1970 General Election

1970 General Election


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Political Parties

Total Votes

%

MPs

13,145,123

46.4

330

2,117,035

7.5

6

12,208,758

43.1

288

37,970

0.1

0

Plaid Cymru

175,016

0.6

0

Scottish National Party

306,802

1.1

1

Republican Labour Party

30,649

0.1

1


1970: An Election Fifty Years Ago

Fifty years ago, in 1970, a general election took place in Pakistan. It was the country&rsquos very first election in its twenty three-year history. It would have ramifications that are today part of the political narrative in our part of the world. It is important that, half a century on, we travel back to that year, the better to remember all that happened in the twelve months of an exciting period in our times, the better to acquaint the generations that came to life following that election and following the emergence of Bangladesh with the story of a defining phase in the evolution of our national history.

The year commenced through Pakistan&rsquos political parties getting down to the business of electoral campaigning in both East and West Pakistan. In the East, the Awami League under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman publicly made it known that the election would be fought on the basis of the party&rsquos Six-Point Plan for regional autonomy. Indeed, the election would be a referendum on the Six Points. In the West, the picture appeared to be somewhat muddled, with the various factions of the Muslim League, the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Pakistan People&rsquos Party, the National Awami Party and other parties turning the field into a crowded affair.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, having formed the PPP in November 1967 more than a year after leaving the government of President Ayub Khan, campaigned on the slogan of Islam, Democracy and Socialism, though not much of an academic explanation of the theme was to come forth from him. The Jamaat insisted on the structure of the state being Islam, a point hardly any other party in West Pakistan took issue with. The NAP, led by Khan Abdul Wali Khan, remained focused on Baluchistan and the North-West Frontier Province (Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa today). The Convention Muslim League, weakened following the departure of Ayub Khan from power in March 1969, was led by the Bengali politician Fazlul Quader Chowdhury. The Council Muslim was the fiefdom of Mian Mumtaz Daultana, while Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan had his own version of the party, known as the Muslim League (Qayyum).
The martial law regime of President Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan decreed, in 1970, that the election would be based on the Legal Framework Order. A specific provision of the LFO was that following the vote, the elected representatives of the people would have 120 days to frame a constitution for the country. Once that was done, the constitution would go to the President, who would have the authority to accept or reject it. In that year, the regime took the rather remarkable step, in the face of demands by the political parties, of doing away with the One Unit system in West Pakistan (which had been imposed in the mid-1950s) and restoring the old provinces of the Punjab, Sindh, NWFP and Baluchistan. The abolition of One Unit meant that seats in the national and provincial assemblies would be allocated on the basis of one-man one-vote in the five provinces, which was a boon for East Pakistan since being home to the majority of Pakistan&rsquos population it had 169 seats in a 313-seat national assembly.

During the election campaign, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman made a whirlwind tour of the West Pakistani cities of Karachi, Lahore, Quetta and Peshawar between the end of June and early July. Overall, though, the Awami League concentrated on East Pakistan and did not seem particularly preoccupied about its prospects in the West. Bhutto and his colleagues in the People&rsquos Party did not engage in any campaigning in East Pakistan. Moulana Abul A&rsquoala Moududi, chief of the Jamaat-e-Islami, was unable to address a public rally in Dhaka owing to public resistance. At one point of the campaign, the Convention Muslim League&rsquos Khan Abdus Sabur, who had served as central communications minister in the Ayub dispensation, revealed in public that he had warned the former President of the dangers of instituting the Agartala Conspiracy Case but had been overruled. The faction of the NAP led by Moulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani was considered a significant challenge to the Awami League in East Pakistan, but when the Moulana decided that his party would boycott the election, it became pretty obvious that the Awami League would have a smooth sailing. However, during the entirety of the election campaign, the hope in West Pakistan was that even if the Awami League garnered the largest number of seats, all the other parties would in coalition have enough seats to prevent Bangabandhu from forming the government at the centre.

