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Anthony J.C. Kerr "A Man of Letters"
Chapter Six

April 1987 – The Scots Independent
MEMORIES OF ANTHONY KERR, GARTCOSH MARCHER

CONTRIBUTION FROM MR IAIN LAWSON: Recruit to S.N.P. from Tories

Sir,

While I only had the privilege of knowing Anthony personally for a period of about eighteen months, in that short time I had many opportunities to confirm the very high opinion I held about him when I was still a member of the Conservative Party.

Friendship

I had my first personal contact with Anthony shortly before Christmas in 1985 when he phoned to support my stance on the closure of the Gartcosh Steelworks. We talked on the phone for over an hour on that first occasion and it was the first of a great many conversations on a whole range of issues.

I remember that year receiving from Anthony a paid-up membership card for the S.N.P. enclosed in a Christmas card with a delightful letter which explained that each year he purchased six membership cards which he sent out in the year to those Scots whom he felt were worthy of the honour of being members of the Party. It was a gesture which was so typical of Anthony and reflected the warmth and friendship which he offered readily to anyone who shared in his desire for Scots independence.

Labour Panic

Shortly after joining the S.N.P. I had the honour of being elected Honorary Vice-President of Anthony’s Constituency Association and this ensured even more regular contact between us.

If there is a story about Anthony which I would like him to be remembered it concerns the Gartcosh March and Anthony almost single-handed striking fear and panic into the Labour Party. To explain, the second night of the march was spent in the council car park in Jedburgh. Next day we were to cross the Border and the Labour representatives on the march were extremely concerned that when we reached the border we would be met with thousands of Nationalists which would hog the headlines. Jim Wright, the official S.N.P. representative on the march, had spent the whole day reassuring the Labour party that no special event was planned.

That night we all went to a local pub to get a meal and warm up (it was –17 degrees) so you can imagine the panic when after about an hour Jesse Rae complete with the Robert the Bruce gear arrived in the pub to bid us welcome. One of the Labour people wouldn’t even shake hands with him so great was the fear that this was the beginning of the "invasion". Shortly afterwards Anthony and a few others arrived and this further increased the tension. Tommy Brennan recognising a good picture when he saw one agreed that Jesse in full battle-gear, complete with his broadsword, could accompany us to the border the next morning. However, other Labour members still were worried about thousands turning up.

That morning when we reached the Border there were only the TV cameras and some reporters to greet us and the relief in the Labour faces were plain to see.

Just as they were relaxing, however, over the top of a hill about half a mile away a large Saltire on a pole was spotted moving towards us. Cries went out from the Labour Party. "Here they come;" "We told you," and so on.

By this time Anthony complete with crash-helmet, could be clearly seen carrying the flag along with three others but for a moment the Labour party representatives were in a panic. Anthony proceeded to shake hands with all the marchers and wish us every success as well as producing a bottle of whisky in order that we could toast our country before leaving. I am sure Anthony would like to be compared with the cooks etc., who played a similar role in the Battle of Bannockburn and certainly on that day he had the enemy ready to flee.

I personally found Anthony an inspiration, his commitment to his beliefs were amazing and his attitude was to get on with the job irrespective of circumstances. His example should be followed by all who seek our country's freedom, he was an unswerving friend and colleague and I sadly regret that he never lived to see his dream fulfilled. It puts additional responsibility on us who succeed him to carry on his life's work in the sure knowledge that his cause was right.

IAIN M. LAWSON

Ferniehurst Address of Welcome to Callant Pringle delivered by Anthony J.C. Kerr on behalf of the Kerr Family Association

Callant Pringle,

It is an honour and a privilege to welcome you here on behalf of the Kerr Family, together with your Right-Hand Man, Left-Hand Man and Herald, and the splendid but at present invisible cavalcade you have brought here with you. I am proud to be a member of the Kerr Family Association, and record with gratitude the interest shown by many of its members, and in particular its American members, in the restoration of this Castle, and the help given by John Hoare Kerr, of Newport, Rhode Island, in making its past come to life again through the drawing he produced for my little book.

