In 1999, Scotland did something rather extraordinary. For the first time since the eighteenth century, the Scottish Parliament was seated, effectively shifting major political power back to the country and away from the Parliament of the United Kingdom. While initially an unsure legislative body, Scottish Parliament has blossomed in the twenty years since its initial opening, solidifying itself as a significant institution of Scotland.
Oral histories can be hit or miss. Some suffer from reserved subjects and guarded participants while others are brought down from overzealous editors inserting themselves into the narrative. However, when willing, interesting parties come together with a disciplined editor, it can make for a brilliant read. Fortunately, historian Thomas A.W. Stewart, working as part of the Scottish Parliament Oral History Project, falls into the latter category.
As a topic, Scottish Parliament has a couple of major things working for it. After 300 years of doing without, Scotland essentially structured a unicameral legislature from the ground up. It’s a massive undertaking, and the gravity of formulating a workable government — with all of the uncertainty surrounding it — is palpable when reading personal accounts in the opening pages.
And that points to what else makes this oral history so compelling: Scottish Parliament is only twenty years old. It’s just old enough to be firmly on its feet while still young enough to allow Stewart access to individuals who were there at its formation. This allows for a broad range of views, from the beginning Members of Scottish Parliament (MSPs), staff, and journalists, to their more recent counterparts— and all those who cross boundaries.
With such a massive wealth of information, Stewart does deserve praise for whittling these interviews down to an accessible volume. Though not totally comprehensive, it hits on seemingly all major points, from the death of First Minister Donald Dewar to the Rainbow Parliament of 2003 to the dominance of the Scottish National Party in recent years. These moments are expertly propped up by interviews, but Stewart also pushes into more under-explored areas like functioning as both an MSP and a parent as well as the struggle of minority representation among MSPs.
Using a diverse set of voices, Stewart has managed an expert look at an institution with a brief, but rich, history.
Title: The Scottish Parliament in its Own Words: An Oral History
Editor: Thomas A.W. Stewart
Publisher: Luath Press
Publication Date: July 07, 2019
Classification: Nonfiction, Politics
Note: I received a free ARC of this book through NetGalley.