Book Reviews: The Battle for Scotland


Title:      The Battle for Scotland
Categories:      Scottish Independence Referendum
Authors:      Andrew Marr
ISBN-10(13):      9780241967935
Publisher:      Penguin
Publication date:      2013-08-01
Edition:      Re-issue
Number of pages:      269
Language:      English
Picture:      cover           Button Buy now

Marr-Battle for Scotland

This book was first published in 1992, the title of this book is ‘The Battle for Scotland’ but Marr’s heartfelt and robust conclusion could give this book the strap line ‘a failure of politicians’. Primarily the book reviews the 32 attempts at providing ‘Home Rule’ to Scotland from the late eighteen hundreds to 1992 involving the Prime Ministers of Asquith, MacDonald, Churchill, Douglas-Home, Heath, Wilson, Callaghan and Thatcher. Each of these attempts failed and the reason for failure was ineptitude and lack of will or commitment of politicians or simply devious tactics or Westminster shenanigans and Marr is clearly incensed, enraged, angry and ruthless in his condemnation of the politicians.

The book is re-cycled having first been published in 1992 to, in effect; mark the end of the Thatcher era. Marr has republished it in the run up to the Scottish Independence Referendum on 18 September 2014. He has added a lengthy new introduction to set the book in the current context. Against this background and having worked with publishers for over 30 years I was sceptical when I picked up this book seeing the publishers as simply being commercially opportunistic and the book unlikely to be a meaningful contribution to the current referendum discussion. However having read it I have changed my mind. The 1992 book is more relevant today than when it was first published. To quote Marr he originally, half a life-time ago, set out to write a history book and now he has one on current affairs.

I was tempted to write this review: firstly following my first review of a political book ‘Road to Referendum’ I received some encouraging comments from readers who a) access this web site and b) communicate with me; secondly although I consider my self reasonably well read in the subject of the book I found that I said to myself ‘gosh I didn’t known that’, ‘gosh that’s an interesting observation’, ‘gosh I hadn’t quite seen it like that’. In other words the depth of Marr’s analysis provided me with new information and new perspectives of the politics of the situations I thought I knew and understood. This book made me think. You couldn’t ask more from a book than that.

This review highlights some of the aspects that interested me. I hope that this review will tempt others to read the book. I thoroughly recommend it.

In Marr’s reporting of the many attempts at providing Home Rule for Scotland Marr declares himself to be a committed devolutionist. His enthusiasm for devolution, his clear contempt for the bungling politicians and his sensitivity to the position of Scotland and its people lead me to believe that, when he wrote the original book, he was more than a simple devolutionist and would have then been a supporter of independence. In today’s terms if he had a referendum vote, which by virtue of his residency he doesn’t, he would be voting yes.His views may have changed with time only Marr will know.

After a summary of Scottish early history the 1992 book gets interesting in the run up to 1707 and the Act of Union. One particularly interesting character Marr reports on is Fletcher of Saltoun a Scottish Parliamentarian who opposed the Union. Marr claims that Fletcher’s speeches are now the staple of Scottish National history. Fletcher had twelve principles of limitation of Royal Power; his critics claimed that his ‘Claim of Right’ was a blueprint for a Scottish Republic. Fletcher’s main contribution was a clear analysis of the distribution of power. In effect the English Parliamentarians pressed for a takeover whereas many Scots hoped for a Federal British State. Today the Lib Dems speak of a federal state without any prospect of achieving it and the larger Westminster Parties are totally opposed. Fletcher also articulated the dominance of London and the neglect of the English regions, never mind Scotland. His conclusion that London should draw the riches and government from the three kingdoms (Ireland wasn’t in the Union then) seemed unnatural. This seems very close to today’s debate. Only Scotland has had the good fortune and political support to challenge this arrangement with such benefits for the South East and disbenefits for everyone else.