The Castle which you see here, in one form or another, has been in the hands of this Family for a little over five hundred years, and the land upon which it stands for two hundred years before that. It has been destroyed and rebuilt several times: the present Castle is the third or the fourth, depending on how we count some of its past restorations. It was again in dire and imminent danger, not now from an invading foe, but from sheer physical decay; it has been rescued with very little time to spare by our Chief, Lord Lothian, who has spent large sums on its fabric and roof and outbuildings. Kerr kinsmen throughout the world - and many others who appreciate a fine building when they see it - will be grateful to him for this: nobody now would know how to build such a castle if it fell apart, and even if someone could do it, a new Ferniehirst would lack the authenticity which only the passing centuries can give.

Ferniehurst has a unique history, born of its unique purpose. It was not built by alien lords to overawe and hold down native peasants, like the massive Norman structures of Central and Southern England. It was not intended as a mighty barrier stronghold, comparable to Durham, Carlisle or Stirling. It was first and foremost a base for rapid interception and lightning raids, tucked away out of sight in a fold of the high ground overlooking the Jed.

The original Ferniehirst seems to have been a kind of wedding present. When Margaret Kerr, the daughter of the Laird of Kersheugh, married her kinsman Thomas Kerr of Smailholm, the son of Andrew Kerr who started the tradition of left-handed swordsmanship in the Family, her father gave her the land on which we now stand, and since she and her husband needed a place to live, they built the first castle, of which only the cellars and kitchen remain.

Their son, "Dand" Kerr, was one of the great Border characters of his time, constantly in and out of trouble; but mostly in it. He helped to win the Borderers' share of the otherwise disastrous battle of Flodden, and to retrieve part of the disaster by seizing Kelso Abbey the same night. As a result the English were unable to make full use of their success. A few years later they captured the Castle, but this time the Kerr women prevented them from taking full advantage by stampeding Lord Dacre's horses the same night. Sir John Kerr, Dand's son, recaptured Ferniehirst in the bitterly contested action Walter Laidlaw recalls for us in his poem, and I would like to congratulate our Festival Convener for the way he makes this stirring episode alive once again, year after year, as though it had only happened yesterday.

Sir John's son, Sir Thomas Kerr, was noted for his loyalty to Mary Queen of Scots, for whom he built the fine old house that bears her name. This loyalty caused some problems with the townsmen, who supported the opposite party, and publicly caned a herald sent out by Sir Thomas to read out a proclamation in her name. But the quarrel was made up a few years later, when the townsmen and the Castle garrison rode up to Carter Bar together, to fight and win the last of the Border battles. The ceremony we are re-enacting today is not just a picturesque ritual for the benefit of the tourists. It recalls the many occasions when the Town and the Castle joined forces to repel an English invasion or to carry out a raid of our own. It is through this long-standing comradeship in arms between Jedburgh and the Kerrs of Ferniehirst that our sector of the Border Line was held, and that we still have a country to call our own.

I will not go into all the similarities and differences between ourselves and the nation that begins only eight miles from here. Nor will I try to explain what it means to be Scottish. Either you know it and feel it here, and do not need to be told; or else it is a strange and obsolete concept which nobody can put across to those who do not share this heritage. Enough to say that we remain another people in another land, proud of our identity and determined to keep it, and this is very largely due to the courage, the effort and the sacrifice of our forebears, both Kerrs and the sons and daughters of many other families, whom we join to honour here today.

September 1979 – The Scots Independent
SOME CORNER OF A FOREIGN FIELD THAT IS FOREVER. . . . SCOTLAND

Sir,

One of the quaintest outposts in the Scottish diaspora must surely be Gurro, a few miles west of Lake Maggiore in the foothills of the Italian Alps. Its inhabitants are descended from mercenaries in the French Army which was cut to pieces at Pavia in 1525. Their superior discipline enabled them to survive and stay together, and they marched off in the general direction of Germany, hoping to offer their services to some other prince, and failing that to return home.

On their way they stopped in a glen where there happened to be a number of young widows and bereaved lasses, the local men having been killed in the same battle. They liked it (and the women) and stayed. The Gurro dialect still contains hundreds of Scots or Gaelic words, and many of the people - the children in particular - have a Scottish and specifically a Highland look about them. A banner carrying the Saltire as well as the Italian Tricolour welcomes visitors in several languages: the local museum, next to the parish church, contains such relics as the tartan material worn there until the 18th century. Gurro itself is a maze of vennels resembling many of our smaller towns before the advent of the motor car and for the drouthy there is a "Whisky Bar" where one usually drinks Campari as it is cheaper.

