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Devolution, evolution...revolution?

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Eamonn Walsh | 16:39 UK time, Friday, 26 June 2009

That Panorama felt compelled to cover Scottish devolution twice inside of 18 months in 1974 and 1975 showed what a huge political issue it was.

That it took until May 1999 for a devolved Scottish Parliament to actually sit shows what a difficult subject it remained.

And that 10 years on the debate over the possible next step in the process - full independence for Scotland - remains as fiercely contested shows how sticky an issue it remains. As Panorama's 2009 take on the 'Scottish question' concludes it's not a decision that can be ducked forever.

Even since the 1707 Acts of Union formalised the relationship between England and Scotland by creating one parliament at Westminster tensions in the union have been evident. Activists and organisations almost immediately began agitating for the return of a Scottish parliament.

The campaigning remained low-level until the early 1970s when the discovery of huge reserves of oil under the North Sea reignited the debate.

The Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) grew in strength, making political capital about the ownership of the oil. At a stroke, the discovery of oil made the Westminster subsidy to Scotland - upon which the Scottish economy depended - irrelevant. It was at this time that Panorama first investigated the subject and you can watch an abridged version of that film here:


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The SNP won 30% of the vote in Scotland in the general election of October 1974 and began to force the agenda on devolved power. Publicly, the three major parties in the UK all supported a referendum on the question. So much so that devolution seemed a given in the very near future when Panorama revisited the subject in November 1975:


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Privately though, support was divided and perhaps that helped contribute to the lack of a sufficient 'yes' vote in the referendum of March 1979.

A couple of months later, the new Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher swept into power and the issue moved into the background. The Scots often claimed they were marginalised by successive Tory governments and New Labour made hay with this in 1997 - making devolution a central part of their victorious manifesto.

Though supporters of the union hoped devolution would soothe the nationalist call for full independence, in some respects it has had the opposite effect. The success of devolution
has perhaps strengthened the nationalists' hand for the battles ahead. Battles that all involved hope will not rage on for a further 300 years.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Can someone please tell me when Panorama is going to be uploaded onto the iPlayer site. It is very frustrating as I missed the scheduled 'Will the Scots ever be happy' episode which screened last night. I have been trying to view it on iPlayer all through today without success. There is just a static photo where oyu would normally click to play. Can someone please upload it to the iPlayer facility so I can view the programme please...

 

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