Annex A Scotland's Constitutional Journey
1. Scotland has a long history, both as an independent nation before the Treaty of Union, then within the United Kingdom as a recognised nation with our own institutions and legal system.
2. The history of Scotland stretches back to the eighth century, but our independence was secured through the military and diplomatic achievements of Robert the Bruce 700 years ago. Thereafter, apart from a period of incorporation into the Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell, Scotland was an independent country until the Union of 1707.
3. The Treaty of Union between the independent kingdoms of Scotland and England came into force on 1 May 1707. The Treaty created a unified Crown and a single Parliament for the new kingdom of Great Britain. Other main provisions covered representation in the new parliament and reciprocal measures about taxation and trade, and it preserved various Scottish institutions, notably our legal system. Separate legislation guaranteed the position of the Church of Scotland.
4. Following the failure of the 1745 Jacobite rising, the issue of Scotland's place within the Union, and the stability of the succession to the throne, seemed settled. New imperatives of industrial revolution and Empire moved to the fore. Scotland played a full part in these British developments, but our nationhood was preserved by the Scottish institutions protected by the Treaty of Union.
5. In 1853, the National Association for the Vindication of Scottish Rights was formed. Although short-lived, this indicated growing interest in Scotland's position as a distinct political entity within the United Kingdom, motivated in part by the pressure for Home Rule in Ireland and by the challenges of governing the expanding British Empire.
6. The emergence of political interest in Home Rule for Scotland was accompanied by changes in the arrangements for Scotland's government, starting with the creation of the Scottish Office in 1885 and the appointment of the first Secretary for Scotland to represent Scottish interests in the Cabinet. This recognised that Scotland's distinctive culture and, institutional and political identity required specific and full-time representation. However, no national democratic assembly was developed.
7. 1886 saw the formation of a Scottish Home Rule Association. In 1888 Keir Hardie adopted a Home Rule platform at the Mid Lanark by-election, and Scotland's constitutional position has remained a central political issue since then. Home Rule for Scotland was debated on many occasions in the United Kingdom Parliament, and a number of Bills were introduced. In 1913 a Home Rule Bill passed its Second Reading, but the First World War prevented further legislative steps.
8. Following the First World War, the political relevance of Scottish Home Rule was maintained by various political parties and movements, and the Scottish National Party (SNP) was formed in 1934 from the National Party of Scotland (formed in 1928) and the Scottish Party (formed in 1932). The SNP won its first parliamentary seat at the Motherwell by-election in 1945, but held it for only three months.
9. Unionism dominated in Scotland following the Second World War, and in 1950 the Labour Party abandoned its support for Scottish Home Rule, although this remained an important issue in Scotland. The Scottish Covenant Association helped sustain popular interest in a Scottish assembly, attracting two million signatures between 1949 and 1950. However, the Association was not linked to any political party and failed to secure its objectives directly.
10. Scottish Home Rule returned as a key issue with the SNP's victory in the Hamilton by-election of 1967. Winnie Ewing won the seat with 46 per cent of the vote, marking the emergence of the SNP as an electoral force and mainstream political party.
11. Since the Hamilton by-election, each of the main political parties has, at different times, committed itself to new constitutional arrangements for Scotland. In 1968 the declaration of Perth committed the Conservatives to Scottish devolution in some form, and in 1970 the Conservative government published Scotland's Government, which recommended the creation of a Scottish assembly. However, Conservative support for Scottish devolution declined, and the party opposed legislative devolution for Scotland through the 1980s and 1990s. Although the party campaigned for a No vote in the referendum of 1997, the Conservatives at both Scottish and United Kingdom level have supported the Scottish Parliament since it was established.
12. In 1969, the Labour government commissioned a report into constitutional options for the United Kingdom. The Kilbrandon Commission did not report until 1973 by which time a Conservative government was in power. The Kilbrandon Report recommended devolved assemblies for Scotland and Wales, which led eventually to devolution being put to the electorate in a referendum in 1979. The legislation required 40 per cent of the total electorate to support devolution in the Scottish referendum; in the event 32.9 per cent supported the assembly, although this represented 51.6 per cent of those who voted - a majority of more than 77,000.
13. Following the election of the Conservative government in 1979, devolution, and the concept of the sovereignty of the Scottish people, was taken forward first by the Campaign for a Scottish Assembly, and then, from 1989, the Scottish Constitutional Convention. In 1988 the Campaign for a Scottish Assembly published A Claim of Right for Scotland which asserted Scotland's cultural and historical legacy in putting forward its argument for a Scottish assembly. This was followed in 1995 by Scotland's Parliament, Scotland's Right, the Scottish Constitutional Convention's blueprint for a Scottish assembly, which became the basis for the devolution settlement that was enacted in 1988.
14. The Labour Party won the 1997 general election on a platform that included a commitment to a referendum on Scottish devolution. The white paper Scotland's Parliament was published in July 1997, and its proposals were the basis for the referendum which was held on 11 September 1997. Over 74 per cent of those participating supported the creation of the Scottish Parliament, and over 63 per cent supported tax-varying powers for the Parliament. The Scottish Parliament that reconvened in 1999 was based on the constitutional settlement in the subsequent Scotland Act 1998.
15. Following the Scottish general elections of 1999 and 2003 Scottish administrations were formed by coalitions of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties. These administrations introduced important reforms, such as free personal care for the elderly, the smoking ban and proportional representation for local authority elections. These measures attracted support across the Scottish Parliament. In the 2007 Scottish general election, the SNP formed the single largest party and became the first minority administration in the Scottish Parliament. That Government restored free education for Scotland's students and introduced free prescription charges and the council tax freeze. In the 2011 general election the SNP Government was returned with an absolute majority, a rare achievement in a proportional voting system.
16. The Scotland Act 1998 allowed for the powers of both the Government and Parliament to be adjusted with the consent of both the Scottish Parliament and Westminster. A number of changes have been made since 1999, most significantly devolving major responsibilities for rail in 2002. The responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament were examined following the election of the SNP Government in 2007. The Scottish Government's National Conversation considered the advantages of further devolution and independence. The Commission on Scottish Devolution (also known as the Calman Commission) established by the Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties and the Westminster Government examined further devolution only.
17. The Calman Commission's recommendations, notably to increase the taxation powers of the Scottish Parliament, led to the Westminster Scotland Act 2012, which received the Scottish Parliament's consent in April 2012 and is now being implemented.
18. In the 2011 Scottish general election, the SNP was elected on a platform of a referendum on independence. In October 2012 the Westminster and Scottish Governments signed the Edinburgh Agreement to confirm that the Scottish Parliament could legislate for the referendum, and committed to continue to work together constructively in the light of the outcome, whatever it might be, in the best interests of the people of Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. The Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Act 2013, which received Royal Assent in August 2013, enables 16 and 17 year olds to vote in the referendum and the legislation for the referendum itself was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 14 November 2013.
Email: Martin McDermott