Qayyum Khan visited East Pakistan and on his return to West Pakistan, he informed the crowds at his rallies that there was absolutely no support for the Awami League among Bengalis. The Pakistan Democratic Party, led by former Chief Minister Nurul Amin, waged a brave battle in the East. Much a similar struggle was put up by Tridiv Roy, the Chakma Raja. In the midst of the campaign, Z.A. Bhutto&rsquos motorcade came under attack in the Sindh town of Sanghar. Leaping down from his vehicle, he dramatically bared his chest before his invisible assailants, daring them to shoot him. A.R.S. Doha, the lone Bengali candidate from the Awami League in West Pakistan, was placed under arrest by the regime on charges of making inflammatory speeches in public.

The election, scheduled for October, was deferred by the regime owing to the devastating floods sweeping East Pakistan and rescheduled for early December. On 12 November, a severe cyclonic storm battered the coastal areas of East Pakistan, leaving a trail of destruction that included a million Bengalis dead. The failure of the central government to take immediate relief measures --- and this at a time when foreign aid agencies and the Awami League engaged themselves in providing succour to the survivors --- earned it a natural degree of opprobrium from all quarters. President Yahya Khan, on a visit to China at the time, felt little need to cut his trip short and return to the country. He did come to East Pakistan, though, at the end of the China visit and went on a tour of the cyclone-battered region. It was too late too little.

A few days before the country went to the polls, Moulana Bhashani, on a whim, declared the &lsquoindependence&rsquo of East Pakistan on 4 December. The statement made little impression on the public mind.

On 7 December, the results of the vote left people in both wings of Pakistan stunned beyond measure. The Awami League, on the day and over the following days, ended up winning altogether 167 of the 169 seats earmarked for East Pakistan. Bhutto&rsquos People&rsquos Party romped home in West Pakistan with 88 seats. Among the other parties, the Qayyum Muslim League won 9 seats, the Council Muslim League obtained 7 seats, the Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Islam (Hazarvi Group) had 7, the Markazi Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam (Thanvi Group) won 7 seats, the National Awami Party of Wali Khan had 7 seats, the Jamaat-e-Islami secured 2 seats, the Convention Muslim League had 2 seats, the Pakistan Democratic Party had a single seat, this being won by Nurul Amin and independent candidates who won seats were 14 in number. In Mymensingh, Nurul Amin beat back the Awami League wave to win his seat in the national assembly. In the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Raja Tridiv Roy emerged triumphant. In effect, the Awami League, with its clear majority in the national assembly, was poised to form Pakistan&rsquos first democratically elected government. It was expected that the People&rsquos Party would be the opposition in the assembly.
Toward the end of the month, on 20 December, PPP Chairman Z.A. Bhutto declared in Lahore that without his party&rsquos cooperation no constitution could be framed and no government at the centre could be formed. Referring to the triumph of the Awami League, he stated that &ldquomajority alone doesn&rsquot count in national politics.&rdquo He made it known that the keys to power lay in the Punjab and Sindh, which was a clear provocation for the majority Awami League.

The next day, 21 December, Tajuddin Ahmad, General Secretary of the Awami League, in response to Bhutto&rsquos statement, stated unequivocally in Dhaka that the Punjab and Sindh could no longer aspire to be &lsquobastions of power&rsquo and that the Awami League was quite competent to frame the constitution and form the central government of Pakistan.

As 1970 drew to an end, it was becoming increasingly clear that efforts were afoot in West Pakistan to repudiate the results of the election and prevent the Awami League from forming the first elected government of Pakistan in Islamabad.


The Watershed Moment in 1970 Elections That Broke Pakistan

The 1970 general elections were a fierce contest between two social democratic parties – the west-based Pakistan Peoples Party of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and the east-based Awami League of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Amzad Hossain with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of Awami League, on 12 November 1969. Photo: Shakil.iftekhar/ CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikimedia Commons

General elections were held in Pakistan on December 7, 1970 – 50 years ago today – to elect members of the National Assembly. They were the first general elections since the independence of Pakistan and ultimately the only ones held prior to the independence of Bangladesh. Voting took place in 300 constituencies, of which 162 were in East Pakistan and 138 in West Pakistan.

The elections were a fierce contest between two social democratic parties – the west-based Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and the east-based Awami League of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The Awami League was the only major party in the east wing, while in the west wing, the PPP faced competition from the conservative factions of the Muslim League – the largest of which was Muslim League (Qayyum), as well as Islamist parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP).