Marr’s view is that the four things that shaped Scotland, were: the medieval independence battles; the Union; the Highlands; and the Kirk, the national church. He spends time discussing each of these. The Wars of Independence are always good to read. The Union he records the opposition that existed and speculates what might have happened if there had been no Union forecasting at some point a military defeat. On the Highlands he reviews that Scotland well into the middle ages and beyond was two separate countries the Central belt and South and the Gaelic speaking Highlands and Islands lead by the Lord of the Isles who was based on the Island of Islay which happens to be my family’s ancestral home. Marr discusses the Highlands as being seen as a barbaric Gaelic speaking place feared by the Central belt and South who joined with Butcher Cumberland in the Battle of Culloden. Marr goes on to trace the rise of the use of tartan to its status now as a nationally accepted dress for all, not just Gaels. In his review of the rise of tartan he included Walter Scott’s orchestration of the visit of George IV to Edinburgh. On the Union he describes it as a defining moment for Scotland and the chill shadow of it falls across most politically aware Scots today. Marr is a politically aware Scot; my reading of this book is that he is chilled. The reasons for the Union are unimportant now. Quote: ‘Who cares which competing litter of slack-jawed dumplings had the greater claim to a crown? Most of the assorted Stuarts or Hanoverians would be candidates for community care orders if they pitched up in Leith harbour today.’ Is there republican sentiments lurking there too? The religious schism has also gone.

The Kirk filled the gap of an absent Government and saw itself as a separate and alternative state not recognising the English tradition of complete parliamentary sovereignty. In 1842 the Church’s 'Claim of Right' declared that the Parliament in London couldn’t over-rule the rights of the Church if the Church disagreed. Marr notes that in 1989 when the Scottish Constitutional Convention gathered it was a clergyman ( albeit a Methodist), the General Secretary of the Scottish Council of Churches who challenged the idea that Margaret Thatcher could, as the government, say no: ‘We are the people and we say yes’.

The rickety administration of Scotland was rationalised in 1885 by the appointment of a Secretary of State. Perhaps connected the Scottish Home Rule Association first appeared in 1886. In a letter to Kier Hardy founder of Labour from Ramsay MacDonald the Labour leader in 1888 showed that Labour, Liberalism and Scottish Home Rule were intertwined. It seemed that the Labour and Liberal Parties were the vehicles for Home Rule. The next big change in administration was in 1931 the Scottish Administration was devolved to the Scottish Office.

Unrest by the Red Clydesiders during the First World War saw English troops dispatched to Glasgow and Scottish troops locked up in the Maryhill Barracks. machine gunners from English regiments were in the big hotels, six tanks were located in the Cattle Market and field guns were positioned in George Square. How close was Scotland to a Bolshevik revolution? Who knows, the Red Clydesiders in their memoirs in later years softened their account. But the London Government asserted itself.

A visit of Lloyd George, the then Prime Minister of the UK, to Glasgow received a derisive response. Tom Johnson’s paper ‘Forward’ reported the reception and Lloyd George had the paper closed down. Disagreement with London was not allowed.

The first attempt for Home Rule which Marr reports was under Prime Minister Asquith this attempt only failed because of the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.There had been Home Rule bills in 1894, 1895, 1908, 1911, 1914 and 1920. In 1916 Labour’s newly formed Scottish Council carried its first Home Rule motion. The first Labour Home Rule Bill appeared in 1924. Marr reports the debate in detail but the Bill was defeated in the London Westminster Parliament by the speaker who betrayed them reneging on a promise to let the debate end and hold a vote, instead this unscrupulous Speaker declare the bill had lapsed for lack of time. Marr cites it as one example of many London Westminster shenanigans.

Three years later another Bill proposed by Labour MP the Revd James Barr and seconded by Tom Johnson was again talked out despite the evidence of widespread support in Scotland from the Scottish Convention, MPs, Trades Unions and Royal Burghs. You can sense how apoplectic Marr feels as he records this. This was another example of the London Westminster Parliamentary majority riding roughshod over the Scots minority. However the outcome was that Labour’s interest in Home Rule slipped and the Clydeside MPs were in Marr’s words house trained. Westminster had ground down any threat to its supremacy.

