNP, led by John Swinney, lose 8 (to end up with 27), the Greens gain 6 MSPs and the Scottish Socialists 5 MSPs.  There is no change in the Liberal and Conservative and Unionist MSP numbers.  Additionally, the Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party gain one seat, and there are three independent MSPs (Dennis Canavan; Margo MacDonald; and Jean Turner).

The diversity of the Parliament is possible because of the proportional representation system and the ability of voters to choose a ‘second’ representative (from a smaller party or campaign group) on their ‘regional list’ vote.

UK General Election: Blair wins a third term in office

June 2005

‘New Labour’ under Tony Blair win their third consecutive general election, but with a much reduced majority. Whereas in 1997 Labour had 44.3% of the UK vote, by 2005 this had dropped to 36.1%.  However, the Conservative and Unionist Party had gained very little ground (only 1.7%, going from 31.5 to 33.2%, in the same period) and most of the shift in vote had gone to the Liberals (rising from 17.2 to 22.6%).

Nonetheless, Blair enjoyed another government with an easy majority in the House of Commons.

The major change for Scotland in this election was that Scottish representation at Westminster fell from 72 to 59 MPs, on grounds of changing population proportions within the UK and the arrival of the Scottish Parliament.  Consequently, Scottish Labour’s representation in London fell from 56 to 40 MPs, despite the maintenance of a commanding lead in the election over rival parties.  The remaining Scottish seats consisted of 11 Liberals, 6 SNP, 1 independent and 1 Conservative and Unionist MP.

Scottish Parliament Election: The SNP forms the Scottish Government for the first time in its history

June 2007

The SNP are for the first time in history elected as Government, albeit as a minority government. They defeat Labour by one seat in the May elections, 47 to 46. SNP party leader, Alex Salmond, becomes First Minister.

The result represents a massive sea change in Scotland politics – with Labour losing its first major election in Scotland since the mid-1950s.

Read: The 2007 SNP minority government and cohabitation

Transfer of Power from Blair to Brown

July 2007

Tony Blair announced in 2004 (before the 2005 General Election) that he would not run for a fourth term as Prime Minister.  Consequently, once elected in 2005 plans were made for his resignation and the election of a new Labour leader.  Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer under Blair since 1997, was the clear favourite, and ultimately became leader of the party without contest.

Blair and Brown were both Scottish born UK Prime Ministers, but whereas Blair went to Oxford and held an English constituency seat, Brown was one of only 5 Prime Ministers not to have attended Oxford and Cambridge, and was the first to hold a Scottish constituency since Douglas-Home in 1964. It was often said of Blair, that he did not quite ‘get’ Scotland – that he did not come across well in Scotland.

When Brown took up the Prime Ministerial role it was expected that a General Election would be called within 6 months, especially as he was not elected as Prime Minister.  Brown and Labour were ahead in the polls in October 2007, but Brown lost the 2010 election when it came around, coming in the aftermath of the 2008 ‘Credit Crunch’.

Start of global ‘Credit Crunch’

2008

A number of large ‘investment’ banks in both the New York and London financial markets are discovered to have ‘bad debts’ (which cannot be serviced by their borrowers).  The complex manner in which the best and worst performing investments have been ‘packaged’ (placed into portfolios) means that no-one is certain which banks have the most ‘toxic’ debts, often made up of loans termed ‘sub-prime’. Consequently, banks suspend buying and selling of debt between them (inter-bank business) leading to a freeze in financial markets. This causes the crisis to spread from investment to retail banks

Soon enough, the banks in the worst situation fold.  The process starts with investment banks, like Lehman Brothers, and moves to retail banks, such as Northern Rock, when customers queue up to withdraw their funds.

Bank ‘nationalisations’

2009

A number of retail banks close their doors to customers to prevent a ‘run’ on their funds.  Many of these banks are household names that are deemed ‘too big to fail’ by government.  They include two banks of Scottish origin – the HBOS (formerly Bank of Scotland which had recently merged with Halifax Building Society) and RBS (formerly known as Royal Bank of Scotland).

That the UK Government had effectively bailed-out two large Scottish financial institutions was used during the 2014 Independence Referendum campaign as an example where Scotland benefits from being part of the UK and thereby highlighting that it doesn’t have the economic or fiscal resources to take such action for itself.

