The following is an edited version of the address
given by Irene McGugan. MSP (SNP) at Trinity College. Dublin on the 26th. Nov. at a
meeting organised by An Comhaontas Ceilteach (Celtic Alliance, TCD) and the Irish branch
of the Celtic League (with early assistance from our Scottish branch).
At the beginning of her speech Irene
referred to the historical connections between Ireland and Scotland and recent initiatives
"I also want to mention briefly
another linking of our communities.
Buite (Bwee-ha) (Booeechie) or Boice in
English. the founder of Monasterboice died on the same day that St Columba was born.
Monasterboice is a small community in south county Louth and has just twinned with my own
village of Letham, Angus in the east of Scotland.
Astonishingly this is alleged to be the
first official twinning between Scotland and Ireland. Even more asionishingly this
restores a 1,500-year-old link between our parishes.
The aims of this twinning are to further
investigate the historical connections between the two communities and to foster an
understanding of our different cultures, particularly religious differences, since we are
a Protestant communitv and Monasterboice is of course a Catholic one. Educational,
exchange visits are already well established and have included young people particularly,
and I think this is a really good example of a millennium project.
And finally on this point. I want to remind
you, or tell you if you didnt already know it, that Irish President Mary McAleese
inaugurated Aberdeens Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies exactly a
year ago tomorrow on St Andrews Day. As an MSP for the North Fast of Scotland, which
includes Aberdeen, I am very pleased that this connection has been established, with Tom
Devine, the eminent historian as the current Chair of the faculty. I would venture to
suggest however that this is a very tardy development, and that such links should have
been established decades ago. If we had not been so busy learning about our imperial past,
we might have given more thought to our nearest neighbours, and our common endeavours.
parallel aims and mutually fortifying achievements. In any case, the Institute of Irish
and Scottish Studies will now allow us to explore across this narrow strip of water, how
Scotland and Ireland can liaise in matters of trade, fishing, tourism, transport links,
education, culture, the Gaelic language and indeed politics.
So moving on, I intend to give a brief
synopsis of some recent events in the history of the SNP, then tell you a bit about the
establishment and workings of the new Scottish Parliament, before outlining our
partys view of the way forward from here.
The Scottish National Party has been at the
forefront of the campaign for Scottish self-determination for almost 70 years. The
evolution of the SNP has been paralleled by the political evolution of Scotland herself
from an almost totally unionist country to a nation on the brink of independence.
In 1945 the party scored its first
electoral victory when Dr Robert McIntyre was elected with 51.4% of the vote in a straight
fight against the Labour Party at a by-election. Labour regained the scat shortly
afterwards, at the General Election, and it was to be 21 years before the next SNP MP was
elected. Nobody said it would be easy!
Nevertheless, nationalist sentiment
throughout Scotland was growing. On Christmas Day in 1950 the Stone of Destiny on
which the Kings of Scotland were crowned. was taken from Westminster Abbey and returned to
Scotland by 4 Glasgow University students. They were led by Ian Hamilton, who stood as an
SNP candidate in the Scottish Parliament elections in 1999 some 49 years later.
Throughout the 1960s membership rose and
the party extended its base of support. The importance of this cannot he underestimated,
because the SNP then as now received no money from big business or trade unions but relied
totally on its membership for funds.
In 1966 the SNP fought its largest ever
number of seats at a General Election and won 14.3% of the vote.
However the first real electoral
breakthrough came in November 1967 when Winnie Ewing won a famous victory at the Hamilton
During her 3 years at Westminster, Winnie
had an electrifying effect on Scottish politics. She subsequently represented Highlands
and Islands in the European Parliament where she became known as Madame Ecosse. She now
sits in the Scottish Parliament, and is a great source of support and encouragement to
political newcomers, like myself.
During the 1970s the SNP launched one of
its most influential campaigns Its Scotlands Oil. The perception that the
Scottish people were being excluded from the economic benefits generated by the discovery
of oil and gas in the North Sea transformed Scottish politics and gave the SNP a major
boost in both membership and votes. The campaign strengthened the economic arguments in
favour of independence and underscored the need for Scotland to control her own resources.
This has been an important theme running though Scottish politics every since.
The General Elections in 1974 were a
breakthrough for the SNP with 7 MPs elected in February and 11 MPs elected in
October. This massive leap forward forced the pace of the political debate and the Labour
Government was compelled by public opinion to legislate for Scottish devolution.
In March 1979 a referendum on the Scotland
Act took place, under the burden of the notorious 40% rule. It meant that devolution could
not he passed by a simple majority hut required the support of 40% of the electorate. This
resulted in a situation where people who wouldnt or couldnt vote (including
the dead) were effectively counted as No voters. The Yes campaign won a majority hut only
32.9% of the electorate voted. When the Conservatives won the ensuing General Election,
most commentators believed that the issue of Home Rule for Scotland was dead.