The result was a victory for the Awami League, which won an absolute majority of 160 seats, all of which were in East Pakistan. The PPP won only 81 seats, all in West Pakistan.

In the provincial elections held ten days later, the Awami League again dominated in East Pakistan, while the PPP won Punjab and Sindh. The Marxist National Awami Party emerged victorious in the Northwest Frontier Province and Balochistan.

The National Assembly was initially not inaugurated as the military dictator Yahya Khan and the PPP chairman Zulfikar Ali Bhutto did not want a party from East Pakistan heading the federal government. Instead, Yahya appointed the veteran Bengali politician Nurul Amin as prime minister, asking him to reach a compromise between the PPP and Awami League. However, this move failed as the delay in inauguration had already caused significant unrest in East Pakistan. The situation escalated into a civil war that led to the breakup of Pakistan and the formation of the independent state of Bangladesh. The assembly was eventually inaugurated in 1972 after Yahya resigned and handed power to Bhutto. Bhutto became prime minister in 1973 after the post was recreated by a new constitution.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, 1971. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Pakistan’s tryst with history

The irony is that the December 7 election, which led directly to the breakup of Pakistan, was seen at the time as a great and historic day – on which crores of Pakistanis used their right to vote and assert their sovereignty.

The National Assembly elections and the enthusiasm they generated was a golden chapter in the history of the struggle for democracy in Pakistan. Until just a few years before, a military dictator used to say that democracy was not suited to the temperament of Pakistanis.

By voting the way they did, the people proclaimed that they had grown weary of the then-prevalent political and social system in the country and wanted to change it as soon as possible. They stood by every such slogan and party which stood for social revolution. Ranged against them were those who claimed Islam was in danger, or that the ideology of Pakistan was in danger. Fatwas of apostasy and heresy were issued upon socialism and its supporters and the election of the National Assembly was presented as a war between Islam and evil. Extremely provocative things were said about the left-wing parties in newspapers, mosque sermons but this storm of propaganda could not influence the people. They were not deceived by the Islamists because their daily experiences had made them aware that the demon of exploitation had worn the clothing of Islamism.

Everyone knew that the sole purpose of the 1970 election was to devise a democratic constitution. There was a strong possibility that indeed if a compromise developed between the Awami League and the Peoples Party then the constitution could very easily be framed in the appointed period of four months.

Approximately two dozen political and religious parties participated in the elections. Their manifestoes emphasised a solution to the political, economic and social problems of the country and made rosy promises to the people but the results of the election showed that only two parties – the Awami League and the PPP – were acquainted with the habits and disposition of the nation and were those who had the knowledge of the pulse of the feelings, emotions and desires of the people. The motto of both these parties was socialism. On the other hand, the parties which had started off as claimants of the Islamic system to contest the election were totally unsuccessful in identifying with the mood of the common people.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and most of his comrades had been busy in political activities since the very days of the Pakistan movement and their political party was old and experienced but Bhutto and the Peoples Party were young. The systematic organisation of the Peoples Party was hardly two years at that time. In this short duration, the popularity which this party attained especially in Sindh and Punjab was astonishing. This party had participated in the elections in very unfavourable conditions. Most party workers were young and inexperienced, and the experienced ones were in jail.

East Bengal Cabinet, 1954. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Public domain

Great responsibilities befell the Peoples Party and the Awami League after this success. They were no longer provincial parties and Mujib and Bhutto were not the leaders of a region but the whole nation. Now they had to prove with their word and action that they were eligible for this position and the trustees of peoples’ interest. The problems and interests of the people were the same everywhere whether they were in Sindh or in Bengal, Punjab, then-North West Frontier Province and Balochistan.

This victory was a big test for the Peoples Party. Its victory at least illuminated the reality that the dominant majority of then-West Pakistan was safe from provincial prejudice, religious frenzy, sectarianism and differences of caste. But the path to political power is very difficult and the PPP and Bhutto failed to do what was needed of them.

It is said that Ravana of Lanka had a thousand hands and when one of his hands got injured, he began to fight with the other hand. Similarly, the affluent classes too have a thousand hands. They do not admit defeat easily nor do they withdraw happily from their political and economic dominance. It is correct that the people clearly defeated them in the 1970 elections but wealth is not an intoxication which an election verdict can take off. The need of the hour was to beware this unlimited power of the enemy.

