On 28 March 1979 the House of Commons passed a Motion of No Confidence in the Government. It was the first (and only) time since 1924 that a British government had lost such a motion. The result of the following election is well known: Margaret Thatcher changed her address to 10 Downing Street, and it would be 18 years before the people of the United Kingdom again elected a Labour Party government. The Labour Government had become increasingly unpopular throughout the “winter of discontent”, but the final issue which sealed its fate was the Government’s failed attempt to introduce devolution to Scotland and Wales.
Polls had repeatedly shown that for several years the majority of the Scottish people wanted a greater degree of home rule. Administrative devolution through the Scottish Office was not considered sufficient and, indeed, many Scots were not even aware that it existed. In the post-war era the Labour Party had been the party of centralisation, and had successfully resisted any suggestions of devolving power to elected assemblies in the peripheries of the kingdom.
This thesis explores the rather abrupt change of policy regarding devolution to Scotland, which took place following the general election in February 1974, and aims to discover the reasons for this change and its consequences. It traces the development of the policy and the debate through two attempts at legislating for devolution in Parliament, concentrating on the debate within Labour and the effects the internal disagreement had on the final Scotland Bill. After a referendum campaign which clearly revealed the lack of unity within the Labour Party, the Bill was rejected by the Scottish electorate on the 1 March 1979, an event which triggered the fall of the Callaghan Government.
In search of the reasons for the Labour Party’s failure in bringing devolution to Scotland, this thesis illustrates the dangers of sudden policy changes when these do not permeate a political party or come as a demand from grassroots level, but are taken on board by the leadership for pragmatic reasons.