Indeed after the crushing disappointment
and disillusionment of the referendum result, the SNP retained only 2 MPs, and the 1980s
were a difficult time for the Party.
But it was not only the SNP who found this
time difficult. The imposition of Tory policies by a government who had not been elected
by the Scottish people (Scotland always returns a majority of Labour members), was widely
seen as constituting a democratic deficit, which had to he addressed.
A revival followed, and the fortunes of the
Party were once again on the up. Towards the end of the decade, the Party Conference
passed a number of important policy decisions. committing themselves for example, to the
use of civil disobedience to defy the Poll Tax and endorsing the policy of Independence in
Europe. And in 1990 Alex Salmond became the new leader.
In the 1992 General Election the SNP gave
its best performance since 1974. But this increased share of the national vote did not
translate into increased seats because of the first past the post system used at
On average in
1992, it took 23,324 votes to elect a Labour MP; 42,651 votes to elect a Liberal
Democrat; 68,359 to elect a Conservative and 209,851 votes to elect an SNP MP!!!!!!
Im sure from that you can guess our policy position on PR.
At the end of 1992 a European Summit was held in
Edinburgh to mark Britains Presidency of the EU. Nothing could have so clearly
demonstrated Scotlands status as a nation without a voice and a remarkable 25,000
people demonstrated, demanding that the Scottish Parliament be recalled. The
"Scottish Question" was far from settled.
The 1997 General Election saw the end of Tory
dominance at Westminster and the first Labour government since the 1970s. In Scotland the
Tories were quite simply wiped out not a one left - and the strength of the SNP
vote (22.1%) forced Labour to deliver on their promise to legislate for devolution early
in the new Parliament. A referendum on the proposals for a Scottish Parliament, and
whether it should have taxvarying powers, was held in September 1997.
The Referendum Campaign saw an unprecedented level
of co-operation between the 3 main parties campaigning for a Yes/Yes vote, which many
hailed as evidence that the new Scottish politics could, and should, break the adversarial
On a turnout of over 60%, 74.3% of Scots voted Yes
to a Scottish Parliament and 63.4% voted Yes to tax varying powers.
The first elections to a Scottish Parliament were
set for May 1999. Some senior Labour politicians predicted that devolution would
"kill off" the SNP - however their confidence was greatly misplaced.
Fought under different rules, which introduced an
element of proportionality into the electoral system, the SNP could expect that their
share of the vote would be translated into actual seats.
Any hopes people may have nurtured that the new
Scottish politics would be more consensual and less confrontational than the Westminster
model were shattered by that campaign. The SNP faced an unprecedented onslaught, not only
from their unionist opponents, but also from the unionist owned Scottish media.
Under funded, under-staffed and underresourced, the
SNP fought a hard campaign without the aid of focus groups or influential journalists. As
always the party depended on its own members to drive the SNP campaign forward.
The result was 35 SNP members of the Scottish
Parliament, 7 elected on the first part the post constituency vote and the remainder
elected as additional members - enough to become the official opposition.
When the Scottish Parliament met for the first time
on the 12th May 1999, it was given to Winnie Ewing, as the oldest member present, to open
the proceedings. She did so with the words:
"The Scottish Parliament, adjourned on the 25th
March 1707, is hereby re-convened."
The opening of our Parliament was a very different
occasion from state openings of parliament at Westminster; no imperial pomp and
circumstance; the Scottish crown not on the Queens head but set in the centre of the
chamber as a symbol of the entire community; and the whole assembly singing Robert
Burns song of egalitarian internationalism, inspired by the French revolution,
"A Mans a Man". It was, said one commentator, "a Scandinavian rather
than a British day."
The Parliament itself looks as much a child of
Europe as an institution sired by Westminster. It is elected proportionally, using the
same constituency-list system as Germany. Unlike the House of Commons, its business is
determined collectively like most of Europe by a Bureau. For internal
appointments, it uses the dHondt system, invented by a Belgian. It has electronic
voting. And it sits, not two sword lengths apart like the Commons, but in a classic
European hemicycle. We speak, by the way, for 4 minutes which makes this speech
approximately 10 times longer than my usual contributions.
Another principal is equal opportunity. I am proud
to belong to a legislature where almost 40% of the Members are women. I would not be alone
is saying that the culture of a legislature where there is near parity between the sexes
is significantly less aggressive and more concerned with the practicalities of the issues.
And there is a determination across the parties that
what we are building is an inclusive society to which all who live in Scotland can belong,
regardless of their race, religion or colour.
I also mentioned accessibility. The very fact that
we are back among our own people ensures that there is often a lively, and public debate,
not least in the Scottish media, about issues before the Parliament. But all the business
of the Parliament is available on our website which is updated overnight. So for the
academics and students among you who have requested research papers, the Official Reports
of proceedings, discussion documents on the new Parliament which we are building at
Holyrood, I can reasonably say "Go to www.scottish.parliament.uk on the Internet." You will find
everything in total transparency there.
