Revisiting … The Labour Party & Scottish Devolution, 1967-79: a case study in British political expediency

by Stephen Tall on January 5, 2010

This was the rather sententious title I gave to my undergraduate thesis, completed some 12 years ago. At the time I started it, summer 1997, Labour had just won their first landslide under Tony Blair, and I was a loyal party member.

thesis coverAt least in part, it was researching and writing my thesis that led me to leave Labour and join the Liberal Democrats: the recognition that Labour didn’t actually, really, truly believe in empowering individuals. In helping the disadvantaged out, yes; in sticking up for them as a group (as long as they belonged to a group of which Labour approved), no problems. But letting go of power – giving it to individuals because you trust them to make the right decisions about their lives most of the time – that’s not something that comes easily to Labour.

The history of the Labour Party and Scottish devolution presents a snapshot of this trait.

For sure, there were some key Labour figures who believed strongly in decentralising power. But they were a minority. Most went along with the leadership’s decision to initiate devolution legislation for the same reason the leadership was pursuing it: they hoped to dent the SNP’s growing popularity, and so save Labour MPs from defeat. Ideology, principle and belief were also-rans to the urgency of protecting the party’s electoral fortunes.

The thesis has been doing nothing useful these past 12 years, so over the next few weeks, lucky reader, I’m going to serialise it. I was slightly fearful of re-visiting something I researched and wrote when I’d barely turned 20; but it’s not as excruciating as I’d imagined. Some of it’s actually quite good. But judge for yourselves … Here’s the link to read the thesis as it’s published.