The village is best approached from Canobbio - though I took the more direct but difficult route from Domodossola - either way one has to leave the main road and go up a steep and winding brae. Cars have to be left on the square by the church - the rest of Gurro being inaccessible to them. Scottish visitors are always very welcome.

A. J. C. KERR

November 1979 – The Scots Independent
FINDING (AND KEEPING) THE RIGHT PARLIAMENTARY CANDIDATES – A.J.C. KERR

EXTRACTS FROM THE ARTICLE

We know where we stand and where we are going. This article is mainly concerned with two aspects of how we are to get there – the selection and encadrement of parliamentary candidates. The latter is a French military term for which there is no satisfactory equivalent in English or Scots – it expresses something which is very necessary and sadly overlooked.

1. Selection. The existing procedure is too secretive, and too few people are involved, up to the point where a candidate is announced and the CA's choice, endorsed by the National Executive, cannot be reversed without some loss of face at local and possibly at national level. It can lead to the acceptance of inadequate and worse still of disloyal candidates. The secrecy itself may provoke rumours, claims and counterclaims which eventually leak out into the local or even the national press. I therefore propose a reformed procedure along the following lines:

(i) The Constituency makes it known through the S.I. and by any other means it may think fit, that it is looking for a candidate, and gives some indication as to the type of person it is seeking;

(ii) Obviously unsuitable applicants are weeded out and HQ is asked whether it knows anything against the people who have written in.

These two steps are much as at present. The next step I envisage however, is:

(iii) potential candidates, after this initial sifting, are invited to address branches at meetings open to the general public. The object is to establish their impact on uncommitted voters and their ability to cope with hostile questions.

(iv) Nominations are then made, not only by Branches but by a reasonable number of individuals - I would suggest seven party members from three or more Branches or ten from two Branches. This enables potential candidates with useful minority support to be considered, even though no one Branch favours them. The persons nominated by Branches or by a sufficient number of members constitute the shortleet from which final selection is made.

(v) Validly nominated potential candidates may then circulate a "selection address", at their own expense, to all paid-up S.N.P. members resident in the constituency, and may release it to the press. They may also canvass the local members and the general public.

(vi) Final selection is made; not by a committee of x delegates per Branch but at a special general meeting of the CA where all paid-up members have a vote and where (for part of the meeting if not all) non-Nationalists and non-party Nationalists may also be present and put questions but not vote. The result is announced forthwith, since persons unacceptable to the National Executive should have been weeded out at state (ii). It may be desirable to allow postal voting, especially in large constituencies, in which case I would suggest some form of weighting, e.g. half a vote for those who do not attend the selection meeting, since they will not have heard the potential candidates in front of a large audience, and may not even have seen them in the earlier stages.

2. Encadrement. Considerable damage has been done through the fact that PPC's, once selected, were not properly followed up, that they were given too little advice and training and that little or nothing was done about complaints (in some cases repeated) which reached HQ or individual members of the National Executive. In my view that body ought to issue firm guidelines to cover the following points at least:

(i) The amount of physical presence in the Constituency required from all PPC's whether or not they reside locally, and whether, in specific cases, non-residence is permissible. (On this issue I feel that, for instance it is quite in order for a PPC in any of the seven Edinburgh constituencies to live anywhere in the city, but the PPC here must be a Borderer).

(ii) The amount of work required from all candidates, whether or not they are resident.

(iii) Contact with Branches, prominent individuals living in the Constituency, and the general public. (There may be some doubt as to whether the existence of 'prominent individuals' should be recognised. My view is that it certainly helps if one gets to know local councillors, ministers and priests, headmasters and other local worthies. They may give you ideas worth following up, even if they don't vote for you.)

(iv) The amount of material they should try to place in the local press - statements, letters, texts or reports of speeches, details of their activities in the Constituency. This will of course depend on local conditions and in particular on how many local papers circulate in the area: Glasgow constituencies have none so far as I am aware, Hamilton and Motherwell have one apiece, in Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles we have eight.

(v) Participation in non-political activities which help to get them better known - Common Ridings and similar festivals, agricultural shows, various cultural and other voluntary bodies, and attendance at sales of work, coffee mornings, etc. in aid of local churches and charities.

(vi) Undesirable activities and controversy in which the PPC should not be involved. Here this would include anything which sets off the interests of one of our eight towns against the others, or of the towns generally and the landward areas against each other.