The need for the Scottish National Party was clear and overdue and Marr’s description of the formation of the National party of Scotland in 1927 in a café in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow is affectionate and informative, it’s as if he was there, but, of course, he wasn’t, Marr is just a very good writer. The key players were John MacCormick and two friends but they recruited Roland Eugene Muirhead who bankrolled the activities such as pamphlets and booklets. In 1934 the National party of Scotland merged with the pro-Home Rule Scottish Party to become the SNP and the aim became ‘a Parliament which shall be the final authority on all Scottish affairs’. But this did not lead to electoral success. By the mid 1930s the first Nationalist surge of 1928-33 had petered out. Marr records the election experiences. The SNP declared itself willing to fight in the upcoming war with Germany.

Robert MacKintyre was the first SNP MP elected in a by-election in 1945. He only held the seat for 3 months. John MacCormick of the SNP set up the Scottish Convention outside the political parties and in 1949 drafted the Covenant declaring a need for government suitable for Scotland. It was presented in the Assembly Rooms, The Mound, Edinburgh as was the second Convention in 1989. The week after the Assembly Room meeting there were over 50,000 signatures on the Covenant. The problem was that Home Rule was not acceptable to the English leaders of the main parties. So the Convention had no where to go.

Tom Johnson, a giant figure in Scottish Labour, was Churchill’s Regional Commissioner for Scotland, then Secretary for State in the wartime government. Tom Johnson created the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board, reduced hospital waiting list, reformed school curriculum, boosted forestry and hill farming etc etc the list is endless. He was, in effect, ruling Scotland. But after the war Johnson declared that Home Rule was a hopeless irrelevance. Nevertheless the Party’s 1945 manifesto still stressed Home Rule. However the a pattern that became familiar was that when back in office the Labour Government argued that Home Rule no longer mattered much now that Labour was in power and the issue was sidelined. In 1950 Labour went into the election without a manifesto commitment to Home Rule for the first time.

In 1951 there was a Royal Commission on Scottish Government which didn’t produce anything. In 1956 Hugh Gaitskill the Labour leader confirmed that Labour was now a Unionist party.

Marr reports the development of the Conservatives from the 1830s.The details I’ll skip.

In 1950 Churchill at a meeting in Edinburgh speaking against Labour centralisation in Whitehall which he claimed was contrary to the spirit of the 1707 Act of Union. This was a case for Home Rule.

Labour Secretary of State Willie Ross was devoted to economic planning and subsidy and raided the Treasury to fund his interventions. Marr explains this was as an extension of the planning ethos of others such as Johnson who is remembered more kindly.

The brief period of Scotland being the industrial welfare recipient is one which Labour and Conservatives share equal blame or credit. Industrial intervention produced BMC Bathgate, Rootes Hillman Imp, Ravenscraig Steel works and all are now gone and are examples of a failure to transplant industry with managers hundreds of miles away. So English Conservatives began to see Scotland as a subsidy junky. Yet at the time of the First World War Scotland was measured as one of the richest countries. The inter war years were disastrous. For the resulting economic pain expressed in lower wages and emigration both Labour and Conservative London Governments are to blame. The 1920s and 1930s saw a period of alarming decay. In the five years from 1932, 3127 factories were built in England and only 127 in Scotland but as 133 closed in the same period there was no advance. Average wages were also lower than in England.

Although better organised than Labour, the base of the Unionist Party (now named Conservative) was shallow so when you examine the Nationalist surges of the 1960s and 70s these were a reaction to Labour failure. In the 60s the SNP built its organisation and in 1967 Winnie Ewing won the Hamilton by-election because of disillusionment with the Wilson Government who had failed to deliver their promises. The result terrified the leaders of the two big London Parties Labour and Conservative. Both Parties set up committees and commissions to develop proposals for Scottish Self Government. These times produced the hallucination of optimism in Scotland.

The pursuit of devolution in the late 60s and 70s was driven by Wilson (Labour), Heath (Conservative) and Callaghan (Labour). Scots Tory, Teddy Taylor, and Labour’s Willie Ross looked on in disbelief. To be clear the motivation for this activity was not to seek good governance for Scotland it was simply to see off the SNP. During the 70s inflation, trade union militancy and political sclerosis had Britain slithering into irreversible economic decline. Scotland and its North Sea Oil offered respite so Scotland’s membership of the London Club was important to the metropolis. But this was not accompanied by any energy to philosophize on a British Constitution.

