John Smith, 20 years on
But McTernan’s article did pose one question that stands for the whole. The question is whether Smith would have held a referendum in Scotland on the proposal to restore a Scottish parliament.* Tony Blair upset most of the Labour establishment in Scotland when he insisted on the referendum before the 1997 election. Previously the view of most of Labour’s leading Scots, including Smith, was that a Scottish parliament was the “settled will” of the Scottish people and a referendum was not needed.
Blair was right to take the opposite view. Had he not done so, the devolution Bill would probably have been obstructed and sabotaged in the House of Lords.
Smith might have been persuaded of this, and he might have asked his friend Derry Irvine to manage the legislation as Blair did. But if he had not done so, and failed to deliver devolution, his legacy would not be so indulgently regarded now.
*A Scottish parliament, what is more, that would have the power to vary income tax by 3p in the pound – a power that the parliament has never used, and yet the Scottish National Party says that Scotland needs more power to run its own affairs.Tagged in: ancient history, contemporary history, john smith, labour history, Scotland, scottish devolution, snp
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