The Early Years
Scotland has been an independent country for most of its history. But in the 18th century, under the terms of the Act of Union, that independence was lost – and there have been people determined to win it back ever since.
In the early years the drive to win back Scottish independence was particularly strong amongst Scotland’s artistic and literary community, as well as those seeking social reforms.
But it wasn’t until the early 20th century that the idea of Scottish Home Rule, a degree of self-government, became a realistic prospect for campaigners. Around this time a new Scottish Literary Renaissance, coalescing around the poet Hugh MacDiarmid, also began to articulate a vision of political and cultural revival in Scotland.
But making the case for change wasn’t easy in the House of Commons, and the failure of several Home Rule Bills led to widespread disappointment in the movement. Many campaigners decided a new political party was needed to deliver self-government, and the National Party of Scotland was formed in 1928.
In 1934 the National Party of Scotland merged with the Scottish Party to form the Scottish National Party. Dr Robert McIntyre became the SNP’s first elected MP in 1945, though the party remained a marginal force in Scottish politics.
In 1950 a small group of students from the University of Glasgow removed the Stone of Destiny, an ancient icon of Scottish independence, from Westminster Abbey. They hoped the gesture would reinvigorate demands for independence. Around this time a Scottish Covenant was also established, which collected around 1 million signatures for Home Rule.
The Road to Devolution
It wasn’t until 1967 that the independence movement experienced its first major breakthrough, when the SNP’s Winnie Ewing achieved a sensational by-election victory in Labour’s Scottish heartland.
With pressure mounting, Scotland was finally given a referendum on devolution in 1979, but a last-minute rule on voter turnout meant that, despite Scotland voting ‘Yes’, the result was rejected by Westminster.
An incoming Thatcher government led to renewed demands for self-government in Scotland, especially after the unpopular Poll Tax was introduced in Scotland first as an experiment. When the Conservatives went on to win their fourth consecutive term at the 1992 general election, campaigners set up a Vigil for a Scottish Parliament at the foot of Edinburgh’s Calton Hill.
The Vigil lasted 1,980 days until September 1997, when a second referendum on devolution was held. This time Scotland voted a resounding ‘Yes’, and in 1999 the Scottish Parliament, adjourned in 1707, was reconvened for the first time in 300 years.
The SNP was elected to lead a minority devolved Government in 2007, but was then re-elected in 2011 with a landslide, paving the way for a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014. The result of the referendum was 45% ‘Yes’, 55% ‘No’, and left a legacy of a grassroots independence movement far broader than the SNP. During this period Scotland saw unprecedented levels of political engagement, with a referendum turnout of 84.59%.
Pro-independence parties including the SNP, the Scottish Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party worked together in Yes Scotland, the umbrella organisation for the ‘Yes’ campaign. The organisation produced a Yes Declaration, drawing over 1 million signatures from across Scotland.
Groups such as National Collective, Women for Independence, Radical Independence, The Bus Party and others articulated transformative visions of a new Scotland, capturing the imaginations of many, including people engaging in politics for the first time in their lives.
Scotland votes to remain in Europe
The UK’s 2016 decision to leave the European Union, against the wishes of the majority in Scotland, has kept the question of independence at the forefront of Scottish politics.
Scottish voters were told they could only protect their EU citizenship by rejecting independence in 2014. But now Scotland faces being dragged out of Europe against its will.
All 3 devolved UK legislatures (the devolved parliaments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) have outright refused consent for Brexit.
For many Scots, Brexit has shown once and for all that Scotland’s voice cannot be properly heard within the UK.
Mandate for a new referendum
The SNP has increased its representation and secured a mandate for a second independence referendum over 4 separate Westminster and Holyrood elections.
In the 2019 general election, the SNP secured an overwhelming victory on the platform of giving Scotland a choice on its future.
The SNP won 80% of Scottish seats at the 2019 election, taking 47 out of 59 constituencies.
The Tories stood on an explicit platform to deny the Scottish people a choice and said “the Union is on the ballot”. They lost seats to the SNP, and were given no mandate to block Scotland’s democratic process.
While the Covid pandemic forced a pause on Scotland’s independence campaign, the 2021 Scottish Parliament election resulted in another resounding election victory for the SNP, on a manifesto pledge to hold a referendum.
Voters gave a renewed and the strongest ever mandate for Scotland’s choice – with the SNP and the Greens gaining seats, the highest ever number of pro-independence votes and the highest ever pro-independence vote share.
The co-operation agreement between the SNP and the Scottish Greens resulted in a clear pro-independence majority government, committed to giving the people of Scotland that choice in a referendum in the current term of Parliament.
What next? Scottish independence has been a long time coming – now it’s time to finish the job. Play your part in the movement and find out more about how to get involved.