TWENTY years ago today, the people of Scotland were dancing in the streets to celebrate the advent of Scotland’s first parliament for nearly 300 years.

At the General Election earlier that year, the Labour party manifesto had included a firm commitment to hold a referendum on the proposal to set up a Scottish Parliament based on the agreement reached by the Scottish Constitutional Convention. Shortly after Labour’s landslide victory, the new Parliamentary Labour Party met for the first time. The party stage managers made great play of the fact that there was not a committee room in the House of Commons big enough to accommodate Labour’s 418 MPs and, as a result, they shifted the meeting across the road to the more spacious Church House near Westminster Abbey.

Prime Minister Blair entered the hall to an orchestrated standing ovation and, after his address, the meeting was thrown open for a debate on what should be the priorities of the newly elected Government. I strongly urged the Government to ensure that the Scottish referendum should be held at the earliest opportunity because the people of Scotland had been waiting long enough and any further delay would lead to accusations of skulduggery.

I was very hopeful that we were on the brink of delivering a Scottish Parliament but, from past experience, I saw no cause for complacency. In October 1974, when I first started at Westminster, Labour was elected on a manifesto commitment to set up a Scottish Parliament or Assembly, albeit with very limited powers. There was no mention of a referendum in that manifesto but, during the passage of the legislation, a referendum was inserted in the bill. Labour MP George Cunningham then introduced a wrecking amendment requiring the devolution proposal to be approved by at least 40 per cent of the electorate. In the subsequent referendum, around 52 per cent of voters supported devolution but the wishes of the majority were ignored and Scotland had to wait another 20 years for its own Parliament.

There were various reasons why there was such a spectacular increase in support for a Scottish Parliament in 1997 compared with 1979, one of the biggest being Margaret Thatcher, who continually foisted upon the people of Scotland policies which they clearly detested and had rejected at the ballot box. The despicable poll tax was the most obvious example but there were many others in what are now devolved areas such as education, housing and the National Health Service.

There was also a greater degree of intra-party and inter-party unity and collaboration in 1997. During the 1979 Referendum campaign, the Labour Party was deeply divided with people like Tam Dalyell, Brian Wilson, Robin Cook and Neil Kinnock openly campaigning against any measure of home rule. The passage of time did not convert these people to the cause but their opposition became less strident and they probably sensed that the tide of public opinion in Scotland was turning against them.

As partners in the Scottish Constitutional Convention, the LibDems were supportive of Labour’s proposal. The SNP had earlier decided to boycott the convention, raising fears that they might not participate in a broad based campaign for a YES vote in 1997. There had not been much if any collaboration between Labour and the SNP in 1979 and this undoubtedly weakened the YES campaign. However, wiser heads prevailed the second time round. The SNP understandably refused to abandon its commitment to independence but a unifying factor was the Claim of Right, approved by the convention, acknowledging the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs. The stage was thus set for an unprecedented degree of unity between all three Scottish parties with representation at Westminster.

The Scottish Tories, having just suffered a humiliating wipe-out at the 1997 General Election, were in a state of complete disarray. Donald Findlay QC draped himself in the Union Jack and attempted to lead a “Think Twice” campaign but, at the end of the day, his efforts got nowhere. The final result was 74.3 per cent in favour of the Parliament.

That famous victory was achieved not simply by politicians but by the people. It was a historic milestone but not the end of the road. The Scottish Parliament will not achieve its full potential until it has the full powers of independence. In order to deliver that, we need to maximise unity in a broad based campaign. It would be naive to imagine that party leaders will collaborate to the extent they did twenty years ago but one lesson from 1997 is that today’s Yes campaign must reach out to people of different political persuasions to ensure another historic victory the next time round.

Dennis Canavan is a former Labour MP and Independent MSP, he chaired the YesScotland Campaign from 2012-2014