Published in October 1996 issue of Prospect Magazine
Scotland’s unsettled will
You have said that devolution or home rule, as I prefer to call it, is “the settled will” of the Scottish people. I am not so sure about that. Setting aside the still sizeable minority who are happy with the status quo, nationalists will accept home rule only as the first step to independence and the dissolution of the UK. I know that you and the Scottish Labour leaders believe that the establishment of a parliament with limited powers in Edinburgh will choke off the demand for independence. But it’s rather a gamble, isn’t it? It seems likely after all that the Scottish National Party (SNP) would use a Scottish parliament to foment conflict with the UK government and so fuel the demand for independence.
It was of course the strength of the SNP which converted Labour, and even briefly the Conservatives, to home rule. Indeed, it has always seemed to me to be a sad paradox that a strong nationalist party should create the necessary condition for a measure of home rule to be passed, but would then make it unworkable in the manner that the authors of such an Act intended.
In any case, I think that “settled will” is too strong an expression. The most I would grant is that there is a fairly settled inclination. The opinion polls support your view, but I remember that they did so by a large margin in the 1970s, and that the majority for home rule then crumbled until it got the support of only 33 per cent of the overall electorate in the referendum. (I voted “yes” then.)
Nor can I accept that support for Labour and/or the Liberal Democrats necessarily indicates support for home rule. Your own mentor Jo Grimond remarked that he consistently supported two causes-European union and Scottish home rule-and his loyal constituents in Orkney and Shetland had voted against both in referendums. They nevertheless returned him again in 1979. And our own borders, which have approvingly sent you and Archie Kirkwood to Westminster, also voted “no” in 1979.