The stamp of this economic power of the wealthy could also be found on Pakistan’s national laws and institutions of law and order, especially the military, which were arrayed against popular demands whether it be the clash of democracy and dictatorship, the conflict of capital and labour, the struggle for citizens’ rights, the demand for wage increases or linguistic rights.

Sometimes section 144 was imposed to maintain peace, sometimes strikes were declared illegal under cover of basic industry, sometimes people were arrested without registering a case against them or presenting them in court for the security of Pakistan though there was no such law according to which those who raised the prices of basic necessities received proper punishment. No such law was present according to which a case be registered upon non-provision of conveniences of medicine and treatment or to investigate those who kept the nation ignorant or according to which the hungry, homeless, unclothed and unemployed could move the chains of the court.

In short, Pakistan’s economic and social life was at that moment held captive inside a triangle. One angle of this triangle represented the interest of the ruling classes the second, law and the third was the the bureaucracy and the establishment. All these three angles were related to each other as well as being helpers and supporters of each other. No problem of the people could be solved without breaking the power of this triangle.

The big question confronting the victors of the 1970 elections in Pakistan was how to break the power of this triangle. The electorate wanted the Awami League and Peoples Party to act honestly upon the socialist principles of their manifestos while formulating a new constitution that would guarantee the rights of all.

Alas all of this came to naught as the elected assembly initially did not meet as the dictator Yahya Khan and Bhutto’s PPP did not want the majority party from East Pakistan to form government, as was its right. This caused great unrest in East Pakistan, which soon escalated into the call for independence on March 26, 1971 and ultimately led to a war of independence with East Pakistan becoming the independent state of Bangladesh.

The assembly session was eventually held when Khan resigned four days after Pakistan surrendered in Bangladesh and Bhutto took over. Bhutto became the Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1973, after the post was recreated by the new Constitution.

The lesson from the 1970 election that eventually broke Pakistan a year later and its aftermath was that the popularity which is attained during some temporary excitement upon the shoulders of the people, is indeed temporary and comes and goes. These events proved and continue to prove in Naya Pakistan 50 years on that permanent and durable leadership is the one which remains steadfast on the righteous path of ideas and action for the completion of the true interests of the people and the remedy of their basic issues.


Postlude: 2020

The exact date has not been set for the 2020 election, though it is rumoured to be in March, April or May. Constitutionally it must be held before December 1st, 2020.

If we (hypothetically and unscientifically) assume, that voting at the next general election is similar to the 2019 Presidential Election, and also assign the seats the UNF gains in the Northern Province and the Trincomalee District to the TNA, and those in the Batticaloa District to the SLMC, the “Seats by Party” would be as follows:


General Elections 1970

The political history of Pakistan from 1947 to 1970 witnessed no general elections. Thus, when Yahya’s Regime decided to hold the first general elections on the basis of adult franchise at national level, they were not only required to make a new mechanism but were also required to set up a permanent election machinery. A three-member Election Commission was set up and Justice Abdus Sattar was appointed as the first Chief Election Commissioner of Pakistan.

The first task before the Election Commission was to enroll as voters all citizens of Pakistan who were at least 21-years old on October 1, 1969. The electoral rolls were put before the masses for corrections on January 16, 1970, and after necessary amendments, the final list was published on March 17. The total registered voters in the country were 56,941,500 out of which 31,211,220 were from the Eastern Wing, while 25,730,280 from the Western Wing. The Election Commission also marked the constituencies, in accordance with the seats allocated for the National and Provincial Assemblies under Legal Framework Order, 1970. One hundred and ninety nine Returning Officers were appointed for the National Assembly and 285 Returning Officers were appointed for the Provincial Assemblies.

Twenty four political parties participated in the elections. They were allowed to begin their election campaigns from January 1, 1970. The public meetings of Awami League in Bengal and Pakistan Peoples Party in the Punjab and Sindh attracted huge crowds. Awami League mobilized support on the basis of its Six-Points Program, which was the main attraction in the party’s manifesto. While Z. A. Bhutto’s personality, his socialistic ideas and his slogan of “Rotti, Kapra aur Makan”, meaning food, clothing and shelter, were the factors that contributed to the popularity of Pakistan Peoples Party. The rightist parties raised the religious slogans, while the leftists raised slogans based on regional and communistic ideas.


