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Scotland, Empire and Decolonisation in the Twentieth Century$
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John MacKenzie and Bryan S. Glass

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780719096174

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719096174.001.0001

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Three referenda and a by-election

Three referenda and a by-election

the shadow of empire in devolutionary politics

(p.200) Chapter Ten Three referenda and a by-election
Scotland, Empire and Decolonisation in the Twentieth Century

Jimmi Østergaard Nielsen

Stuart Ward

Manchester University Press

The chapter examines one of the most persistent meta-narratives of the devolutionary debate in Scotland: that there is a link between the fall of the British empire and the rise of Scottish nationalism. Historians have been reluctant to accept the existence of any such causal link, but little scholarly attention has been paid to the ways in which the end of empire has often framed the debate on devolution. This chapter systematically investigates how the loss of empire has been invoked, either as an explanation for the rise of national sentiment or indeed as an argument for greater devolution, in four key events in the history of Scottish nationalism: The Hamilton by-election of 1967 and the three devolutionary referendums of 1979, 1997 and 2014. Drawing on archival material as well as press coverage in local and national newspapers, we show how ever since the late 1960s, the loss of empire, generating subtly different rhetorical responses in each case, has provided a ready backdrop for politicians and commentators alike in reflections on the nationalist endeavour. Spontaneously invoked at each devolutionary juncture and remarkably consistent and durable for more than half a century, this rhetoric and understanding of Scottish nationalism indicates the subtle, but surely important, political resonances of imperial decline in Scotland.

Keywords:   post-colonialism, nationalism, Scottish National Party, Devolution, referendum

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