Heath’s cynical conversion to devolution came from declining Tory fortunes in Scotland and the SNPs win at the Hamilton by-election. Heath saw an opportunity to encourage Labour voting Scots to turn to the Tories with their devolution proposals. Heath announced his enthusiasm for a Scottish parliament to an astonished Scottish Conservative Party Conference in Perth in 1968, it became known as the Declaration of Perth, an allusion to the Declaration of Arbroath from the time of Bishop Wishart and Robert the Bruce. Heath illustrated his great respect for Scotland as he had seen no need to consult his Scottish colleagues. A commission was set up under Sir Alec Douglas-Home. Two months after the commission reported Heath won the 1970 General Election and, yes you’ve guessed, the report was never heard of again so much for his interest in the Governance of Scotland.

Harold Wilson in order to finesse a home rule policy set up the Kilbrandon Commission. Having decided to adopt Home Rule for Scotland as a policy Harold Wilson faced most of the opposition from his Scottish Labour MPs. Clearly in Wilson’s day Scottish Labour MPs did not want their position at Westminster undermined by a Parliament in Edinburgh. The Scottish Labour MPs produced an anti-devolution report and presented it to the Kilbrandon Commission.

Today we have a Parliament in Edinburgh and today we have great tensions, almost resentment from Scottish Labour MPs towards the Edinburgh Parliament. Marr’s explanation for this is that the protagonists in Labour that brought about the Scottish Parliament namely John Smith, Robin Cooke and Donald Dewar all died early, examples of poor Scottish health perhaps precipitated by neglect from Westminster. With their departure the driving forces for the Scottish Parliament were removed and the void left in Labour has not been filled by the Labour big beasts of Alastair Darling, Gordon Brown or Douglas Alexander. Without leadership the default position has been that Edinburgh is the second choice for the second tier of Labour politicians. The void that Labour left created space which the Scottish National Party has gleefully filled

In the meantime SNP were developing in a number of directions, their most famous slogan of the 70s was ‘Its Scotland’s Oil’ was accompanied by discussions with the hard right wing conservative Teddy Taylor, which came to nothing but interesting that they took place and the businessman Sir Hugh Fraser joined the Party.

The Kilbrandon Royal Commission reported with suggestions of a Scottish Senate and started the Home Rule debate again. Labour’s Scottish Council produced a pamphlet re-stating its opposition to devolution. The SNP with Margo MacDonald seized Glasgow Govan in a by-election in Labour’s heartland. Four months later Wilson was elected and formed a minority Labour Government. Wilson included devolution in the Queen’s Speech in June 1974 setting out the Government’s programme.

Wilson’s problem was that the Labour Party leadership in Scotland remained fervently anti-devolutionist. Labour’s Scottish Executive met to discuss devolution and London expected their agreement. 18 members of Labour’s Scottish Executive didn’t turn up and were assumed to be watching the Scottish National Football Team play Yugoslavia in the World Cup. The remainder of the Executive rejected devolution. Wilson’s response was to call a special conference and engaged Alex Kitson the transport workers union official to ensure that the vote would go the right way. The special conference took place in August 1974 and agreed overwhelmingly to support a directly elected assembly with legislative powers. Labour’s Unionist phase seemed to be over. Kitson had delivered all the big Union votes. Marr describes it as a victory of fix and fear not of principle. Wilson won the election of October 1974 and was now obliged to implement his vague manifesto promises despite his divided cabinet.

To cut out a long story of disagreement and in-fighting the white paper ‘Our Changing Democracy’ appeared in November 1975. The white paper was a disappointment. The Scotsman described it as an assembly in chains; the Daily Record said ‘We were promised more, we want more’. Buying off the opposition to devolution in the Labour Party had seriously diluted it. This white paper is another example of the politicians not focussing on what would be good governance for Scotland but settling their own differences.