Initially, Brown’s government tries to encourage other (solvent) banks to take over the ailing banks, but the merger of Lloyds with HBOS soon sees the parent company also fall into trouble.  Eventually the government is committed to the second largest taxpayer ‘bailout’ in British history, whereby the public end up owning several banks (including RBS).  This is effectively ‘nationalisation’ of the banks though critics would claim that it is more the nationalisation of the debts accumulated by the banks – while the profits and gains accumulated in the past accrued to private owners.

Conservative Leader David Cameron’s ‘Age of Austerity’ speech

2009

David Cameron announces that the UK must vastly reduce its debt – a debt that has increased significantly following the economic and financial crisis of 2007-2008. He announces that a ‘new age of austerity’ is required to make the UK competitive and efficient once more.

In Scotland – and in other parts of the UK – this was not well received at all.

Read: Anti-austerity backlash is moving up a gear - even in ‘progressive’ Scotland

UK General Election - Coalition between Conservatives and Lib Dems

June 2010

Labour loses the UK election to the Conservatives who form a new UK Coalition Government with the Liberal Democrats. In Scotland, the coalition partners perform badly, with the Conservatives only managing to hold on to their one seat in Scotland on 16.7% of the vote, the Lib Dems have 11 seats on 18.9%, beaten by the SNP with 6 seats and 19.9% and Labour, with 21 seats and 42% of the vote.

That both the UK governing parties are lying third and fourth in Scotland in terms of the popular vote, once again reignites arguments that, as under Thatcher and the Conservatives in the 1980s and 1990s, the UK Government does not have a political mandate in Scotland.

Claims that Scotland is suffering from a Democratic Deficit are heard once more with the SNP and Labour both making such claims.

Read: The 2010 UK elections and the democratic deficit

Scottish Parliament Election: SNP win an overall majority

June 2011

The result of the 2011 Scottish Parliament election, the fourth such elections since the implementation of devolution, was widely regarded as an astonishing result – not only for the SNP – but that it was indicative of a clear shift in the political landscape of Scotland.

The SNP were returned as Government but they won an overall majority with 69 of the 129 seats available. Labour came a poor second with only 37 seats.

That the devolution framework was designed to ensure that no one party would form an overall majority, with a system of proportional representation being in place, only added to the shock that the result represented.

With this clear majority, the SNP had finally replaced Labour as the dominant party in Scotland and as the Scottish Government with such a mandate, began the process that led to the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum.

Read: The 2011 Scottish Elections

Scotland Act (2012) and the Calman Commission (2009)

2012

Tories accepting ‘devolution’.

Read: The National Conversation, Calman and ‘Devo Plus”

The Edinburgh Agreement: Announcement of Independence Referendum

November 2012

Following extensive discussions throughout the previous year, Ministers from the Scottish and UK Governments reach a deal over the Scottish independence referendum. This came to be known as the Edinburgh Agreement and was signed by on behalf of both Governments by Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond and UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

The agreement paves the way for a vote in autumn 2014, with a single Yes/No question on Scotland leaving the UK. That there was no option to vote for what was regarded as the most popular outcome for most voters in Scotland – ‘devolution ---’ – ---imum devolution of powers with Scotland remaining within the UK – was hugely controversial and would come back to haunt David Cameron and the UK Government in general, Cameron refusing to have this as an option on the ballot paper.

It is the UK government which has responsibility over constitutional issues, and which granted limited powers to the Scottish Parliament to hold a legal referendum. That such powers are effectively reserved to Westminster is in itself also contentious.

For the first time, 16 and 17-year-olds are allowed to take part in a major political ballot in the UK.

XX Commonwealth Games held in Glasgow

2014

The Twentieth Commonwealth Games was held in Scotland for the third time between July 23 and August 3, 2014. For the first time however, the games were held in Glasgow, and took place at venues across the city, the West of Scotland and beyond.

These particular Games were identified as a potential catalyst for the economic transformation of the East End of Glasgow in particular. Tying large 'flagship' sporting events to regeneration programmes and goals is not new. In the context of Glasgow, however, great claims were made by the local authority, the Scottish Government and a range of other agencies that the 'legacy' of these Games would be brought by the large-scale investment and social changes taking place in the east of the city in particular.