Government in exile

On 17 April 1971, in the village of Vaidyanathtala in the Meherpur district. Bangladesh formed its first government, with Mujibnagar as the became the capital of the Provisional Government. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was elected President, but as he was in a Pakistani jail. Vice President Syed Nazrul Islam became Acting President. Other important members of the government were:

  • Prime Minister: Tajuddin Ahmed
  • Foreign Minister: Khandakar Mushtaq Ahamed
  • Finance Minister: Captain (Retd.) Mansur Ali
  • Home Minister: A.H.M. Qamruzzaman

Colonel Muhammed Ataul Ghani Osmani became commander-in-chief of the Mukti Bahini.

Professor Yusuf Ali, Awami League member National Assembly, read out a statement declaring 26 March 1971 as Independence Day. Acting President Syed Nazrul Islam and Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed appealed to other countries to recognize Bangladesh’s independence.


1970 elections and Sheikh Mujib's six points

On the sad occasion of the death anniversary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, we tend to go back in time and contemplate the unique circumstances that led to the inevitable birth of Bangladesh. Among the unique circumstances worth mentionable are the Language Movement of 1952, student-people protests throughout the sixties against West Pakistan's economic exploitation, violent anti-Ayub movement of 1968-69, and movement in support of Awami League's Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's Six Points for greater autonomy of East Pakistan.
But movement for autonomy found a new meaning and dimension after the devastating cyclone and tidal surge of 1970 that hit the coastal belt of East Pakistan and the demonstrated apathy of the military government of Gen. Yahya Khan towards the suffering humanity.
The cyclone that struck on November 12 was the deadliest one ever recorded, which took the lives of around 500,000 people. The ferocious waves that came from the ocean flattened everything in their way on land. It has been estimated to be the sixth cyclonic storm of the 1970 North Indian Ocean cyclone season, and was also the most powerful, reaching a strength equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane.
The Pakistani government was severely criticised both by local political leaders in East Pakistan and by the international media for its poor handling of the relief operations following the cyclone. The people of East Pakistan never forgot or forgave the rulers of Pakistan for their colonial attitude towards them.
It was the beginning of the end of East Pakistan as a province of Pakistan and the very naturally the elections that followed paved the way for the creation of Bangladesh.
Below is a short take of the results of the 1970 general elections held simultaneously in the two wings of the then Pakistan.
The elections were held under the supervision of the military regime of Gen. Yahya Khan. The polls in East Pakistan were supposed to to be held in October 1970 but because of that year's floods these were rescheduled for December, and some in January 1971.
In all, twenty-four political parties took part in the elections with as many as 1,957 candidates filing up nomination papers to vie for 300 National Assembly seats. But the number came down to 1,579 after initial scrutiny and withdrawals and these candidates finally contested the elections. The Awami League offered 170 candidates in the elections (out of this number, 167 were for constituencies in East Pakistan).
Jamaat-e-Islami offered 151 candidates, the second-highest number. On the other hand, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) ran 120 candidates, all from West Pakistan and none from East Pakistan. The PML (Convention) offered 124 candidates, the PML (Council) 119 and the PML (Qayyum) 133.
The elections passed off quite peacefully in both wings with relatively high level of public participation. The estimated voter turnout was nearly 63 per cent, with the number of registered voters in East Pakistan being 31,211,220 and in West Pakistan 25,730,280.
In the elections of 1970, Awami League won 167 of 169 East Pakistan seats in the National Assembly but none of West Pakistan's 138 seats. It also bagged 288 out of 300 provincial assembly seats in East Pakistan. Awami League thus got an overwhelming majority in the 313-seat National Assembly to form a governemnt. After the results were declared, Gen Yahya Khan welcomed Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as the 'future prime minsiter of Pakistan.' But Bhotto and some Pakistani military Generals had other plans in their minds.

