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Chapter 1

Events Prior to 1 May 1997

The 1979 Referendum

    • 1.1

      Earlier proposals for a Scottish Assembly nearly came to fruition in 1979 when the UK administration held a referendum to offer this constitutional change to the Scottish electorate. The outcome of the March 1979 vote was controversial; not least because a clause had been inserted during the Parliamentary proceedings of the Scotland Act on the initiative of a Labour backbencher, George Cunningham MP. This clause provided that unless 40% of all those entitled to vote voted in favour the Government had to lay an Order before Parliament which, if passed, would repeal the Act.

    • 1.2

      The referendum saw a narrow majority of those who voted in favour of the devolution proposals but some parts of Scotland voted against and, with a turnout of only 62.9%, the ‘Yes’ vote fell considerably short of the required 40% of the electorate. The Labour Government accordingly tabled an Order repealing the Scotland Act 1978 although Parliament did not vote on the Order until after the change of Government in May 1979. The experience of 1979 may have played some part in the subsequent determination of the incoming Labour administration in 1997 to ensure that its devolution proposals, including a building for the Parliament, were irreversibly established. This has been asserted as being the reasoning behind the Secretary of State’s swift move to secure a site for the Parliament so quickly after the success of the


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