In particular it was claimed - as with numerous previous 'flagship' events in Glasgow and beyond - that there would be no legacy that would reflect a sea change in the living conditions and life chances of East End residents, the hundreds of millions of pounds being spent in the Commonwealth Games having more impact - more legacy' - if deployed elsewhere.

While the sporting festival that the Games represented was well received, from within Glasgow as well as from beyond, post-2014 there was a strong sense among locals that the CWG had done little for the deprived communities in the East End. ‘It was not for the likes of us’, was a popular refrain heard during this time. This followed considerable opposition among activists and residents in parts of the East End that the Games were being imposed on communities, disrupting lives, without due consideration of the needs of people who lived there. It also followed widespread opposition to feature the demolition of the city’s famous Red Road Flats as part of the opening ceremony.

That the Games were being held during the final stages of the two-year-long independence referendum debate and campaign, meant also that media and popular focus was divided between this event and the Games itself. 

Read: Commonwealth Games 2014

Right to Buy Abolished in Scotland

2014

The Scottish Parliament abolishes social-renting tenant's 'Right to Buy' (RTB).  The policy takes effect on 1st August 2016.  Future housing stock intended for 'low rent' in the social renting sector will remain in public ownership. The policy will prevent the sale of 15,500 houses over ten years, in addition to 35,000 new ones being built. The nature of 'housing tenure' in Scotland will change as a result – there is no similar policy in England and Wales.

Scottish Independence Referendum

October 2014

Almost two years since the announcement was made, the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum took place. This was an event that galvanized people, organisations and communities across Scotland – and which saw Scotland in the global limelight like never before. A record turnout of voters, that 16 and 17 year olds were allowed to participate and that few areas of Scottish society were untouched by the Referendum meant that the term an ‘historic event’ was far from being over the top. For the first time since 1707, people in Scotland were being asked if they wish to remain as citizens of the UK.

That the Referendum was held at all is something that would have seemed well beyond the realms of possibility, only 3 or 4 or so years earlier.

Read: The 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum – Introduction

Scottish 'yes' movement

2014

The Campaign for Scottish Independence galvanized a wide range of support from across Scotland. The SNP were to the fore in this but was by no means alone. The Scottish Greens and Scottish Socialist Party were also important in the pro-Independence campaign and the movement for independence comprised a wide range of groups and activists including (notably) ‘Women for Independence, Commonweal, the Radical Independence Campaign and many others. Support was drawn from those who long campaigned against nuclear weapons, against inequality and austerity, wars and around different environmental issues.

Read: The 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum - The YES campaign as a social movement

The Smith Commission on additional powers for the Scottish Parliament

October 2014

The Smith Commission was announced by Prime Minister Cameron on the morning following the Scottish Independence Referendum. Early on 19 September 2014 in the wake of the vote against Independence and for Scotland to remain within the UK, the commission was part of the process of fulfilling the so-called ‘vow' made by the leaders of the three main unionist political parties (Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats) during the final few days of the Independence referendum campaign. The vow promised the devolution of more powers from the Westminster to Holyrood in the event of a no vote.

Following the no vote, Lord Smith of Kelvin was tasked by the Prime Minister to produce by November 30, 2014, recommendations for further devolution of powers to Scotland, that is, more devolution. Following extensive discussions and consultations, an agreement was reached and the final report of the Commission, the Smith Report as it has become known, was published on 27 November 2014.

There was widespread controversy that the recommendations did not go far enough and for the SNP and other pro-independence supporters, these failed to live up to the promises made in the vow just before the referendum day itself. This controversy continued through the year that followed.

Following the Conservative election victory at the 2015 UK General Election, the Scotland Bill 2015-2016 put into effect the recommendations of the Smith Commission. However, controversy around this and the overall question of devolution continues to shape Scottish politics.

