ITS collections help tell the story of modern Scotland – and could hold the secret to shaping its future.

Today the Scottish Political Archive opens its vaults to The National to help mark 20 years since the 1997 devolution referendum to share some pictures from the time.

Founded in 2010 at Stirling University, the specialist unit boasts an extensive collection of posters, leaflets, newsletters issued by parties, candidates and campaigns in the run up to key votes.

Director Dr Peter Lynch says its materials – which include the personal collections of senior politicians – offer key insights into winning votes and influencing people.

Anyone studying the archive, he says, can learn a lot about campaign strategy – particularly if looking at 1997.

The landmark ballot asked Scots if they agreed that there should be a Scottish Parliament, and if it should have tax-varying powers. More than 60 per cent of the electorate turned out, with 74 per cent of voters backing devolution and 64 per cent supporting the limited tax powers.

The result followed feverish campaigning by Scotland Forward, which urged a double-Yes vote, and Think Twice, which promoted the status quo.

The SNP, Labour, LibDems and Greens all backed two-yes votes, while the Tories fought for power to remain in London. The archive has gathered as much of the material produced by both of these sides as possible, and continues to accept items from donors.

Further insights are expected when staff have completed cataloguing a major donation of papers from ex-First Minister Lord Jack McConnell, which span his time in local government, Holyrood and the Lords, as well as his time as a member of the Scottish Constitutional Convention which designed the devolution settlement for the Scottish Parliament, and will be launched later this month.

Ex-MP and MSP Dennis Canavan has also handed over his documents, as has former Defence Secretary George Robertson and Bruce Watson, who chaired the SNP between1945-47

Meanwhile, personal testimonies have been gathered in Devolution Referendums Oral History Collection, which contains interviews with local and national campaigners from both 1979 and 1997.

Examining these materials, Lynch says, shows how ‘97 campaigners started on the front foot and overcame party political differences to punch for shared goals.

“97 is interesting because for both sides there were quite united campaigns,” he says. “It shows how you can be successful by focusing on compromise.

“Nigel Smith of Scotland Forward had a very strong view of what the campaign should be like for the Yes side. They started a year and a bit before the referendum and wanted a nice, consensual message. That meant getting parties to work together.

“It was exactly the opposite of what happened in 1979, which was such a divided campaign. Part of the approach for ‘97 was to do exactly the opposite.”

However, Lynch says this was no easy feat, coming off the back of fierce competition at the General Election in the same year and a by-election.

“In a short period of time,” he explains, “you are asking two tribes of Scottish politics to play nicely-nicely together and for their leaders to be consensual and not fall into warring campaigns.”

Scotland Forward also started far earlier than their rivals, beginning the offensive a year and a half earlier in response to a growing appetite for change. In contrast, Lynch says, the Tories did nothing until losing the election, fearing that to act early would indicate that they expected to lose the election to Labour, whose commitment to devolution was a key element of their manifesto, and had been championed by the party for some time.

In the end, Lynch says, “they lost the election badly, lost their MPs in Scotland and were on the back foot. They just ran out of time.”

Reflecting on that period, Lynch says, “It’s suddenly 20 years since devolution. The onward march of time is always a shock but that’s why we try to collect and preserve items.”