One of the unspoken joys of multi-channel satellite and cable TV is that there is a good chance that there is always a channel which you could end up watching and you’d probably be the only person in the whole of the United Kingdom watching that channel as that time. Whenever I stumble across channels like this I always come away with that special feeling that the entire channel is being broadcast solely for my benefit for the few seconds, minutes or hours that I indulge in what the channel offers.
One of the channels that often leaves me with this feeling is BBC Parliament. A channel you can imagine even at its best would struggle to hold the viewing interests of the great British public and on a cold Saturday night with the Voice on BBC and Britain’s got Talent (and its sibling Britian’s got more talent) on ITV you expect it viewing figures to be almost statistically immeasurable.
It may not have had many users tonight but it had me. Why was I watching it? Well one of the big news items of the week is the passing away of former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher and as I was channel surfing I passed by BBC Parliament and their transmission caught my attention.
It was a re-run of the 1979 election result night, the election night that gave Europe it’s first female Prime Minister – Margaret Thatcher. It was like opening a televisual time capsule. Britain in 1979 looks a much grayer place that it is today. No flashy Jon Snow graphics, no snazzy studios, old style phone calls to correspondents in the field, lots of middle aged men and precious few women and ethnic minorities about, a much different and visually more austere time. One constant was the presence of Mr David Dimbleby who if you are even mildly interested in politics will know he still covers the election night for the BBC 34 years on.
That however was not what caught my attention it was the discussion they were having about the fall of James Callaghan, the then Labour Prime Minister who had called the election in 1979. He had to call the election because he had lost the support of the Scottish Nationalists in Parliament and in a minority government which is what he was running that is a death sentence.
It turns out the Scottish Nationalists were unhappy about the plans for a referendum on a Scottish Assembly. They wanted the referendum to pass or fail on a simple majority of the votes cast. However a Labour MP, George Cunningham himself a Scot but opposed to Scottish devolution, pushed that the referendum should be only pass if 40% of the registered voters supported it.
A subtle but important change especially given the traditionally relatively low turnouts in British elections, so it was not a shock when the referendum failed to pass. Enraged the SNP pushed for a vote of no confidence. Given the rules of the Parliament as the the the official opposition, the Conservatives led by Margaret Thatcher, also pushed for a vote of no confidence which with the support of the SNP and brought down the government.
Paradoxically this brought in 11 years of Conservative government and almost a wipe out of the SNP’s vote in that elections. Today the Conservative party is almost extinct in Scotland due mainly to the reaction of Scotland to policies of the Conservative Government in the 80′s and 90′s and the Scottish Nationalist Party heads a devolved government in Edinburgh, kind of ironic.
There were of course other issues around the whole situation, such as the Winter of Discontent which also had and influence on the situation back then, but I found this little snippet of history quite interesting.