Mujib's six points
It was in 1966, in Lahore, when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman announced his historic six point political and economic program aimed at attaining greater autonomy of East Pakistan. Among the salient features of the six point program were: the government to be federal in character and parliamentary in nature members to be elected through direct elections legislative representation to be based on population the federal government to have main responsibility of foreign affairs and defence each wing to have own currency and separate fiscal accounts taxation to be done at the provincial level each federal unit to control its own earning of foreign exchange each unit would have the power to raise its own militia or paramilitary forces.

Shahnoor Wahid is a Senior Assistant Editor of The Daily Star.

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General Election Results 1970

A sticky moment occurs in the studio when a painter is hurriedly called in to increase the swingometer's range after an unexpected surge to the right.

The ebullient Cliff Michelmore bounced into the election night anchor slot for the 1966 and 1970 general elections after the untimely death of Richard Dimbleby in 1965. He was a familiar TV face, having presented the Tonight current affairs programme from 1957 to 1965.


The issue voting interpretation: the importance of oil and devolution

  • 39 Roger Levy, op. cit. , p. 24.
  • 40 Ewen A. Cameron, Impaled upon a Thistle : Scotland since 1880 (Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Pres (. )
  • 41 See for instance Peter Lynch, op. cit ., p. 123.

20 More recently, political scientists have insisted on other factors . Today, it is generally agreed t hat a key factor in the rise of Scottish nationalism in the early and mid-1970s was issue voting in other words, SNP voters were people who were “ characterised by their distinct concern for Scottish issues ”. 39 The SNP's focus on specifically Scottish issues made it best able to “ capitalise on the failings of the main parties on economic policy and on a general feeling that Scotland was being neglected .” 40 In particular, the SNP's electoral peak of 1973-74 is largely attributed to its strategic decision to focus on the two Scottish issues of oil and devolution. 41 These two momentous policy choices will be examined in turn.

  • 42 Gordon Wilson, SNP: The Turbulent Years 1960-1990 (Stirling, Scots Independent, 2009), p. 87.
  • 43 Peter Lynch, op. cit ., p. 120.
  • 44 Tam Dalyell, op. cit. , p. 20.
  • 45 Ibid ., p. 7.
  • 46 The first major oil finds in the North Sea off the coast of Scotland were the Montrose field, in 19 (. )
  • 47 Christopher Harvie, Scotland. A Short History (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014), p. 208.

21 Let's start by putting paid to a powerful political myth: the myth that the rise of Scottish nationalism was purely oil-fuelled. Even Gordon Wilson, who was responsible for the oil campaign within the SNP, “ reject[s] the notion that [it was] solely responsible for the rapid advance of the SNP. ” 42 As all political analysts have noted, the rise of the SNP predated the discovery of oil in the Scottish North Sea. As we have seen, the late 1960s had been years of spectacular expansion for the SNP (triggered by the Hamilton by-election victory of 1967), in membership terms as well as electoral terms. It could even be argued that the rise of the SNP started in the early 1960s. To political scientist Peter Lynch, the 1960s, not the 1970s, were “ the decade in which the SNP arrived as a serious political force ”, as evidenced by its electoral progress as well as its “ dramatic organisational expansion across Scotland .” 43 To Tam Dalyell, the Hamilton by-election of 1967 was undoubtedly a turning point (and even “ one of a handful of by-elections in the 20 th century which really mattered in the long term ” 44 ), but five years before that, the West Lothian by-election of 1962 (in which he himself had been the Labour candidate) had also been “ a pivotal moment in the rise of Scottish Nationalism ” 45 as the SNP had come second, which had been an excellent performance for the party. Whatever date one chooses to mark the beginning of the SNP surge, it undoubtedly began before the discovery of oil in Scottish waters (in 1969-1970 46 ), and before the SNP launched its oil campaign (in September 1972). What's more, North Sea oil only became a politically significant issue after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war had made it a viable resource until then, “ [d]eep-sea drilling, remoteness, and awful weather [had] made for frontier conditions .” 47 Oil should therefore be seen as an accelerant, rather than the origin or the sole cause of the SNP's good fortunes.