The pro-devolution Watchdog Group within the Labour Party broke from the Party and formed the Scottish Labour Party, lead by Jim Sillars, its two MPs were defeated in the 1979 election and the group ceased to exist. Sillars went on to join the SNP.

The SNPs representation at Westminster rose to 11 in October 1974. This attracted assaults from all other sides Douglas Hurd, Conservative, warned of left wing extremism and violence, the Queen, the hereditary Head of State, took a swipe at nationalism in her Silver Jubilee year of 1977. But all was not well in the SNP with tensions between the MPs and the leadership in Scotland, the issue was ‘who leads’ and when such a question is raised there is, in effect, no leadership.

Wilson resigned as Prime Minister in 1976 and was replaced by Callaghan who appointed Michael Foot as Leader of the Commons and his assistant John Smith was now in charge of preparing for the devolution referendum together with his Under- Secretary Jim Ross.

Thatcher replaced Heath as leader of the Conservatives and told a Glasgow meeting that devolution mattered to ensure that more decisions affecting Scotland were taken in Scotland. Thatcher argued for judicial control of the assembly, not arbitrary political control and for Bill of Rights clauses in the Devolution Bill. Her Bill of Rights was seen as a defence against a hard line socialist regime. But the Conservatives in Scotland were divided.

The Devolution Bill finally received Royal Assent on 31 July 1978 but the damage was done by George Cunningham Labour MP for Islington and a Scot who got the amendment added that 40% of the total electorate needed to vote yes for the assembly. Marr reports on the campaign but the simple fact is that 1.23 million voted for the devolved assembly and 1.15 million voted against. A majority of those voting but short of the 40% which assumed that all those that didn’t vote or who had died but still on the register voted no. This amendment by Cunningham was a piece of cynical political destruction as any. The failure of the 1979 referendum engineered by Labour to require a vote of 40% of the electorate left painful wounds in Scotland.

After the referendum and separate to it the SNP withdrew their support for Labour in a confidence motion, the Callaghan Government fell and was replaced by Thatcher’s Conservatives who promptly forgot all about the importance of devolution notwithstanding that as well as her earlier support Sir Alec Douglas-Home had campaigned against the assembly saying that if you reject this proposal we (the Conservatives) will bring you better devolution. Another example of London politicians seeing the Scottish issues not from any principle but from their own narrow objectives, like Churchill and Heath before her she spoke out for devolution but failed to act when she had the opportunity. She failed to act because she didn’t want too. The Scots were in their place now, they could stay there.

Thatcher’s 80s in Scotland are well recorded in many places, the acceleration of the decline of the traditional industries, the rise in unemployment paid for with oil money and, of course, the Poll Tax. The Poll Tax introduced a year earlier in Scotland was protested against but no action taken. When introduced in England the Poll Tax was met with violent protest and withdrawn. Lesson for the Scots, your protests don’t matter, violent ones in England do.

Marr describes the great symbolic non-meeting of minds in May 1988 when Thatcher gave what became to be known as her sermon on the Mound when she addressed the Kirk. Extolling wealth creation she quoted St Paul as saying that the man who refused to work should not eat and her difficulties with the biblical precept of love our neighbours. She was condemned as being un-Christian. But her failure to put down political roots in Scotland was the loss of Tory populists. Teddy Taylor lost his seat and went south, the party was left sounding Anglicised. She also failed to win the hearts of the Scottish Conservative party. By 1987 the Tories were reduced to 10 seats in Scotland, a figure that would be regarded as a great revival today. In 1987 Labour had 50 seats in Scotland and said its Scottish strength would be used to defend Scottish voters. This was a meaningless claim that they could not fulfil. Scotland voted overwhelmingly Labour and their reward was a Conservative government. Scottish Labour had some talent in Gordon Brown, Donald Dewar, Robin Cook and John Smith. So Scottish labour was big in numbers and in people but, in effect, against Thatcher, these strengths were to no avail.

The SNP in the 80s were in torment, having collapsed to 2 seats in the 79 election they were no longer the force they were, another Nationalist surge had passed. Internal strife saw the left wing group the 79 Group, which included Alec Salmond, expelled. After much turbulence in 1988 the party settled on a policy ‘Independence in Europe’. The party moved left and the expelled Salmond, MacCaskill and Sillars returned. The party was slowly putting itself back together.

