National archives: Sir John Major snubbed separate Scottish time zone

Image copyright
Getty Images

Plans to put Scotland on a separate time zone from the rest of the UK were strongly opposed by former prime minister Sir John Major, newly released government archives reveal.

England, Wales and Northern Ireland would have been on the same time zone as France and Germany under proposals for Single/Double Summer Time (SDST).

Proponents in the 1990s said it would create longer days in those regions.

But Sir John wrote that it would “feed the separatist debate”.

In a handwritten note on an untimed memo, which has been included in files published at the National Archives in Kew, he wrote: “I am strongly against it and would like to say so.”

He wrote as a private member’s bill was being prepared so that MPs could debate the matter.

SDST would have put the clocks forward by one hour in the winter and two hours in the summer in most of the UK – aligning with Central European Time (CET) – while Scotland would have remained on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

The proposals would have meant it would get lighter an hour later than at present in the morning, and darker an hour later in the evening.

The proposal was made by Lord Mountgarret in late 1994, and then just over a year later by Bournemouth West MP John Butterfill, who prepared the bill.

Michael Forsyth, former Secretary of State for Scotland, also vehemently opposed the proposal in a letter to the lord president of the Privy Council, Tony Newton.

He wrote that it was an “extremely serious issue” for him and the Conservatives in Scotland.

“I think that colleagues have failed to appreciate the strength of feeling of those who would be condemned by a move to SDST to an extra hour of darkness on winter mornings,” he wrote.

“There is widespread opposition to such a change throughout Scotland, and this has been aggravated by John Butterfill’s ludicrous suggestion that a separate time zone might be created for Scotland if the change which he is promoting were to be made for England and Wales.”

The cabinet decided that the government would not make time available to debate the bill.

However, road safety campaigners have continued to support the idea, claiming that moving to SDST would mean lighter evenings and reduce the number of crashes.

But there remains concern in Scotland about the impact that an extended period of darkness in the mornings would have on things such as farming and travel.