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The Scottish referendum of 1979 was a post-legislative referendum to decide whether there was sufficient support for the Scotland Act 1978 among the Scottish electorate. This was an act to create a deliberative assembly for Scotland. The Act provided for special conditions on the referendum stipulating that for the Act not to be repealed at least 40% of the electorate would have to vote Yes in the referendum.


Tax issue

In addition to all the arguments which traditionally surround discussions of Scottish devolution or independence, the public debate in 1979 was dominated by the issue of taxation. Since the proposed assembly would have no independent powers to vary taxes, it would be greatly restricted in its scope of operation, and this made it possible for the "no" campaign to play very plausibly on fears of an impotent new layer of bureaucracy. As a result, many voters who believed in devolution in principle were unwilling to support this particular devolution bill.[citation needed]


The referendum was held on 1 March 1979. The electorate were asked to vote yes or no: "Parliament has decided to consult the electorate in Scotland on the question whether the Scotland Act 1978 should be put into effect. Do you want the provisions of the Scotland Act 1978 to be put into effect?"

Yes: 1,230,937 (51.6%) No: 1,153,500 (48.4%)
Turnout Total votes cast
63.8% 2,384,437

Vote by each area

Council area YES vote NO vote
Borders 20,746 30,780
Central 71,296 59,105
Dumfries and Galloway 27,162 40,239
Fife 86,252 74,436
Grampian 94,944 101,485
Highland 44,973 43,274
Lothian 187,221 186,421
Orkney Islands 2,104 5,439
Shetland Islands 2,020 5,466
Strathclyde 596,519 508,599
Tayside 91,482 93,325
Western Isles 6,218 4,933
TOTAL 1,230,937 1,153,500

The result was a narrow majority in favour of devolution. However, Parliament had set a condition that 40% of the registered electorate should vote "Yes" in order to make it valid. Thus, despite a turnout of over 60%, normally regarded as a high proportion of voters, devolution was not enacted. The Scotland Act 1978 was repealed in March 1979 by a vote of 301-206 in the UK House of Commons.

"Scotland Said Yes"

In the wake of the referendum the disappointed supporters of the bill conducted a protest campaign under the slogan "Scotland said 'yes'". They claimed that the 40% rule was undemocratic and that the referendum results justified the establishment of the assembly. Devolution was, however, lost from the mainstream political agenda for a decade.

See also



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