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The Wind of Change speech was a historically important address made by British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to the Parliament of South Africa, on 3 February 1960 in Cape Town. He had spent a month in Africa visiting a number of British colonies, as they were at the time. The speech signaled clearly that the Conservative-controlled British Government intended to grant independence to many of these territories, which indeed happened subsequently, with most of the British possessions in Africa becoming independent nations in the 1960s. The Labour governments of 1945–1951 had started a process of decolonization but this policy had been halted by the Conservative governments from 1951 onwards.

The speech acquired its name from a now-famous quotation embedded in it. Macmillan said:

The wind of change is blowing through this continent. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact.

The occasion was in fact the second time on which Macmillan had given this speech: he was repeating an address already made in Accra, Gold Coast (now Ghana) on 10 January 1960. This time it received press attention, at least partly because of the stony reception that greeted it.

Macmillan's Cape Town speech also made it clear that Macmillan included South Africa in his comments and indicated a shift in British policy in regard to apartheid with Macmillan saying:

As a fellow member of the Commonwealth it is our earnest desire to give South Africa our support and encouragement, but I hope you won't mind my saying frankly that there are some aspects of your policies which make it impossible for us to do this without being false to our own deep convictions about the political destinies of free men to which in our own territories we are trying to give effect.[1]

Consequences

Besides restarting the policy of decolonization, the speech marked political shifts that were to occur within the next year or so, in the Union of South Africa and the United Kingdom. The formation of the Republic of South Africa in 1961 and the country's departure from the Commonwealth of Nations were the result of a number of factors, but the change in the UK's attitude to African self-government is usually considered to have been significant.

There was an extended backlash against the speech from the right of the Conservative Party, which wished Britain to retain its imperial possessions. The speech led directly to the formation of the Conservative Monday Club pressure group.

It also signaled the decline of the Conservatives in Scotland. Psychologically the end of Empire cut the central thread of popular imperialism and imperial unity which had united the Scottish Unionist Party (as the Conservative Party was known). The party's high water vote in the 1955 election of 50.1% declined so substantially over the decades that the present Conservative vote in Scotland now stands at less than 16%.

The speech is also popularly (and inaccurately) known as the "winds of change" speech. Macmillan himself seems to have given in to popular misquotation, titling the first volume of his memoirs Winds of Change. (1966)

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