  • 48 Another catchy slogan was “ Rich Scots or Poor Britons? ”.
  • 49 Roger Levy, op. cit. , p. 35.
  • 50 Gordon Wilson, op. cit ., p 87.
  • 51 Milton J. Esman, “Scottish nationalism, North Sea oil and the British response” (Waverley Papers, O (. )
  • 52 Neither can the rise of Scottish nationalism be attributed to “a sudden spread of nationalist senti (. )

22 However, it is undeniable that the scale of its success in the years 1973-74 had much to do with its oil campaign, encapsulated in the famous slogan “ It's Scotland's Oil ”. 48 The SNP's Glasgow Govan by-election victory of November 1973, for instance, came on the heels of the Arab-Israeli war which broke out in October and led to a quadrupling of oil prices. The oil campaign was significant in several respects. First, it was the SNP's “ first serious effort to diversify its campaigning appeal beyond the constitutional question .” 49 Secondly, oil was “ the gambit that brought international recognition to the SNP .” 50 Thirdly, and most significantly, the fact that Scotland now had at its disposal such a valuable resource as oil countered the main anti-independence argument, namely that Scotland could not survive economically outside of the UK. “ Not only could Scotland manage economically on its own, so the argument ran, but Scotland in control of offshore oil could become one of the most prosperous countries in the world, as affluent as its neighbour Norway .” 51 This did not lead to mass conversions to the cause of independence, and the rise of the SNP cannot be attributed to a rise in support for its defining issue, independence, to which the vast majority of Scottish people remained opposed. 52 However, by making the SNP's case more credible, oil made the SNP itself a more credible alternative.

  • 53 Though George Robertson was speaking of the devolution scheme of the 1990s, not that of the 1970s.
  • 54 SNP, SNP & You. Aims and Policy of the Scottish National Party (Scottish National Party, 1974, 4 th (. )
  • 55 SNP (Hamilton branch), flyer to join the SNP, February 1974.

23 The SNP's decision to support devolution (i.e. the creation of an autonomous Scottish assembly) as a first step on the road to Scottish independence was much more divisive than its decision to campaign on oil. Since its early years, the SNP's first aim had always been to achieve Scottish independence (or “self-government”), as indicated in the second article of the party's constitution. However, Labour's devolution proposals left the SNP with little choice but to take a stand on devolution. The problem was that many SNP members could not support a constitutional scheme that not only fell well short of independence, but that was also precisely intended to kill Scottish nationalism “ stone dead ”, as a senior Scottish Labour politician was later to say. 53 The SNP's position on devolution was therefore very ambiguous until the February 1974 election, when it started distributed flyers (based on the policy document SNP & You 54 ) explaining that provided a devolved Scottish assembly was “ democratically elected ”, the SNP would “accept it as a first step while continuing to urge that it should have power over the Scottish economy and Scotland’s oil ”. 55 However, many within the party at large and within the party leadership remained unconvinced. This became obvious in 1976, when, at its annual National Conference, the SNP adopted a resolution stating that:

  • 57 George Reid, House of Commons debates, Hansard , 14 December 1976, vol. 922, cols. 1354-1355.
  • 58 Donald Steward, House of Commons debates, Hansard , 22 February 1978, vol. 944, col. 1489.
  • 59 See Jack Brand, Duncan McLean and William Miller, op. cit .

24 Despite this lukewarm endorsement of devolution, the party remained officially committed to its adoption. Its MPs accordingly gave the first devolution bill (the Scotland and Wales Bill) “ a cautious welcome ”, on the grounds that “ although the [Scottish] Assembly [was] to be rammed into a constitutional straitjacket from the start, it still represent[ed] the greatest single transfer of responsibility back to the people of Scotland in the 269 years since the Act of Union .” 57 They also voted in favour of the second Scottish devolution bill, which was to become the Scotland Act 1978, despite what they saw as the “ blatantly anti-democratic rigging of the referendum ” on devolution. 58 The SNP then campaigned for a “Yes” vote in that referendum. According to an electoral study conducted in 1983, 59 the issue of devolution played a key part in the SNP's successes of 1974: the SNP being seen as the party of devolution, it reaped the benefits of the prominent place held by the issue in 1974. Devolution also greatly contributed to the party's popularity in the years 1976-1977, when the first devolution bill was debated in Parliament.


The union-management GM strike, 1970 - Jeremy Brecher

A brief history of the interesting national strike of the United Auto Workers union at General Motors, organised in conjunction with management to allow workers to blow off steam.