Failure to comply with these guidelines should lead to some sort of action by the National Executive - firmly-worded advice in the first instance, then a formal warning and ultimately withdrawal of recognition.

July 1980 – The Scots Independent
PARTY SAVED FOR AN "UNWISE MOVE"

Sir,

As I blocked a conference resolution (No. 50) single-handed by insisting on my right as a delegate to move the remit back, when it might otherwise have gone through by acclamation, I feel I owe the party some account of my reasons.

This resolution condemned military intervention in the affairs of independent countries. To all appearances it was one of those "pro-motherhood" resolutions which no decent person should oppose. In fact, there are three exceptional situations which ought to be considered, and which could only be worked in by remitting the whole resolution back, since Standing Orders do not provide for major verbal amendments.

The first exception concerns Entebbe-style rescue operations - quick hit-and-run affairs whose sole purpose is to retrieve one's own citizens when diplomatic measures are inadequate because the Government of a country which is raided is not fully in control or is actually aiding the terrorists.

The second exception arises where a country allows itself to be used as a base for terrorist operation. It may then be necessary to seek out and destroy the terrorist or to promote an internal coup which will instal a more reasonable and law-abiding Government.

Rare

Finally we must consider the rare case where a country suffers under a totally inhuman regime which can only be removed by some form of outside intervention.

Three such operations were carried out in 1979.

Bokassa of Central Africa and Macias Nguema of Equatorial Guinea were toppled by coups sponsored by France and Spain respectively - both highly efficient, relatively bloodless and resulting in a considerable improvement.

Amin of Uganda was displaced by a Tanzanian invasion: this operation was rather slow and clumsy and the Tanzanians have overstayed their welcome, but they were probably right to intervene in the first instance. It is most unlikely that an independent Scotland would be involved in the destruction of terrorist bases or the removal of a grotesque tyrant such as Amin or Bokassa, though I think we should recognise that other countries may occasionally feel obliged to carry out such operations.

It is entirely possible that we might one day have to rescue some of our own people in a tight corner, as the Israelis did at Entebbe and the Belgians did at Kisingani.

It is, therefore, unwise for the National party, pledged as it is to put Scotland first, to condemn this sort of action indiscriminately and in advance.

ANTHONY J.C. KERR

22nd January 1981 – The Scotsman
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LIBERALS AND SOCIAL DEMOCRATS

Sir,

Whatever you may say in your leading article, I have no difficulty in telling Liberals (if genuine) and Social Democrats apart. Their basic priorities are different.

In the last analysis, a real Liberal regards the state as a necessary evil and distrusts all heavy accumulations of power, whether they be in the hands of Government, big business, trade Unions, the Church, the aristocracy or anyone else. His overriding priority is personal freedom and the other values that go with it, but he is on practical grounds already to compromise to some extent.

The female of the species has similar views but is surprisingly rare, at least in the corridors of power. I cannot remember when one of them last became an MP, though the late Honor Balfour got within 40 votes.

Social Democrats (many of them women) regard the state as basically a good thing, to promote social justice without destroying freedom. The problem is that the reforms they promote often tend to undermine freedom, by leading people to expect too much from the state and to put up with a good deal of direction.

The issue is confused to some extent by the fact that some people sit as Liberals, whose outlook is in fact Social Democratic, while others I would regard as Liberals by the above definition have hitherto found it convenient to seek election as Labour moderates.

I might add that while the Social Democrats may prosper to some extent in England (if suitable by-elections appear to set them on their way) there is nothing in the new movement for Scotland. Whoever attains power at Westminster will remain principally concerned with England's problems and will seek to resolve them at Scotland's expense, because that is the way to gain or retain votes where they matter.

I am also far from convinced that they will get anywhere. Mr Foot's party retain the Labour name and tradition and this could be what counts at the end of the day. If we want to achieve anything for our country we have to do it by ourselves and appealing to Scottish loyalties and Scottish interests rather than look to any British realignment.

ANTHONY J.C. KERR

2nd March 1981 – The Scotsman
NOT AFRAID OF THE SOCIAL DEMOCRATS

Sir,

The S.N.P. is not in anyway "afraid" of the proposed Social Democratic Party, as Mr Robert Aldridge suggests: what Mrs Ewing pointed out is what I have said; the SDP have no future in this country whereas they probably have one in England.

