Vox Populi: ‘Remembering 1979’

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On 7 May 2013, the Centre was pleased to welcome Professor Christopher Harvie, who discussed ‘Remembering 1979’ as part of the ongoing Vox Populi seminar series. Below is this listener’s brief summary of the lecture.

On the run up to the 1979 devolution referendum, Scottish public opinion was around sixty per cent in favour, twenty against. So what changed in the meantime, that resulted in Scotland waiting until 1997 for devolution? (Interestingly, the turnout for 1979 was three per cent higher than in 1997!).

Professor Harvie indicated several factors which may have caused the change. Put simply, the atrocious, depressing winter could not have helped matters, with snow still falling when the polls opened. Furthermore, there was a general lack of enthusiasm for devolution within the Labour party. In some cases, it was riven by division on the issue, with the prominent, respected Robin Cook pushing for the ‘No’ campaign against the general will of the party. Exacerbating the issue was the sheer strength of rhetoric from the ‘No’ campaign.

Professor Harvie indicated the lack of devolution allow Margaret Thatcher to destroy much of Scotland’s manufacturing industry. While devolution may not have halted her plans, a stronger defence would have been mustered against her destructive economic policy. Thatcher effectively destroyed 20 per cent of the oil industry at a time when oil prices were booming. According to one contemporary, ‘She blew it on the dole’. In 1979 Scotland had around thirty per cent of its GDP in manufacturing but this has since shrunk to only twelve per cent today.

For Professor Harvie, re-industrialisation of Scotland is still desperately needed. Scotland should link up with Norway and/or Germany, in order to promote internal spending and external investment in the renewable energy industry. However, it may be a high mountain to climb as Professor Harvie noted that in his home-town of Motherwell there are only five lecturers in electrical engineering, compared with one-hundred and seventy in 1990. Yet perhaps following the Finnish example in the 1960s, Scotland can rapidly re-modernise the industrial sector.

Summary by Ross Crawford (PhD Researcher)

The Vox Populi series continues on 21 May with Brian Taylor’s ‘The referendum of 1997: the settled will of the Scottish people?’. This will be held in Room 611 of the Boyd Orr Building at 5.30pm.

Next Tuesday the Centre seminar series continues with Katherine Forsyth and Adrián Maldonado, ‘A magnum monasterium in SW Scotland? New work on Kirkmadrine and its stones’. This will be held in Room 202 of 3 University Gardens at 5.30pm. All welcome to both.

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