A Potted History of Scottish Political Parties

Suffrage in Scotland

Until the advent of the 1884 Burgh Reform Act, few in Scotland were allowed to vote. Even after the 1884 Act only around 60% of the adult male population of Scotland was allowed to vote - primarily land and property owners. In Scotland and the UK, politics after this period was dominated by the Liberal Party. However, after the end of the First World War the 1918 Representation of the People Act finally gave women the vote (although only to property owners over the age of 30), and lowered the voting age for men to 21.

The Rise of the Left

Red Clydeside

After 1918, Scottish politics took a decidedly leftist, nationalist tone - the rise of the Red Clydesiders and the General Strike of 1926, the Independent Labour Party once chaired by Keir Hardie, the 1919 riots in Glasgow's George Square. The Labour Party finally formed a UK Government in 1924 under Ramsay MacDonald, a teacher and clerk born in Morayshire. Later the UK government shifted from Labour to a Conservative/Liberal alliance, but Labour's support in Scotland remained strong.

Winnie Ewing: Stop the World

The Nationalist movement had its roots in the Scottish Home Rule Association of the 1880s, which had advocated a devolved Scottish government. A Home Rule bill was presented to parliament in 1913, but was interrupted by the First World War. Although the Nationalist movement grew during the 1920s they remained on the fringes of Scottish politics. The Scottish National Party was formed in 1934 following the merger of the National Party of Scotland and the Scottish Party. The SNP's first parliamentary success came in 1945, but election winner Dr Robert McIntyre refused to sit in Westminster and lost his seat three months later. The first SNP MSP to actually sit in parliament was Winnie Ewing, elected for Hamilton in 1967.

  • Stop the World: The Autobiography of Winnie Ewing

Conservative and Unionist Growth

During this post-war period, Scottish politics was split between Labour and the Unionist parties, with the Unionists achieving their first Scottish majority in 1955. But during the 1960s support for the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, as it was now called, began to decline; Labour began to dominate again after a large swing to the party in 1964. In 1969 the Representation of the People Act finally gave universal suffrage to adults - male and female - over the age of 18.

History of the SNP

The Nationalists returned seven MPs in the first 1974 General Election, and three more in the second election that year - to date, their greatest ever vote. In Scotland Act of 1978 proposed a devolved Scottish assembly, but this Act failed following the controversial "40%" rule in the 1979 referendum. The SNP withdrew its support for the government, which led to collapse of the Callaghan government and the rise of the Tories - in England - under Margaret Thatcher.

Labour's Landslide and The Scotland Act 1998

Getting it Together

In 1992 the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party (the 'Tories') lost all their Scottish seats at Westminster. Labour's landside general election victory in 1997 paved the way for a devolution referendum - 74% of the electorate voted in favour of a Scottish Parliament, and 60% voted that it should have tax-varying powers. The Scottish Parliament was formed following elections in 1999, but no political party had a clear majority under the mixed first-past-the-post and additional member system voting system. Labour and the Liberal Democrats joined to form a coalition government, with the SNP as the Official Opposition. The 2003 Scottish Parliament election made no overall change to the Scottish government. There was however a rise in the number of parties gaining seats at the fringes of the political spectrum, from The Scottish Socialist Party, to the Scottish Green Party and the Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party.

A Nationalist Scotland?

In 2007, the Scottish National Party won enough seats to become the largest party in Scotland, but fell short of the majority required to form a majority government. Rather than form a strict coalition, they ruled as a minority government, calling in the support of the smaller parties, independents and the Conservatives to pass legislation. This all changed in the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary elections, when the SNP swept the board and won an outright majority - something which was not supposed to happen under the proportional voting system in Scotland. The Liberal Democrats suffered hugely, in part because of their own coalition with the Conservatives in the Westminster Parliament.

The Scottish Political Parties

Scottish Labour

The Scottish National Party

The Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party

The Scottish Liberal Democrats

The Scottish Socialist Party and Solidarity

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