On Calton Hill, near the old Royal High, you’ll find an odd monument – a cairn with a brazier on top. It commemorates the Vigil for a Scottish Parliament, which was held for 1980 days – from 1992 to 1997. One of the 26 Objects at the National Museum of Scotland exhibition was the tent for the traveling vigil, drumming up signatures for the Scottish Parliament. The vigil ended the day that Scotland voted Yes in the 1997 referendum: which had been part of the Labour manifesto.
All of this feels like recent events to me. I have to think to realise that that there are people who were old enough to vote in May 2010 who would have just started primary school on 11th September 1997 – for whom the Claim of Right for Scotland and the Scottish Constitutional Convention, if they remember them at all, are events from before they were born.
Here is the Claim of Right for Scotland, signed on 30th March 1989 at the General Assembly Hall in Edinburgh, where 10 years later the Scottish Parliament sat for the first time:
We, gathered as the Scottish Constitutional Convention, do hereby acknowledge the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs, and do hereby declare and pledge that in all our actions and deliberations their interests shall be paramount.
We further declare and pledge that our actions and deliberations shall be directed to the following ends:
To agree a scheme for an Assembly or Parliament for Scotland;
To mobilise Scottish opinion and ensure the approval of the Scottish people for that scheme; and
To assert the right of the Scottish people to secure implementation of that scheme.
Who signed it? 58 of the 72 Scottish MPs at the time. Seven out of eight of the Scottish MEPs. 59 out of 65 of the Scottish regional, district and island councils. Political parties. Churches. Trade unions.
Who didn’t sign it? The Conservatives and the SNP. The Conservatives were openly hostile to the idea of the SCC, and even tried to block the funding, but the SNP were initially part of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, and withdrew early, because they did not wish to support devolution instead of independence. On 30th November 1995, Scotland’s Parliament, Scotland’s Right was published by the SCC, and this document, described as the “blueprint for devolution”, was used as a basis to create the structure of the Scottish Parliament, re-opened in 1999.
Donald Dewar, the first First Minister of Scotland, died on 11th October 2000.
When Donald introduced his Scotland Bill in 1998, he read the first clause, ‘There shall be a Scottish Parliament’, paused, looked at his audience and beyond to the people of Scotland and said, ‘I like that’. It was powerful because it was so uncharacteristic of a man for whom the personalisation of politics was a matter of regret. But it was evidence of a longer, deeper and more nuanced commitment to devolution than one hears in John Smith’s more statesmanlike comment quoted above. But Smith had to convince the UK party that devolution was a good idea: Donald had to make it work. (Alan Alexander, Scottish Review, 1st July 2011)
A story got an unexpected amount of publicity on Twitter this afternoon because of a foolish and nasty comment by George Foulkes. He tweeted at 4:16pm, comparing a “CyberNat myth” to Holocaust denial. This kind of thing Godwins the argument before it starts: no matter what the facts, Foulkes had just lost, and furthermore, had foolishly let the argument not become about the plain facts of the matter but about his own unpleasant comment on it.
CyberNat myth that Devolution was forced on the Labour Govt.by EU or Council of Europe (stories vary) is akin to Holocaust denial
— George Foulkes (@GeorgeFoulkes) February 19, 2012
The story he is referring to is about a body referring to itself as the “Scotland-UN Commitee”, which claims to have sent a memorandum to the Council of Europe in 1993. (In fact there seems to be 0.5m worth of documents of various kinds which were presented to the National Library in 1997.) The founder and secretary, John G. McGill, also wrote under Craufuird C. Loudoun, and I tracked down an article he wrote in 2006 about the Wallace Loudoun Sword.
Mr. McGill, who is also published under the nom de plume “Craufuird C. Loudoun,” assures that the Wallace Loudoun Sword is still in Scotland and while he cannot reveal its exact location, he hopes that the current owners will put it on public display. When questioned about the number of Wallace swords in existence and he believes there are possibly four. The one in the archives at the Wallace Monument, the replica on display at the Wallace Monument which was created after the original was stolen in 1972, the current Loudoun Sword, and a possible fourth in the Wallace Collection in London.
If you know anything about the Wallace Sword, you know this kind of thing is popular BS. Tartan tat dressed up as history. There is a sword in the Wallace Monument in Stirling, and it has been popularly supposed for centuries to belong to William Wallace, and it was stolen in 1972 by three students who referred to themselves as the Tartan Army.
