Donald Dewar. the man who puts panache into politics. dismissed the result of the (iovan by-elcction as a ‘flash-ﬂood' with no long-term implications for Labour in Scotland.
It is a pity that he did not get to meet the scientists studying chaos. who assert that the vibrations from a butterﬂy"s wings are capable. through chain reaction. of altering the course of a tornado on the other side ofthe world.
Now it may be difficult. despite his background in the Merchant Navy and his socialist outlook. to imagine Jim Sillars as a Red Admiral. but there is no doubt that the Scottish media has plumped for the chaos theory. and is now wondering where it will all end.
Let‘s see. It's April 198‘). Neil MacCormick. Regius Professor of Public Law at Edinburgh l'niversity. takes a test case before the courts alleging that the Government has broken a provision of the Treaty of L'nion which expressly forbids the levying of a tax on Scotland which does not apply in England. Thousands of Scots withold their poll tax payments on the grounds that it may have no legitimacy. In any case they realise that the ‘can pay. won‘t pay' campaign means that even if the authorities move to arrest their wages the only consequence is that a manageable surcharge and collection fee is levied. This can be found from other sources. Soon after. the (iovernment announces that the number ofTV detector vans north of the border is to be doubled following a sharp decline in licence revenue.
Meanwhile Brian Wilson MP condemns the poll tax campaign as misguided.
May. and the Scottish representatives in Westminster catch the mood of ‘now's the hour' and withdraw to form a Constitutional Convention for the negotiation of the powers of a Scottish Assembly and to frame the demands for its establishment. Refused access to the old Royal High School in Edinburgh. the convention takes the bold step of meeting in Blair’s Academy near Aberdeen. the former RC Seminary. which has been turned into a conference centre. Lord Mackay ofClashfern turns down an invitation to attend.
Brian Wilson condemns the meeting as a waste of time.
Behind the scenes there are further upheavals. Alex Salmond. who once favoured a Chairman Mao cap whilst at St Andrews University. decides to try on the hat ofChairman of the SNP for size. In a night of the short dirks. he goes to Gordon Wilson and tells him that he has the necessary
Night of short dirks
votes. so he should go quietly (a fait accompli remarkably similar to that which saw the removal of Billy Wolfe in favour of (iordon Wilson in a previous dream time). Salmond‘s move is seen as a pre-emptive strike against a possible Sillars push for what Salmond regards as his rightful inheritance.
Activists in the Labour Party
A sea-change or just a minor seizure? A tornado or simply a storm in a tea-cup? Kevin Dunion speculates somewhat imaginatively on the shape ofScotland‘s future following the recent SNP Govan victory.
secure Scottish Conference support in March 1990 which will see the Party autonomouslyorganised North ofthe Border. 'l'he hierarchy from Walworth Road had found it difficult to argue against the case that the Scottish people were hardly likely to trust the Scottish party to form an Assembly front bench if the London HQ did not trust it to change the curtains. The decision is ratified at the Labour party conference in October.
However. this concession comes too late to prevent the establishment by Alex Wood of a breakaway Scottish Socialist Party. committed to full independence. Reminded of how he had once ripped a copy of ‘Flower of Scotland” from the turntable ofa disco at (ioldenacre Cricket Club. Alex replied that he had simply been concerned that the stylus was in poor condition and may have damaged the record.
Away from politics the SFA announces that the games between Scotland and England are to be discontinued. Ernie Walker explained the decision. ‘This game has been hemmed about by changes in rules and conditions. imposed on us by the English since we first agreed to meet. In any case. Scotland requires a world stage which the narrow pre-occupation with ‘taking on the English‘ fails to satisfy.‘ Brian Wilson condemns the decision; probably because the fixture provided his only opportunity to be seen to support Scotland.
Spring 1991. an election approaches. A beleaguered Mrs
wt ant-5L "ww- -p.uum .wl -‘
at“ 'l‘hatche r has already replaced Nigel Lawson with Cecil Parkinson. but inflation has continued up to 10‘? and the London Docklands resound with the splash of those financially destroyed by soaring mortgage interest rates and falling property prices. (Remember in England no-questions-asked mortgages of four times your yuppie salary were available during the boom.)
The constitutional question continues to dominate. Lord Home calls Michael Ancram and suggests that he tells the Scottish people that if they reject the nationalism being peddled by the other parties. then the Tories will ensure that a better deal within the Union will be arranged. after the election. ‘Seemed to work well last time. old man. . .‘ ('l‘echnically he should have phoned John Mackay. but on these issues you don‘t wish to involve commoners.)
London Docklands Splash
Sales of Scotland on Sunday plummet however when Ancram places an ad showing a boarded up Balmoral Castle above the text: ‘Where will the Queen stay. ifthe nationalists have their way'.”
The paper‘s proprietors reluctantly accept that it might be easier to find advertisers who reflect their readers' inclinations. rather than to continue their disastrous policy of looking for readers to match their advertisers‘ prejudices. In an editorial reshuffle. Neal Ascherson is invited north to run the paper.
The Tories are in disarray. Bill Walker takes to campaigning in the RAF tartan which he has designed as proof of his commitment to Scotland. Nicholas Fairbairn who has always had Scotch and blood running through his veins. attempts a rough wooing demanding to know as he did after the ‘87 election: ‘What more do the bloody Scots want‘."
It can be safely assumed that the answer is not ‘Four more years‘. The 'l'ories' only hope is that in a four-cornered fight. a resurgent SNP vote will undermine Labour gains made at the last election. But the butterfly wings have indeed fanned a tornado. An electoral pact is agreed which recognises that the tactical voting so evident in ‘87 has to be maintained and developed. Ayr falls to Labour as the 1().()()() SNP votes come available: the SNP bandwagon rolls over Sir Nicky. But the greatest scalp of all is that of Malcolm Rifkind. Whatever the niceties ofthe mandate question. the voters of Wester Hailes in his Pentlands constituency decide he has no mandate there. They oust him in favour of his single opponent. standing on an ‘Assembly for Scotland” ticket.
In England the Tories suffer reverses too. A barely workable majority coupled with the threat of more disruption by an ungovernable Scotland is sufficient to bring the political equivalent of a ‘Dear .lohn' letter to Margaret Thatcher. who resigns. Heseltine is installed and is obliged to agree terms for an Assembly.
Thereafter the images come tumbling fast. The Assembly extends democracy by in turn devolving power to the Northern Isles. and by replacing the New Town Development Corporations with elected bodies. Thousands of jobs are created when a comprehensive home insulation scheme is announced. Scottish Universities are told that they must reserve sufficient places for Scots students so all those qualified and seeking entrance can be guaranteed it. Dundee is chosen as the site fora ‘Future Scotland‘ complex. which as well as exhibiting new ideas in architecture;transport1industry: and tourism; will be used as a research base to provide integrated development models. An inquiry into land use in Scotland is announced.
Finally Hamish Henderson is awarded the first ‘Scottish People‘s Accolade’ in recognition not only of his refusal to accept an OBE. but more for his massive contribution to Scottish culture. His ‘Freedom Come Aa Ye’ is adopted as our national anthem and is to be taught in the schools. When asked by the BBC (in a hastily erected Portakabin studio on waste ground overlooking Greenside Place) whether the words are not too unfamiliar. he replies: ‘We can learn to sing our own song.’ Kevin Dunion is a former editor of Radical Scotland.
10 The List 25 Nov — 8 Dec 1988