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In its 1997 General Election Manifesto, entitled New Labour : Because Britain Deserves Better, 'New' Labour laid out its case to the electors :

I want a Britain that is one nation, with shared values and purpose, where merit comes before privilege, run for the many not the few ...(p. 1)
We are a broad-based movement for progress and justice. New Labour is the political arm of none other than the British people as a whole. Our values are the same : the equal worth of all, with no one cast aside ... (p. 2)

We will make education our number one priority ... (p. 6)
We will promote personal prosperity for all ... (p. 10)
We will get the unemployed from welfare to work ... (p. 18)
We will save the NHS ,.. (p. 20)
We will be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime ...(p. 22)
We will strengthen family life .,. (p. 24)

This programme seemed to strike a chord among electors after 18 years of Conservative Government and the Labour Party was swept into office. In 2001, once again the Labour Party laid out its plans for a second term in its Manifesto entitled : New Labour New Britain- Ambitions for Britain.

My passion is to continue the modernisation of Britain in favour of hard-working families, so that all our children, wherever they live, whatever their background, have an equal chance to benefit from the opportunities our country has to offer and to share in its wealth... (p. 3)

Britain is better off than in 1997 - but our ambition is to widen the winners' circle so more people share in the benefits of economic growth... (p. 13)

The whole country depends on high-quality public services. We have a ten-year vision for Britain's public services : record improvement to match record investment, so they deliver high standards to all the people... (p. 17)

Once again Labour obtained a very large majority of seats in the House of Commons. But what specifically have the two Labour governments led by Tony Blair managed to achieve ?

  • The introduction of a minimum wage
  • A significant reduction in unemployment
  • A strong economy
  • The 'solid' foundations of change in the consideration of the public services, especially education and the NHS.

In 1999, the Government published Opportunity For All : Tackling Poverty and Social Exclusion (Cm 4445) :

When we came into office, we inherited a country where one in five children lived in a household where no one worked, thousands left school without basic skills... For many people, the past two decades have brought rising prosperity and widening opportunities. But far too many individuals, families and communities have not shared in the benefits of economic growth. And for many, disadvantage has been passed from generation to generation as children inherit poverty from their parents ... it is that injustice and waste that the Government is determined to tackle... In particular, the Prime Minister has set out our aims of eradicating child poverty within 20 years, of confronting the waste of long-term unemployment, and of bringing deprived neighbourhoods up to the standards that the rest of Britain takes for granted - cutting crime, increasing employment, improving health and housing.

In June 2001, just after the Labour victory, Chancellor Gordon Brown vowed that no child should be left behind as he sought to tackle the question of deprivation among the 3.2m British children living below the poverty line. He claimed that during the first Labour period of office, 1m children had been lifted above the poverty line : the aim was to lift a further 1m above the line by 2005. (Source)

In April 2002, new figures undermined Labour's boasts at having already achieved the success mentioned above : the real figure should, according to official figures, be nearer half a million and not 1m. (Source)

At the budget in April 2002, the Labour Government increased National Insurance contributions and also increased investment in the NHS. Is Tony Blair's Labour Government a clone of Mrs Thatcher's and John Major's Conservative Governments or does it in fact have a significant social agenda ? Is the aim to reduce inequalities and poverty in Britain today and in the future ?

Introduction

On May 1st 1997, a general election took place in the UK. It was won by the Labour Party after 18 years of Conservative Government (1979-1997).The political programme of the Labour party included a vast number of constitutional reforms and manifestos:

  • devolution (power to the regions) to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and English regions (wide range).
  • reform of the House of Lords.
  • incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into British law.

The Labour Government was for devolution because there were demands for more autonomy (yet not the same demands):

  • Scotland: Parliament (law making body)
  • Wales: Assembly
  • Northern Ireland: Assembly and power-sharing executive between Catholics and Protestants.

The Scotland Act

September 11th 1997: referendum in Scotland on devolution. Majority of "Yes" votes. The Scottish Bill was introduced and validated. It became the Scotland Act in 1998, which defines the Scottish Parliament, its rules... The next stage was the 1st Scottish General Election. Donald Dewar, who had been Secrtary of State for Scotland in Tony Blair's Government became the First Minister of Scotland. Labour did not have a majority and made an alliance with the Liberal-Democrats (coalition executive).

Between mid-May and the end of June, the Scottish Parliament met on a regular basis but it was officially opened by the Queen on July 1st 1999.

Opinion polls about the Scottish Parliament

Scottish Parliament has achievedSept. 2000Feb. 2001
 
A lot11%25%
A littleless than 56%56%
Nothing at all29%14%

This study was conducted in Scotland only. The positive views more than doubled. The Scottish Parliament cannot change things overnight, some decisions might take some time.

The Scottish Parliament

Achieved things in certain areas:

  • the abolition of poindings and warrant sales.

This old law obsolete concerned people who had too many debts and could not pay the loans back. The company to whom money was owed could easily seize the property of those people. The British Parliament had to repeal it but had not any time to discuss: the Scottish Parliament repealed it.

  • tuition fees.