So far, so good. However, let me be clear what
devolution is. While we have virtually complete authority over our domestic business,
foreign affairs, defence, social security, macro-economic policy and the constitution
remain vested in Westminster.
The position of the SNP the second largest
party and the official opposition in Edinburgh is that devolution is a stepping
stone to Independence. Only independence and the real powers of a normal country will
unlock Scottish resources and potential and make a difference to the quality of life for
the people of Scotland. That is the message we will continue to preach, but we are not
averse to getting there bit by bit. And it is becoming increasingly accepted that
devolution is a process, not an event.
As Alex Salmond said at the opening ceremony of the
Scottish Parliament on July 1st last year, "This is not the end of Scotlands
journey". We are moving all the time from dependence to independence and there
will be a restoration of Scottish democracy.
not yet reached the end of the constitutional road and neither in consequence has
the rest of the UK.
And though not major determinants of Scottish
identity, we have 3 languages:
English, Gaelic and the Scots Leid, which have also
contributed to determining who we are. I am currently the President of the Scots Language
Surveys as recently as earlier this year, confirm
that Scots do not have the same difficulty with nationality as the English only 9%
of Scots residents describe themselves exclusively as British; 3% as more British than
Scottish; 27% as equally British and Scottish; but 28% as more Scottish than British; and
32% as Scottish not British.
It was the Irish poet Yeats who said,
"nationality is the velvet glove through which one reaches out to touch a wider
We are a party with a positive outlook on European
and international co-operation. The Scots are back in Europe as a distinct entity.
We argue that Scotland with roughly the same
population and gross domestic product as Denmark will be best served as an
independent state within the European Union.
But how would we manage, you might ask? There are
still probably 40 45 years of oil production in the North Sea. Since the 1970s
thousands of millions more pounds of taxation went out of Scottish waters into the UK
economy than we got back.
If you take OECD statistics quoted in the House of
Commons, Scotland is number 7 in the league table of richest countries and Britain is
number 18. The point is that Scotland is a rich country but not yet a rich society.
There is substantial poverty in my country and I
want to see some of these resources used in the way they have been used in Norway, to
guarantee a communitarian, caring, compassionate, socially just Scotland.
The crucial factor is to ensure that the economy of
Scotland works to the lasting benefit of our people. That means power over fiscal policy.
To illustrate that point, we have suffered recently from an extraordinarily strong pound.
This is killing Scottish exports, in a country that lives by exports. If we dont
sell what we produce, the future is bleak. But British macro-economic policy, damping down
our economy because the city of London is overheating, is having an extremely adverse
effect in Scotland. It is treating us for an illness we dont have.
The SNP is a moderate-left-of-centre party with its
message in tune with the mainstream of Scottish tradition. So what then is involved in the
process of transition to become a party of government in an independent Scotland? I think
we need to have clearly understood policies that address the key concerns of the public.
We also need to have a passionate and boundless ambition to raise the sights and the
expectations of our people and to make our independent country a nation renowned for its
fairness, its justice and its prosperity.
We want to encourage and promote an ambitious
Scotland. We know that the people who live there have high hopes and high expectations
for themselves, their families and for their nation. But we need only look around
Scotland to see that things must get better.
A nation where 350,000 children live in poverty is
not a nation fulfilling its ambitions.
A nation where our old folk are forced to sell their
homes to pay for their care is not a nation living up to its ambitions.
A nation where jobs are lost, hospital beds are
closed and schools are crumbling that is not an ambitious nation fulfilling its
But the ambitions of our nation are constrained at
the moment. Out nation can only deliver on its ambitions when the powers of our parliament
are completed with independence, and when improving health, eradicating poverty, creating
jobs and educating our children, become more than targets, when they become reality.
The Scottish people have invested a lot in their
Parliament, but already there is a growing realisation that it has limited powers and in
key areas, is totally subservient to Westminster. It is the job of the SNP to argue the
case for an independent Parliament and to demand greater power for the parliament we have
power over key policy areas such as employment, welfare and broadcasting. The SNP
believe that Scotland is in the process of moving towards Independence. It is our role to
complete the transition from Scotlands second party of government and in doing so to
provide the Scottish people with a direct route to independence".
Irene McGugan MSP
Irene McGugan, MSP was elected to the Scottish
Parliament (NorthEast Scotland) in May 1999. She has been an SNP member for 20 years and
led the campaign against the toll on Skye Bridge. She is Shadow Deputy Minister for
Children and Education (which includes a remit for Sport, Broadcasting and Gaelic). She is
a member of Rural Affairs and Equal Opportunities Committees.