If you are old enough to remember the period 1979-1997, not as history but as current events, you know you never heard of this “Scotland-UN” pressure group: this self-description sounds awfully like some massive self-aggrandisement going on:
Scotland-UN was founded as a pressure group in the summer of 1979, shortly after the referendum on a Scottish Assembly. Its purpose was to take the UK Government’s response to that referendum, and the Scottish case for self-determination, to the United Nations and other international authorities. A delegation visited the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva in the autumn of 1980. Scotland-UN also presented its case at various times to the EEC Parliament, the Council of Europe, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE, now the OSCE), and every national government in the world. A number of documents were issued over the years, for example on the fishing situation. From the very beginning, Scotland-UN cooperated closely with other organisations active in the promoting a Scottish Parliament.
The article being tweeted this afternoon declared that there were “other personal papers” that were “still diplomatically sensitive” and which so couldn’t be listed in the NLS archives, and claims that the 1993 Scotland-UN Memorandum “triggered a programme of action in the Council of Europe that revolutionised the maintenance of democratic standards throughout Europe at one of the great turning points in European history, with a probable secondary effect worldwide” and is “the only authentic account of how the devolution of political power to Scotland and the restoration of the Scottish Parliament came about”.
This? Is nonsense.
There is a clear and trackable history of how the Scottish Parliament came about – you can follow it through Hansard, read about it in the Labour manifestos back when we all thought John Smith, not Tony Blair, was going to be the next Prime Minister. Moreover, you can read it in the records of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, and the Claim of Right is acknowledged by the SNP today, though they had no part in it back in 1989. You will find the “UN-Scotland Committee” nowhere in the History of the SNP.
Unlike the Conservatives, who embraced the Scottish Parliament shamelessly once it was reality, the SNP acted at all times with political principle; they wanted independence and not devolution, and while with hindsight it’s easy to see that the reality of the situation was that they had to support devolution if they wanted to be able to hold an independence referendum, still: they were clear about why they wouldn’t support the Claim of Right in 1989 or the ten years’ work the Labour and LibDem activists were doing to get devolution. I’m not a Labour Party member, I’m not a LibDem supporter, but I was there at the time, these are current events I lived through, and it’s just plain historical fact: without Donald Dewar and John Smith, without the cross-party constitutional convention, without the settled will of the Scottish people given formal expression by the Claim of Right, there wouldn’t have been a Scottish Parliament in 1999.
The article was written by one James Wilkie, who is the chair of an organisation called the Scottish Democratic Alliance. He lives in Austria. On 22nd June last year, he was awarded the Goldenes Ehrenzeichen für Verdienste um die Republik Österreich (the Gold Medal for Meritorious Service to the Republic of Austria) which is the 9th level down of a 15-level award system by the state, usually at this level given to delegates to the National Council after ten years in office, or to distinguished non-officials. I presume he wrote the article about his award: it was published at Electric Scotland, and it reads like it was written by the recipient dressing up his career and the significance of the award – in fact what it reads like is Johann Hari’s Wikipedia page back when Hari’s David Rose was editing it on his behalf. (James Wilkie writes for an English-language magazine called Austria Today, found online at AustriaToday.at.)
The Scottish Democratic Alliance was the Scottish Enterprise Party. The Scottish Enterprise Party ran for election in the third Scottish Parliament elections in 2007, fielded three candidates, got 1,025 votes. Currently they define themselves as a sort of internet-based think-tank: they certainly have at least two members – James Wilkie, living in Austria, and John McGill, living in Kilmarnock. This organisation has a website, which (I looked it up in WhoIs) is scottishdemocraticalliance.com, which is registered to James Wilkie. (The address WhoIs has for the website isn’t in Austria or in Kilmarnock: it’s in Leith, a small shop I know well by sight – Arkay Imaging Ltd, 228 Leith Walk.)
Pretty certain if this article on Newsnetweb was meant to accomplish anything other than give a retired gentleman in Austria a pleasant sense of achievement, making the years he spent at play with John McGill seem worthwhile, it was intended to make the Scottish Democratic Alliance look more like a real political party by inventing a kind of alternate history in which the letter-writing activities of these two friends over the years actually accomplished something.
George Foulkes was a fool to call this “Holocaust denial”. Not only is it grossly offensive, it also takes this kind of silly fiction altogether too seriously: and any number of people tweeted about Foulkes’s comment who would have ignored the silly article if Foulkes had let it alone.
On the day of the opening of the parliament in 1999, people on the Royal Mile, as he passed by, broke into song: to the tune of the Cuban anthem Guantanamera, they sang, ‘There’s only one Donald Dewar, there’s only one Donald Dewar’. It was true, and for me it vies with Sheena Wellington’s unaccompanied rendition of ‘A Man’s a Man for a’ That’ as the enduring memory of the day. (Alan Alexander)
I’ve expended more time on this than it probably deserved, and I never planned to do three blog posts in one day ever. What’s still current events to me is history to others: and history is a matter of fact. James Wilkie wants to write himself into Scottish history from his Austrian home: he’ll do less harm if we ignore him.