Crisis? What Crisis?

from Chapter 13: FRINGES
'It's coming some time, so maybe...'

At a time of crisis, not even the Union itself was safe...

...With a collapse in confidence in the mainstream, the 1970s did indeed prove fertile ground for fringe groups, both in politics and beyond. Some such began to transcend their position as fringe organizations in the period, as with the Liberals gaining nearly 20 per cent of the vote in February 1974, and the Scottish National Party later the same year topping 30 per cent in Scotland, though neither succeeded in overturning the iniquities of the first-past-the-post electoral system.

Others, including the National Front and the Campaign for Social Democracy (founded by Dick Taverne, after he was deselected as a Labour MP), flourished but briefly and then disappeared, their place taken by others of a similar inclination.

What they had in common, at least from a traditional perspective, was their appeal to that ‘bewildered bourgeoisie’ identified by Ellis. Jimmy Jack, secretary of Scottish TUC, was reported as saying in 1974 that ‘there was very little support for the Scottish National Party among the working class of Scotland; its adherents were mostly professional people, shopkeepers and small businessmen’. And, as home secretary Merlyn Rees saw it: ‘Welsh nationalism shows many of the traits of fascism.’

Such comments reflected the establishment fear that nationalism could become a powerful threat to the Tory–Labour duopoly, and might ultimately lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. These fears were not entirely groundless. A Scottish opinion poll in 1977 showed the SNP in the lead, with a clear margin over the Tories and Labour, and the following year the press became even more excited by the prospect of Scotland’s football team giving the cause of devolution a boost.

Having qualified for the 1978 World Cup (unlike England), Scotland were drawn in what looked like a straightforward group from which they were considered sure to qualify, along with the Netherlands, at the expense of Peru and Iran. And after that, with a team that included the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Joe Jordan and Archie Gemmill, who knew what might happen? The manager, Ally MacLeod, had promised to come home from Argentina with the trophy, and there were plenty who believed he might just do it, including the tens of thousands who put the official single, ‘Ole Ola’ by Rod Stewart, into the top 10.

If they did win, warned the Daily Mail in a leader column whose jocular tone could not conceal a very real unease, ‘Scottish pride would be like distilled firewater. Hooched up on that, the nationalists could rampage to victory up there in any general election that followed.’ (The imagery of ‘rampaging’ was a veiled reference to the match played in the summer of 1977 at Wembley, when Scotland beat England 2–1 to win the Home Championship, and their fans celebrated by invading the pitch, ripping up large chunks of the turf and breaking the crossbar of one of the goals by swinging from it.) ‘With their lips Jim and Maggie may be shouting for Scotland,’ added the Mail. ‘But in their political hearts they’ll be rooting for those bonny outsiders from Peru and Iran.’

If so, then they were not to be let down, unlike the high expectations of Scottish fans which suffered a shattering blow; a loss to Peru and a draw with Iran meant that not even a 3–2 victory over Holland was enough for Scotland to progress beyond the group stages of the tournament.

Even so, the issue of devolution dominated the last period of the Callaghan administration...

published by Aurum Press
© Alwyn W Turner 2008

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