Read: The 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum - Pro-independence movement since September 2014

UK General Election – Cameron wins outright majority, and the ‘democratic deficit’ widens

June 2015

As in 2010, and once again echoing the Conservative election victories in the 1980s and 1990s, Scotland voted differently from the rest of the UK. However, following the SNPs ‘shock’ victory in the 2011 Scottish Parliament Elections, the defeat of the pro-independence argument in September 2014, few could have predicted that only 8 months later, the pro-independence SNP would sweep the board in the 2015 UK General Election in Scotland, winning all but three of the seats, 56 from 59. This left the three main unionist parties with only one seat each. The Labour Party were the main losers, losing 40 of the seats they won in 2010, and their share of the vote dropped from 42% to 24%. The SNP secured 50% of the vote, the first time that any party had achieved this since the mid-1950s. The Conservatives, returned now as a majority UK Government, could only muster 14.9% of the vote in Scotland, thereby feeding claims that it has no mandate north of the border – and that the ‘democratic deficit’ remained significant.

This was an historic low for Labour and was widely blamed on its alliance with the Conservatives to thwart the pro-independence argument in 2014. 

Read: The 2015 General Election in Scotland: The Legacy of the 2010 UK and 2011 Scottish Elections

Scotland Act (2016)

2016

The 2016 Scotland Act represents a significant extension of devolution powers, and gives the Scottish Parliament responsibilities that would have been unheard of in 1998 when the Scotland Act put in place the devolution legislation. Following the report of the Smith Commission, these new powers covered some areas of welfare and taxation, among other areas, but for the SNP Scottish Government, and others, did not go far enough in implementing all the recommendations of the 2015 Smith Commission, never mind the arguments made pre-the 2014 Independence Referendum that many more powers would come Scotland’s way if it voted to remain within the UK.

Scottish Parliament Elections: SNP Victory

June 2016

The 2016 Scottish Parliamentary election was the fifth election to take place since the parliament’s creation in 1999 (with the others held in 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011).  The SNP were winners of this election meaning that they had now won three Scottish elections in succession. The SNP captured 59 of the 73 constituency seats and 4 regional list seats giving the party 63 seats out of a total of 129 but just short of repeating their 2011 success with an overall majority (65 seats are required). The key headline outcomes were that compared with the 2011 result, the SNP lost 6 MSPs, the Conservatives gained 16, Labour lost 13, the Greens gained 4 and the Liberal Democrats remained the same on 5 seats.

EU Membership Referendum in Scotland

July 2016

As was widely anticipated, in June 2016 Scottish voters returned a pro-EU that is remain within the EU vote. The exact reasons for this are complex and difficult to ascertain but on issues such as immigration, EU funding, and that with the exception of the Conservatives, the main political parties are all pro-EU, contrasts sharply with the overall pattern of England and Wales. 1,661, 191 voted to remain in the EU while the leave vote came in around 650,000 votes lower with 1,018, 332 votes to leave. This then equates as a 62% vote to remain, as opposed to a 38% vote to leave. The corresponding figures for England was 53.4% to leave and 46.6% to remain.

That over 1 million voters in Scotland opted in favour of leaving the EU points to the fact that on this issue, as on others, Scotland is far from being a homogenous or unified political entity. However, each of the 32 local authority areas returned a pro-remain vote, varying from the largest vote in Edinburgh at 74.3%, contrasted with Moray in NE Scotland where the leave vote was marginally lower than the vote to remain. That this area has long been regarded as an SNP ‘heartland’ belies that in the fishing communities dotted along the Moray Firth and on the coasts of Aberdeenshire, there was a strong vote against EU fisheries policies which are widely believed to have decimated the Scottish fishing industry in recent decades.

That Scotland voted to remain within the EU by a considerable margin, and that the UK as a whole and England in particular returned a no vote, provided the SNP with another opportunity to raise the issue of a second Scottish Independence Referendum.

Scotland produces 106% of its electricity from renewables

2016

As hydro-generated power was part of the vision for post-1945 Scotland, developing renewable energy to take advantage of Scotland’s abundant natural resources has become, in the wider context of constitutional debates and controversies, a highly politicised issues. With the projected decline in North Sea oil stocks and revenues, and with the Scottish Government opposed to nuclear energy in Scotland, a future based on wind, solar, tidal and hydro energy is one that has become central to the vision of an Independent Scotland. 

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