Anti-socialism, liberalism and individualism: rethinking the realignment of Scottish politics, 1945–1970

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This paper presents an alternative interpretation of Scottish politics between 1945 and 1970, a period that witnessed the decline of a once-powerful Unionist tradition, the revival of Liberalism and the rise of the Scottish National party (SNP). While existing accounts have focused principally upon social and economic factors, this study foregrounds the role of ideology and rhetoric. During the 1940s and early 1950s, Scottish Unionists were, like their Conservative colleagues elsewhere in Britain, able to construct a popular, but essentially negative, anti-socialist coalition that prioritised the defence of individual liberty. This electoral alliance, defined by opposition to Labour's programme of nationalisation and expressed via an individualist idiom, was able to attract broad support; it was, however, always provisional, and proved increasingly difficult to sustain after the Conservative party returned to office in 1951. It was, this paper suggests, the fragmenting of this anti-socialist coalition in the late 1950s and early 1960s that created the opportunity for both the Liberals and the SNP to present alternative renderings of this individualist appeal, and to emerge as credible political alternatives. Crucially, by the 1960s, individual liberty was beginning to be understood in constitutional rather than economic terms.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)197-217
JournalTransactions of the Royal Historical Society
Early online date2 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018


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