Conservatives thought Scottish devolution was ‘not of general interest’

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The Conservatives dismissed calls for constitutional reform in Scotland ahead of the 1992 election, with John Major’s senior political advisers telling him that devolution was “not of general interest”.

Despite a decades-long campaign for a Scottish assembly culminating in the 1989 Claim of Right, declassified government papers reveal that the Tories gave constitutional reform only brief consideration when drawing up their manifesto for the 1992 general election.

A briefing paper for the Prime Minister summarising discussion among top Conservative strategists reveals that Chris Patten, the then party chairman, raised the face that “other parties would major on” calls for devolution.

However, party chiefs believed that “the Labour Party’s proposals for Scotland would result in expensive regional government in England for which there was no popular demand.”

The briefing adds: “Work should proceed on identifying a number of ways in which the process of government should become more open.”

The Tories gained ground in Scotland in 1992 despite a poor election result across the UK, and gained a seat north of the border.

Labour brought forward a referendum that created the Scottish Parliament after the 1997 landslide, which saw every Scottish Tory MP defeated. However, referendums on English regional government were defeated.

Private debate on the 1992 Tory manifesto also reveals that party strategists considered but dismissed a suggestion that the government could help with the cost of childcare.

The briefing notes that “younger working women might be attracted by some form of childcare provision”.

However, the memo continues: “It was argued that this could become very expensive. It would be a completely new departure to accept that the state was responsible for making it easier for mothers to go to work. The government should not do this.”

Tory strategists agreed to consider proposals for expanding state funding of nursery education, although the briefing notes that Kenneth Clarke, the Education Secretary, “was not keen”. It concluded that “further work was needed on options for helping carers, who were predominantly women.

“These were arguably a more deserving group than the childcare lobby.”

READ MORE: Scottish history timeline from 1054 to 2014