Scotland’s long journey to having its own Parliament again

“The Scottish Parliament, which adjourned on March 25 1707, is hereby reconvened.”

With that sentence, veteran Scottish Nationalist Winnie Ewing opened the first sitting of Holyrood on May 12 – declaring they were the words she had always wanted to hear.

MSPs from the new Parliament met for the first time within days of being elected on May 6.

But the journey to Scotland having its own Parliament had been a much longer one.

Scots had in fact voted in favour of a devolved assembly being established two decades before, in 1979.

While 51.6% of those who turned out in that referendum backed the move, the legislation that set up that ballot required two-fifths of the total population to support it before it could go ahead.

With only 32.9% of all registered voters supporting devolution then, the proposed assembly was never approved.

Despite the result, supporters of devolution continued their work, with a Campaign for a Scottish Assembly formed the following year.

It went on to draw up the Claim of Right for Scotland, asserting the “sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs”.

Scottish independence referendum
Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown were among those to sign the Claim of Right for Scotland (Danny Lawson/PA)

In March 1989, at the height of Margaret Thatcher’s Government, it was signed by more than two-thirds of Scotland’s then MPs – including Labour’s Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling.

SNP MPs at the time refused to sign it because it had failed to consider the option of independence for Scotland.

The Scottish Constitutional Convention, set up following the signing of the Claim of Right, took over the work of campaigning for a devolved Parliament.

It was this organisation that under the leadership of Canon Kenyon Wright published a blueprint for devolution of St Andrew’s Day, November 30 1995.

Blair Edinburgh Dewar
Tony Blair and Donald Dewar celebrate the referendum result (Adam Butler/PA)

The Labour manifesto for 1997, when Tony Blair swept into Downing Street, contained a commitment to create a “Parliament with law-making powers” for Scotland that would be “firmly based on the agreement reached in the Scottish Constitutional Convention”.

Labour’s pledge said the Scottish Parliament – along with an assembly for Wales in Cardiff – would be established if these were supported in referendums.

A cross-party body calling for a Yes vote was formed with Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP all urging Scots to back the establishment of a new Parliament with tax-raising powers.

Tories opposed the move, with former Scottish secretary Lord Forsyth among those involved in the Think Twice campaign.

Voting in the referendum took place on September 11 1997, with 74.3% backing the creation of the Scottish Parliament, while 63.5% agreed it should have limited tax raising powers.

The following day a triumphant Mr Blair flew into Edinburgh by helicopter.

Landing in the Scottish capital he was greeted by Donald Dewar – the then-Scottish secretary who would go on to become first minister when the Parliament opened.

Speaking about the result Mr Dewar said: “Satisfactory, I think.”

Mr Blair replied: “Very satisfactory and well done.”

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