A few months after the 79 General Election the Campaign for a Scottish Assembly(CSA) was formed and attracted some luminaries George Foulkes from Labour, Jim Sillars not SNP but really just Jim Sillars. Others were councillors and Isobel Lindsay who organised it. One other was Jim Ross the former Under-Secretary at the Scottish Office. Marr lists many more and they were all recognisable names.

The CSA did not represent the big parties. The question was why anyone should listen to the CSA. The way round this was dreamt up by Jim Ross and Alan Lawson, editor of Radical Scotland, in a coffee house in the Grassmarket in Edinburgh. The wheeze was to get a group of eminent Scots to act as a bridgehead between the CSA and the Parties and to form the Constitutional Convention. This was to be formed by a representative group who were not enslaved to the political parties but who would carry political weight. The group was formed, chaired by Sir Robert Grieve a super mandarin, and included an impressive list of representatives of federations, boards, the Kirk etc, all detailed by Marr. The Glasgow Herald and Scotsman were dined and prepared and the ‘Claim of Right’ containing a mix of historical analysis and proposals for a Convention was launched in July 1988. This impressive document ended with ‘There is a profound hypocrisy in saying that Scots should stand on their own two feet while at the same time denying them management of their own political affairs…’

With that the grand sounding Committee pushed it to Scottish MPs, local authorities, unions and other institutions and Party Leaders.

Only Malcolm Bruce Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats was immediately enthusiastic. Donald Dewar, who in the fullness of time became a giant in the Labour story of Scottish Devolution and Scotland’s first First Minister in 1999, finessed the Labour Party into the Convention so slowly and gently they hardly noticed they had joined in October 1988. A month later the second Govan shock occurred as Sillars for the SNP won Govan in a by-election and sent shock waves across the political community. In January 1989 the SNP had what was regarded as successful cross party discussions and the basis was set for the first meeting of the full Convention. Then the SNP split on these decisions and the leader Gordon Wilson contacted every SNP office bearer except Salmond and decided to withdraw from the Convention. The press were, rightly, scathing in their criticism of the SNP. The effect on the Convention can only be speculated. Had SNP stayed in there would have been greater difficulty for Labour and Lib Dems and it may have ended in acrimony. On the other hand their presence could have created a wider consensus.

The Convention, without the SNP started work on 30 March 1989 under the Chairmen of Sir David Steel the last Lib Dem Leader and life long Home Ruler and Harry Ewing former Labour Devolution Minister. The Convention was well supported except for SNP and Conservatives. The Convention reported to the Scottish people on St Andrew’s day 1990. Along the way there was the big tension of proportional representation which was resolved with union support. The document was thin on some aspects, like what would happen to Scottish MPs at Westminster, but it contained the proposed workings of a Scottish Parliament. The Labour National Executive signed up to it in January 1992.

What of its status? It was intended to influence Westminster having crystallized the middle ground regardless of who won the forthcoming election. It placed Labour at the centre of the Home Rule Movement. The Convention document created an expectation; there would be a Scottish Parliament, but when?

The run up to the 1992 General Election in Scotland was dominated by the report from the Convention. A poll in the Glasgow Herald put independence 48% and the status quo 40%. The Scotsman arranged a debate ten days after the closure of the steelworks Ravenscraig under the title ‘Scotland-A time to choose’. The speakers were Ian Lang, Conservative Secretary of State for Scotland, Donald Dewar for Labour, Alec Salmond for SNP and Malcolm Bruce for the Liberal Democrats. 2,500 packed the Usher Hall and it was broadcast live on Radio Scotland and it lasted two and half hours.

Marr reports that Salmond dominated the debate putting the Nationalist case vividly and simply. Donald Dewar umm-ed and aah-ed. Lang and Bruce did well with their respective briefs. BBC Panorama re-run the debate a month later and Donald Dewar did much better second time around.