Were introduced by Tony Blair. Before, students received grants from the State when the number of students was low. As it increased, it became a problem. Thatcher suppressed grants and adopted loans. Those loans were for 3 years: it meant lots of money to pay back and some students stopped their studies (masters) because they could not afford it.

Tuition fees were £1,000 per student to enter University. It was a very unpopular measure, especially in Scotland. Only the Labour party was defending it. At the election of 1999, the Labour party won but did not get the majority. They formed a coalition with the Lib-Dem and the latter asked for the abolition of tuition fees. That is why tuition fees do not exist in Scotland for Scottish students. They exist in Britain and Wales for everyone. Scottish students do not pay £1000 each year but they have to pay back £2,000 (for the four-year degree course in Scotland) when they start earning £10,000 a year. It is a lump sum and you pay for the next generation (idea of solidarity).

The slippery slope to independence

One possible scenario for the independence of Scotland :

  • the SNP should win a majority of seats in Scottish Parliament,
  • organize a referendum,
  • if there is a majority of "Yes" votes, go to the British Parliament,
  • pass a bill for Scotland's independence.

Introduction

The SNP was born in 1934. It was not very successful as a political party (poor results). In April 1945, the SNP sent for the first time an MP to Parliament (Motherwell by-election). In July, the same year, it lost its unique seat during the general election.

1950's: poor results

Due to the lack of cohesion within the party: there were lots of divisions on a number of issues. And it had e negative image in public opinion: nationalism was considered as evil and often associated with Nazi Germany and World War II.

1960's: breakthrough

1967: Hamilton by-election won by the SNP. The candidate elected was a woman, Winnifred Ewing.
1968: local elections. Very good results for the SNP.

People felt Scotland was spared the benefits of the economic boom of the United Kingdom. Scotland was among the regions which benefited least. Feeling of discontent among the Scots. The SNP made progress.

After 1968, the SNP started to be taken seriously by both the Labour and the Conservative parties. Reactions :

  • Conservative Party (in opposition)

    In May 1968, Edward Heath (leader of the Conservative party) said he would give Scotland an Assembly: this is known as the "Declaration of Perth". He created a constitutional committee presided by Sir Alec-Douglas-Home. The committee produced a report called "Scotland's Government" in 1970.

    Recommendations:
       - creation of a Scottish Assembly,
       - 125 members elected directly,
       - powers to initiate and discuss Bills (to be approved by the British Parliament in Westminster).

  • Labour Party (in office)

    The Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, appointed the Royal Commission on the Constitution in 1968. The chairman was Lord Kilbrandon and it is referred to as the "Kilbrandon Commission". It produced 2 reports in 1973.

    Recommendations:
       - creation of a Scottish Assembly,
       - members elected directly by Proportional Representation (major innovation compared to the first-past-the-post system).

1970's: ups and downs

The 1970's General Election saw the Conservative victory. Edward Heath became Prime Minister. In 1968, he had said that he would give Scotland its Assembly... it was no longer on the agenda. One of the priorities was the EEC membership (should Britain join the European Union: she did in 1972) and the industrial relations. SNP got bad results and was less of a threat for the other parties. And there was the argument that a commission had been appointed.

1971: discovery of oilfields in the North Sea. The SNP used it as an argument: Scotland could be independent because she had enough money. It gave a boost to the SNP, which launched a campaign entitled "It's Scotland's Oil".

1974: general election. SNP results:
     February: 22.1%        7 MPs
     October:   30.4%     11 MPs
No party obtained the majority in Parliament: "hung Parliament". Small majority with the 2nd election in October.

October 1976: the Scotland and Wales Bill was introduced in the House of Commons. The Labour Party in Scotland was not in favour of devolution. Strong opposition from Labour and Conservatives: hundreds of amendments were proposed. As there were too many divisions and amendments, the Labour Government chose to withdraw the Bill.

November 1977: the Scotland Bill and the Wales Bill were introduced in the House of Commons. Why a new try ? Because the Labour Government had lost its majority and relied on the Nationalists or the Liberals. So two different Bills: one for Scotland and one for Wales. 1977: Lib-Lab pact (Liberals and Labour governing together).

February 1978: the Scotland Act.
It was never applied: 2 amendments killed the Act:

  • 1st amendment: a referendum should apply the Scotland Act (the Scots should vote for it),
  • 2nd amendment: minimum threshold of 40% of "Yes" votes, called "the 40% rule" or "the Cunningham Amendment": 40% of the registered voters should vote "Yes".

The referendum took place on March 1st 1979. The turnout was 63.8%.
   - 51.6% Yes    [32.5% of registered voters]
   - 48.4% No      [30.8% of registered voters]

A motion of no confidence is voted by the SNP and the Conservatives (kind of alliance). It was adopted by a majority of 1 vote and, as a result, the Prime Minister resigned. The Parliament was dissolved and a general election was set up.

May 1st 1979: Conservative victory: Margaret Thatcher becomes PM.The Scotland Act was immediately repealed.

Sommaire de la série Scottish Politics: devolution

  1. Definitions : the State, the Nation, Home Rule and Devolution
  2. Scottish Home Rule
  3. The Act of Union of 1707
  4. The rise of the Scottish National Party (SNP)
  5. The Scottish Parliament

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