Is Scotland different? How we choose to answer this question will colour our analysis of party politics in Scotland. The conventional wisdom is that Scottish politics only differs from its British counterpart by having a nationalist party, the SNP. Otherwise, the ‘British’ parties — Labour, Conservative and Liberal-Democrat — are dominant, taking almost 80 per cent of the vote in the 1997 general election. The assumption that these are essentially parties with a Westminster agenda is shared by the SNP, which labels them as ‘unionist’, just as the nationalists in turn are labelled as ‘separatist’ by their opponents. Such epithets, however, may make good rhetoric but poor analysis. In this chapter, as well as the next one, which focuses on electoral change in the modern period, we will argue that the party labels may be similar but their histories and agendas are quite different, and increasingly so. In other words the political parties in Scotland cannot be taken as British parties writ small.
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