Scotland: Modern Scotland

Modern Scotland

Concentration on heavy industry meant that Scotland was an important arsenal in World War I. It also meant that Scotland suffered heavily in the depression between the wars. In World War II, despite the fact that its industry supplied a great deal of the British war material, Scotland was not extensively damaged by bombing. After the war the steady exodus of population from the Highlands continued; in an effort to make the Highlands again profitably habitable, a program of reforestation and hydroelectric development, begun in a small way as early as 1922, was increased. Immigration from Ireland added to Scotland's urban population. Many new diversified industries, especially high-tech industries, were started to relieve the strong emphasis on heavy industry that had unbalanced the Scottish economy. Efforts to attract tourists led to the construction of many modern hotels and the development of the Edinburgh festival of arts.

These improvements did not lessen a persistent nationalist movement that urged greater autonomy for Scotland. The movement became prominent with the discovery of North Sea oil in the 1970s and gained momentum in the 1980s when many Scots felt the government of Margaret Thatcher was unresponsive to them. When Tony Blair became prime minister in May, 1997, he made the devolution of authority one of the principal objectives of his government. In Sept., 1997, Scottish voters approved the establishment of a parliament to run their domestic affairs, with the power to make laws and set taxes. Elections were held and the body began sitting in 1999. The Labour party won the most seats, although not a majority, and established a coalition with the Liberal Democrats; the proindependence Scottish Nationalist party (SNP) became the principal opposition.

The Labour–Liberal Democrat coalition remained in power after the 2003 elections, but the SNP won a plurality in 2007 and formed a minority government. The SNP retained power with majority after the 2011 vote, and subsequently began developing plans for a referendum on Scotland's status. Scottish and British governments agreed in 2012 to hold an independence referendum in late 2014, when independence was rejected by a solid majority. The British government, however, promised during the campaign to devolve additional powers to Scotland's parliament. Nonetheless, the SNP remained strong, and took nearly all of Scotland's seats in the British parliament in 2015. In the 2016 Scottish elections the SNP was again the largest party but narrowly lost its majority. Nicola Sturgeon, of the SNP, is the current Scottish first minister. In the 2016 referendum in which British voters as a whole approved leaving the European Union, Scottish voters strongly supported remaining in the EU. The Scottish government subsequently sought to hold a new independence referendum, but the SNP then suffered major losses in the 2017 British parliamentary elections, a situation significantly reversed in 2019. See also Great Britain.

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