North Sea Oil Strike
Correlation between Sporting and Political Failure
Wembley Goalpost Collapse
In June 1977, Scotland's footballers struck a hugely symbolic blow against their old enemy on the hallowed turf of Wembley Stadium. The exuberance
with which the Tartan Army tore down the Wembley goalposts was about more than just the result of a football match.
Not since the days of Bonnie Prince Charlie, three centuries earlier, had the Scots being so high on self-confidence. To understand why, you have
to go back to the event at the beginning of the decade that seemed to have transformed the fortunes of everyone in the United Kingdom. It happened
hundreds of miles north of Wembley, far from land.
Seven years earlier, beneath the cold waters of the North Sea, BP had hit the jackpot. After decades of decline, the discovery of North Sea oil
seemed a godsend for Britain's economy. Nothing captured the excitement more than this.
The thrills of drilling, the hazards and rewards as you bring in your own offshore oil strike. An exciting board game for all the family.
Offshore Oil Strike
The reality was even more exciting than the game, because in the first years of the 1970s, the oil companies made strike after strike. Forties,
Brent, Piper, Montrose and Auk. Now in the game, the first person to get to 120 million in cash is the winner. But the actual value to the British
economy of North Sea oil was estimated at almost £1 billion a year, and in the 1970s, that was serious money.
This must be the chancellor of the exchequer's favourite spot in the whole of Britain. It's the fiscal measuring bay, the point at which they
work out exactly how much oil is getting from the North Sea and exactly how much revenue all that is bringing in. But even before the very first
drops of black gold had passed through these pipes, North Sea oil was paying handsome dividends for the Scottish National Party.
Margo MacDonald MSP
For decades, the Scots had been the United Kingdom's poor relations. Very slowly the idea had been growing that Scotland should reclaim its
identity as an independent nation.
North Sea oil provided the means, it was a stunning windfall that could propel Scotland towards a more prosperous future outside the United
Kingdom. The effect was dramatic.
In 1973, Margo MacDonald of the Scottish National party was elected MP for Glasgow Govan. A seat that had been solidly Labour for 50 years. And by
November 1975, when the Queen arrived in Aberdeen to officially open the North Sea pipeline, the SNP, with its commitment to independence, had 11
MPs at Westminster and was the most popular political party in Scotland.
At the end of 1975, the Labour government finally responded to this surge in nationalist sentiment with a proposal for a referendums in Scotland
and Wales. Not on the question of independence, but on devolution. A form of limited self-government.
Edinburgh on Burns Night
This is Edinburgh, on Burns night. The most cherished evening on the Scottish calendar. An occasion to bring out the pipes, and the haggis. It
became a very significant date in modern Scottish history. Because after more than two years of Westminster bickering, it was on this night,
January 25, 1978 that MPs at last got the chance to vote on the government's plans for referendums.
But there was a twist in the tale. It was late that night that an independent-minded Labour MP, called George Cunningham, introduced a crucial
amendment. For devolution to pass, at least 40% of the entire electorate would have to vote for it. A simple majority of the votes passed would
not be enough. Now, not surprisingly, the Nationalists were absolutely furious. When the English start losing, said the SNP's Douglas Henderson,
they changed the rules of the game. The great irony, though, is that George Cunningham is Scottish.
Despite one Labour MPs attempt to thwart their ambitions, the Scottish Nationalists remained defiantly confident. The page of history seemed to be
with them, and that summer, the Scottish football team, the pride of the nation, was going to Argentina to win the World Cup.
The bandwagon was well and truly rolling. Even Rod Stewart wanted in on the act. And leading the parade was Scotland's manager, Ally McLeod. The
closed predictions of Scottish glory in 1978 have become legendary. A few weeks before Scotland flew out, he told the press "I'm convinced the
finest team this country has ever produced can play in the final of the World Cup and win. I'm so sure that we can do it that I gave my permission
here and now for the big celebration on 25th of June to be made a national Ally-day."
Even before a World Cup ball had been kicked, Ally MacLeod had become a household name, and so had his wife.
North Sea Oil Platform
England, of course, had famously failed to qualify for the tournament, so there was no danger of them bringing the trophy home to London. All their
fans had to look forward to was a new West end musical, due to open in the very same week that Ally MacLeod would be leading the boys into the World
Cup final. And in one of the coolest and funniest ironies in British sporting history, Evita's most famous song 'Don't cry for me Argentina' became
the unforgettable, unofficial, anthem of Scotland's trip to the World Cup.
One of the great saloon bar theories of British politics polls that it was England's dismal defeat by western Germany in the 1970 World Cup that
cost Harold Wilson has chance of victory in that year's general election. Given the place of football in Scottish national identity, it is
tempting to see Scotland's, frankly, abysmal performance in 1978 as the kiss of death for the devolution campaign. Because, when the referendum
was finally held on 1 March 1979 the wind had gone out of the nationalist sails.
When the referendum they arrived, a third of Scottish voters didn't even turn up. Another third voted for devolution, but that still fell short
of the 40% the law required. The devolutionists had lost.
Now, unfortunately, this great theory about the correlation between sporting failure and political failure doesn't quite work for Wales.
Bilingual Road Sign
The Welsh sense of national identity was no less deep and powerful than that of the Scots. It was rooted in Wales' ancient language and culture
long buried but now at last re-emerging. Symbolised, above all, by the Welsh people's pride in their magnificent rugby team. Nationalists had
already won the right to have Welsh taught in schools, and even the road signs were bilingual. And yet the Welsh sense of a distinctive identity,
powerful though it was, didn't extend to you desire for political independence. Because when the referendum on devolution was held in Wales at the
same time as in Scotland. The Welsh voted against it by a margin of almost four to one.
And so the United Kingdom survived the appeal of the 1970s, politically intact. But there was no denying that something had changed. The very
fact that devolution had been discussed at all was a powerful sign of how the old certainties where crumbling. As we entered the age of
identity politics, diversity was all the rage.