John Major, the Conservative UK Prime Minister, visited Glasgow to explain the case for the Union and promised that after the election they would take stock. Taking stock of the governance of Scotland was clearly code for forget it.

All parties expected either a Labour victory or a hung Parliament and Home Rule.

By any measure the Conservatives did badly in Scotland in the election with 25% of the vote and only 11 seats but it was the Conservatives that were back in power.

Notwithstanding that 58 of the 72 Scottish MPS were elected on a Home Rule manifesto the Conservative Government was totally opposed to Constitutional change.

There was no way to progress Home Rule. Scotland again had a Government it didn’t elect. The will of the Scottish MPs elected had no means of implementing their policy of Home Rule that had a clear majority and expectation.

SNP had expected to do better in the election riding high in the Polls and having secured the support of Rupert Murdoch’s Scottish Sun under the headline ‘Arise and be a Nation again’. Alec Salmond had been elected leader in May 1990, he stood out as the best leader the Party has ever elected. He was hard headed a man of numbers being an experienced economist and was not simply a cultural Scot. In 1992 the SNP had developed their ‘independence in Europe’ policy.

Marr says that once again Scottish Politics had slithered from delusion to disillusion. The prospect of a Labour victory next time and a Scottish Parliament to follow seemed remote.

The evidence was clear nothing much would happen if left to British Domestic Politics. Home Rule only came onto the Westminster agenda when some outside force propelled it there. Again and again politicians dangled home rule but failed to deliver and there was no one to blame but the politicians.

I recurrently got the sense of Marr’s anger at the politicians who never treated the Governance of Scotland seriously and only responded to pressure.

That was where the Marr original book ended in1992.

The introduction covers the election of Labour in 1997, the creation of the Scottish Parliament under the stewardship of Donald Dewar who became the first First Minister. The election of the SNP first as a minority government in 2007 and as a majority government in 2011 in a Parliamentary system designed to ensure that no Party would ever hold a majority and the SNP would never get their independence proposal through. Earlier Marr said that Home Rule/independence only came on the Westminster agenda when propelled by an outside force. Well that outside force that brought independence to the Referendum on 18 September 2014 was the SNP elected by the Scottish people.

Labour did not run the first two terms of the Scottish Parliament well and there was a clear gap between Labour Scottish MPs and Labour MSPs. The gap between the two Marr explains by the premature deaths of John Smith, Robin Cook and Donald Dewar. The tensions between Labour London MPs and Labour Edinburgh MSPs still clearly exist. The working model when Labour created the Scottish Parliament was that Labour would always be the biggest Party in Holyrood. Labour still seems to think that the SNP victories in 2007 and 2011 were an aberration that will self correct and the natural condition would be re-established. Unlikely I would have thought.

One aspect of the introductory chapter that particularly caught my eye was Marr’s report on the opening of the reconvened Scottish Parliament after a gap of 300 years. Marr reports that the opening of the Parliament on 31 July 1999 was emphatically a British state occasion, the Queen, arriving by carriage and surrounded by clattering, scarlet-tunicked Life Guards from London, along with Westminster-styled Heralds and the presentation of a new mace….the message was clear that power remained where it always had been.

I draw a parallel with the BBC’s recent announcement that the coverage of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014 will be fronted by Gary Lineker and Clare Balding but that the coverage would err towards reporting on Scottish atheletes and this will be what viewers of BBC Scotland will see. This seems not far short of another example of putting the Scots in their perceived place. Home TV Channel, major games in your own country yet the home reporting will only err towards the home team! Perhaps this is why the BBC is known as the State owned television.

Marr’s perception of the opening of Parliament is interesting that he indicates he is irritated that a Scottish Political event is presented as a British State occasion to assert where power lies. It reinforces the recurrent theme in his 1992 book that Westminster will not yield power easily or willingly and will not consider constitutional change unless forced too. Good governance for Scotland isn’t up for discussion. Feeding into the upcoming independence referendum you see this reinforced by the three Westminster based Unionist parties who have a platform of ‘better together’ yet they will not or cannot discuss why its better together and simply asserted it is and catalogue all the imagined difficulties a creative mind can think off. It would be a more accurate campaign if it was named ‘Worse apart’ to provide an umbrella for their campaign of fear prophesising catastrophes, floods, famines and pestilence should the Scots dare to vote for independence.

