2003 – 2018 A Time of Change?

Back in 2003 the Scottish Government was a coalition one with the Liberal Democrats and Labour. It then went under the title Scottish Executive – not a Government but an Executive – big difference in how its politicians thought about it. The First Minister was Jack McConnell, Labour, and his Deputy was Jim Wallace, Liberal Democrat.

Scottish Parliament in 2003

image Scottish Parliament

Today’s Scottish Parliament building was still under construction and would not see its first debate until the 7th of September 2004. The parliament held its meetings in The General Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh.

Scottish Government papers have now been released after the passing of a 15 year period and can be accessed by members of the public with a valid reader’s card at the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Paul Lowe, Chief Executive of NRS and Keeper of the Records of Scotland, said:

“These records are important for our understanding of our recent history as well as the fabric of our society. Preserving our records and making them available to the wider public is one of the most important aspects of our work here at the National Records of Scotland.

“It’s fascinating to see the range of important issues covered in 2003 ranging from discussions on civil partnerships to child protection and cultural policy in Scotland.”

I’m sure we all look forward over the coming weeks and months as researchers look into the files, the thinking behind decisions being made and we see how we were ‘governed’ back then.

2003 also saw elections to the Scottish Parliament.

Scottish Parliament after May 1st  2003

In 2003 The Scottish Parliament did not have enough MSPs from one party to form a Government and so Labour went in again to a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. They had been in a coalition with them from the re-convening of the parliament in 1999.

(Less than half the electorate of Scotland voted , 49.4%)

Labour 50 seats (46 constituency + 4 list), 38.8%, down by 6 seats. Leader Jack McConnell

SNP 27 seats (9 constituency + 18 list), 20.9%, down by 8 seats. Leader John Swinney

Conservative 18 seats (3 constituency + 15 list), 14%, no change. Leader David McCletchie

Liberal Democrats 17 seats (13 constituency + 4 list), 13.2%, no change. Leader Jim Wallace

Scottish Greens 7 seats ( all list), 5.4%, up 6 seats. Co Leader Robin Harper

Scottish Socialists 6 seats (all list), 4.7%, up 5 seats. Leader Tommy Sheridan

Independent 3 seats (2 constituency + 1 list), 2.3%, up 2 seats

Scottish Senior Citizens 1 seat (list), 0.8%, up 1 seat

The proportional representation system used for elections to the Scottish Parliament was designed so that no party would be able to achieve a significant majority. This was famously broken by the SNP in 2011 when continuing advances by the SNP  saw them take majority control over the government of Scotland.

The Iraq War Protests

2003 was a momentous year when the Labour UK Government under the premiership of Tony Blair took the country into an illegal war with Iraq.

New York anti war protest 2003

Anti War Protests – New York City – February 15th 2003 – Protesting War in Iraq credit: Alex Wright – alexwright.net

There were massive protests not only in the UK but worldwide as the UK joined with the USA and allies to invade Iraq.

The largest international protests took place on the 15th of February in over 60 countries.

London anti war protest 2003

London 15th of February 2003 credit: Simon Rutherford via Wikimedia Commons

In Scotland the Labour party conference was being held in Glasgow  with key note speaker PM Tony Blair. Labour MSPs in the Scottish Parliament had attempted to prevent a proposed demonstration from using the space outside the SECC where the conference was being held. Tommy Sheridan MSP, SSP, successfully argued that the demonstration should be permitted access. It is officially estimated that over 50,000 took part and the conference had to reschedule Tony Blair’s appearance to an earlier time to avoid him encountering the demonstration.

Protests took place across Scotland including in Shetland and Orkney.

Fire Fighters on Strike

2003 was also a year which saw fire fighters involved in  industrial action. It was the first UK wide fire fighters strike since the 1970s. The army was deployed to cover some places using ancient vehicles known as ‘Green Goddesses’. The dispute which was started late in 2002 was eventually brought to a close later on in 2003 but relations between the Fire Brigade Union and the Labour Government were severely damaged. FBU Firefighter October 2003

15 Years On

15 years is not a long time but over that short period the political landscape of Scotland has considerably changed with the SNP replacing Labour as the dominant political party. The Scottish Parliament has more powers and as Labour and the Liberal Democrats have declined, support for the Conservative party has increased.

Two referenda, one for Scottish Independence in 2014 and one to leave the EU in 2016 have left a nation with a critical choice to make in the year ahead.

Will the wishes of the Scots to remain in the EU produce enough of a shift to move them towards a majority vote for Independence?

The Scottish Parliament is producing legislation and charting a different journey for its People to that of rUK. 2018 Scottish Parliament Legislation: A Brexit Free Article

It is now under threat as the Brexit powered Westminster Government reduce or remove its existing powers. Will Scots decide they are big enough, clever enough and confident enough to be an independent nation?

Or are they as Johann Lamont, leader at the time of the Labour Party in Scotland stated “not genetically programmed to make political decisions” ?

2019 – is the year Scotland will decide if Johann Lamont was right.

“They always say time changes things, but you really have to change them yourself” Andy Warhol 

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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