In the course of US strikes in the late 1960s and early 1970s, union and management officials at the bargaining table have often appeared as partners trying to devise a formula and a strategy which will get the workers back to work and keep them there. As the New York Times wrote of the July, 1971, telephone strike, "Union and management. . . were manifestly less concerned about any real differences between them than about how to fashion an agreement that would satisfy the inflated expectations of a restless union rank and file."1

The strike itself is sometimes actually part of the strategy to control the workers - albeit a costly one. A fascinating series of articles in the Wall Street Journal described "union-management cooperation" to get the workers back to work and build up the authority of the union in the course of the 1970 General Motors strike. According to the series, after U.A.W. President Reuther died suddenly, "G.M. had to consider the crisis at Solidarity House, the U.A.W.'s headquarters, and the problems of a new union president-problems that could influence U.A.W. control over the men in G.M. plants."2 G.M.'s "goal was union help to bolster productivity."3 From the union-management viewpoint, a strike was necessary for three reasons. First, a long strike would

help to wear down the expectations of members, expectations that in the current situation have been whetted by memories of recent good times and by the bite of inflation. This trimming of hopes eases the difficult task of getting members to ratify settlements leaders have negotiated. (More than one of every 10 agreements hammered out by union officials is rejected by union members.)4

As one U.A.W. official put it privately, "The guys go out on strike expecting the moon. But after a few weeks of mounting bills and the wife raising hell about his hanging around the house all day watching TV while she works, the average worker tends to soften his demands."5

Second, a long strike would "create an escape valve for the frustrations of workers bitter about what they consider intolerable working conditions imposed by companies' single-minded drive for greater production and profits."6

Third, a long strike would

foster union loyalty and pull together various rank-and-file factions by uniting them against a common enemy, and strengthen the position of union leaders, who must stand for re-election regularly by a membership that is constantly turning over and that is wary of leaders in general, union leaders included.7

The strike "permits union leaders to assert their manhood-at least in the eyes of their followers. It is the best way they have to demonstrate that they are 'tough' and thus to refute the assertion, common among workers, that the union's leaders are really in bed with management."8

But, the Journal points out, it is not only union leaders who recognize these functions of official strikes.

Surprisingly, among those who do understand the need for strikes to ease intra-union pressures are many company bargainers. . . . They are aware that union leaders may need such strikes to get contracts ratified and to get re-elected. In fact, some company bargainers figure strikes actually help stabilize fragmented unions and, by allowing workers to vent their "strike need," actually buy peace in future years.9

Unfortunately, from the union-management point of view, this approach nearly backfired in the General Motors strike. In order to generate pressure for settlement of "local issues," "top negotiators for both sides. . . indicated they won't return to serious bargaining on national issues until the bulk of the union's 155 local bargaining units reach agreement with G.M.,"10 Even though "company and union officials say they can reach a national agreement after settling local issues in about ten days. . . "11 Cooperation was so close that General Motors lent the U.A.W. $1O million to pay the medical insurance bills of the striking workers.12 Both sides want G.M. to be able to resume operations quickly after a national agreement is reached."13 But workers simply refused to agree to local settlements, raising the spectre of a long strike going out of union control and defeating its original purpose.

Both sides agree that if the strike had dragged on past Thanksgiving, it would have paved the way for an epic dispute continuing into the new year. Such a possibility could have tipped the scales within the U.A.W. from a "heroic struggles" strengthening of Mr. Woodcock to a messy strike beyond the control of the top leaders.14

To forestall this threat, top G.M. and U.A. W. negotiators went into secret talks to settle the national contract despite the unresolved local disputes. The contract did not fulfill G.M.'s dream of cutting labor costs by strengthening work discipline, but, wrote the Journal, the company received as "consolations" -

the knowledge that peace is probably assured when it next bargains with the U.A.W., in 1973, and perhaps for many years thereafter (at least over national contract issues) the prospect that the U.A.W. . . . emerged stronger and thus may be able to speak more confidently for its members who are younger, less loyal and increasingly distrustful of employer and union alike."15

Excerpted and slightly edited to make sense as a stand-alone text from Strike! - Jeremy Brecher.