It is clear that none of these Parties party can contemplate a different constitution without being forced by an outside force.

The Polling evidence was that the vast majority of Scots want greater devolution, more control over their own affairs known as Devo-Max. If Devo-Max had been the third question on the referendum it would have been overwhelmingly supported. But Westminster ruled this out. It would mean change. Westminster chose to take the risk of a simple yes/no question and gamble on winning the no vote. Or perhaps Cameron was gambling on winning a Yes vote to enfeeble Labour at Westminster.

So will the Unionists bring forward proposals for further devolution if the outside pressure dissipates should Scotland vote no to independence? The answer is clear vote NO and the problem is solved there will be no further devolution. The issue of further devolution will also have been defeated.

What of the Referendum debate so far? Marr presents the Nationalist case having changed enormously: No more ‘Braveheart’ dissing of the English, but instead an optimistic, inclusive and open vision of a fairer and more self confident Scotland. Marr signs up to the Scottish Government's definition of ‘Scottish’ as a resident in Scotland. Notwithstanding it excludes Marr a resident in the south. He prefers this to any racial definition of Scottishness.

The choice for the Unionists to lead their campaign is the pessimistic and dour Alastair Darling who lacks the ebullience of Alec Salmond. Darling heading the Better Together campaign has so far relied on negativity, a scare story a day. The campaign was named by their own team as ‘Project Fear’.

What is interesting, to me, is that the Unionists have chosen what seems to be two strands, one is the scare stories and the other is attacking Alec Salmond. In football parlance if you don’t have the skill to play the ball play the man. Johann Lamont the Scottish Labour leader continually assaults Salmond, the UK Prime Minister, Cameron, each time he mentions Salmond attaches a sneering belittling laugh, London journalists in interviewing Salmond begin with the approach ‘surely your not really serious about this ludicrous suggestion of…..’ . What is strange is while the London Press, State owned Television and the three Westminster based Unionist parties all attack Salmond his popularity remains as high as ever. Even after six years in Government the SNP are ahead in the polls and Alec Salmond’s own popularity is high. Perhaps attacking Salmond and negativity will not be as successful as envisaged.

The scare stories are accompanied by vague shadowy suggestions that if Scotland votes no they’ll be rewarded by more devolution. This more devolution remains undefined. The means of implementing the more devolution is not yet specified. Another Convention perhaps? But another Convention would be a long tortuous road.

I’ve yet to meet anyone who believes that a NO vote means more devolution. A NO vote means the Scots are happy with their lot and that is all there getting seems a more realist assessment of the outcome.

The Lib Dems have proposals from Ming Campbell. The Labour Party has yet to publish their proposals. Given the tensions between Holyrood and Westminster Labour MPs can we expect much? Douglas Alexander makes speeches suggesting another Convention. Ian Davidson, Labour Chair of the Westminster Scottish Affairs Select Committee is less subtle. He is reported as saying the ‘The battle is won, it only remains to bayonet the wounded’. This doesn’t seem like a platform for creative development of devolution.

The media has already decided that the result is a NO vote. The London establishment seem irritated that the question is taking up time when the result is obvious? Is it? Can they be sure?

The next big move in the Referendum debate will be the SNP’s White paper due in November 2013. Will that seal the deal?

In Alec Salmond’s words: ‘If not now then when?’ 'If not us then who?'

This book and ‘Road to Referendum’ are history, a platform from which to speculate on likely future developments. What I’d really like to see from the journalists and authors is a book or several books outlining the likely scenarios. There are risks and uncertainties in independence but there are big prizes too. There are risks and uncertainties in remaining in the Union but the prizes are not clear. In the independence scenario Scots are Governing Scotland for the benefits of Scotland. In the other scenario the Scots are a minority with little influence or control over their own destiny. Surely the experienced political journalists could be tempted to write a well informed speculation on how it might all turn out.

Ronald McCaffer

November 2013