Scotland Act 1978

Scotland Act 1978

The Scotland Act 1978 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom (Westminster) seeking to establish a Scottish Assembly as a devolved legislature for Scotland. The key difference between the failed Scotland Act 1978 and the successful Scotland Act 1998 is that under the 1978 legislation a very limited number of powers would have been specifically devolved to Scotland, whereas under the 1998 legislation it is the powers reserved to Westminster which are proscribed and limited: everything else not mentioned in the Act is automatically the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament.


Following Winnie Ewing's groundbreaking win for the Scottish National Party in the Hamilton by-election, 1967, the United Kingdom government responded to the growing support for Scottish independence by setting up the Royal Commission on the Constitution, better known as the "Kilbrandon Commission" (1969-1973). In response to the Royal Commission's report, the Labour government brought forward proposals to establish a Scottish Assembly. In November 1977 a "Scotland Bill" providing for the establishment of a Scottish Assembly was introduced; it received its Royal Assent on 31 July 1978.

The proposed Scottish Assembly

Had the Scotland Act 1978 entered force, it would have created a Scottish Assembly with very limited legislative powers. There would have been a Scottish Executive headed by a "First Secretary", taking over some of the functions of the Secretary of State for Scotland. Meetings of the Scottish Assembly would have been held at the Old Royal High School in Regent Road, Edinburgh. The former school hall was adapted for use by the Scottish Assembly, including the installation of microphones and new olive green leather seating. Members would have been elected by the "first past the post" system. The Scottish Assembly would have had the power to introduce primary legislation to be known as "Measures" (rather than Acts) within defined areas of competence. Some other new offices would have been created, such as a Comptroller and Auditor General for Scotland.

Two possible contenders for the post of First Secretary were the Reverend Geoff Shaw, leader of Strathclyde Regional Council, and Professor John P Mackintosh MP - but both died in 1978.Fact|date=May 2008

The controversial "40%" rule

In 1978 the Scotland Act was passed by the House of Commons, legislating for a Scottish Assembly, but the Act included a requirement for a "post-legislative" referendum: the Scotland referendum, 1979, held on 1 March 1979.

A unique amendment carried during its parliamentary passage, sponsored by George Cunningham, a Scot who represented an English seat, required that, rather than a standard simple majority, if less than 40% of the registered Scottish electorate voted in favour of its provisions, a Statutory Instrument repealing the Act would be introduced.

In the end 1,230,937 (51.6%) voted in favour of an Assembly, a majority in excess of 77,000, but this represented only 32.9% of the total registered electorate. The British government accepted the result of the referendum in accordance with the Act.

Because the condition that 40% of the total electorate should vote Yes was not met, the government immediately tabled a vote to repeal the Act. However the government's decision to drop devolution for Scotland led the Scottish National Party to withdraw its support for the government. A subsequent vote of no confidence led to the collapse of the Callaghan government, and an election was called. The vote to repeal the Act did not happen until 26 July 1979, at which point the Labour government had been replaced by a Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher.

The successful "Scotland Act" twenty years later

In 1998 the Scotland Act 1998 was passed establishing the Scottish Parliament.


ee also

*Scottish Constitutional Convention
*United Kingdom general election, 1979

External links

* [ Chapter 1, Events Prior to 1 May 1997, The 1979 Referendum] , The Holyrood Inquiry

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