Both parts of this statement must be qualified to some extent, in that individual Social Democrats may do fairly well on a personal basis in some localities in Scotland, while they may also fail in England if they don't get down to fighting a few by-elections in the next few months. In general terms, however, their prospects are very much better in England (and specifically in areas where the Liberals are not present in any real strength) than they are here.

The reasons would take an article rather than a letter to explain. One of them is that national independence is an issue here but not in England; another is that the "natural" Centre vote is smaller in this Country and there are already two well established parties competing for it.

A third reason is that instinctive, traditional voting is more prevalent here than in England, especially on the Labour side; those Labour voters who are prepared to break with tradition are more likely to support the S.N.P. than to go for something entirely new.

A fourth reason, probably the most important, is that few Labour MPs in Scotland are as far to the Right, and few constituency Labour Parties are as far to the Left as is sometimes the case in England. Hence there is less likelihood of a sitting MP being disadopted by his local party, or seriously threatened with disadoption, and several Social Democratic MPs have in fact decided to secede from the Labour party in anticipation of such a vote.

Finally, no party gets anywhere without activists to address envelopes, run up and down the closes etc, and the people who would be prepared to do this, in Scotland, are already committed to other parties which they are unlikely to leave. There is more spare manpower and woman-power available in England.

As regards proportional representation - we are in favour of it, as a party (though my personal preference has always been for the French system with a run-off between the two leading candidates where nobody wins outright in the first round) but we cannot make everything a top priority and our top priority is independence.

Most of us think it counter-productive to campaign on too many issues at once: it is apt to confuse the voters, and depending on the issues, one may very well alienate potential supporters or even actual members.

British rule is a greater evil than the present electoral system; so is the present level of unemployment; so is the systematic theft of our oil resources; so is the flagrant misuse of our land, especially in the North, and its extensive alienation to owners who in some cases cannot even be identified. This makes at least four evils greater than first-past-the-post voting.

ANTHONY J.C. KERR

8th April 1982 – The Glasgow Herald
Article written by William Hunter

JUST A FEW LINES ON JEDBURGH’S INDEFATIGABLE MAN OF LETTERS

When he is at home, Anthony J.C. Kerr lives at 52 Castlegate, Jedburgh, up the hill from the barber’s shop. "He has the good Scottish name of Wallace, but he always cuts my hair too short," Anthony J.C. Kerr says.

Fifty-two Castlegate is as well-trodden a piece of geography in the Herald as the weather map. Anthony J.C. Kerr is so indefatigable a writer of letters to the editor (see below) that even other correspondents have felt moved to wonder whether he exists. Perhaps, he is a committee of people? Or is he a "Mastermind" winner, seeing that he knows so much about a’ things?

In "Mastermind" he went for one round, finishing second. His television knowledge marathon was on the other channel, an inquisition called Double Your Money, quizzed by Hughie Green.

Anthony J.C. Kerr - copped £1,000 in that one, answering questions on British history within the spectrum of Caesar's first landing and the end of the Second World War. The clinchers came with queries about Pitt the Younger.

With the prize money, he bought his family a vast dinner in a restaurant in Carnaby Street before he hiked off on a six-month tour of Europe. He collected material for a couple of books. He has had a dozen published. Their subjects vary from a study of how Euro young people behave to an examination of how the Common Market works. ("I reckon it works about as well as the UK," he says).

Mainly, the subject of his letters is to instruct readers properly about Scottish nationalism.

Anthony J.C. Kerr was born in Geneva. His father was in part English, Scottish and French. His mother was half Russian, half German. "I am Scottish because that is what I decided I wanted to be. I felt a sense of identity," he says.

His Jedburgh address hikes him only 10 miles into Scotland. He feels that Jed is as Scots as Glasgow and even more so than Edinburgh. "We held the gate, while other people were stabbing each other in the back," he explains.

Home is a three-room flat with no name on the door, unkempt, bachelor. His eldest son Andrew, aged 21, also lives there. His two other boys are with their mother in Aldershot. "My wife thinks we are divorced, and I think we are still married, since we were married in a church and I regard this as a lifelong commitment," he says.

Anthony J.C. Kerr is a translator (mainly of engineering literature into French) and an interpreter. He took a first in history at Cambridge University.

He has been a member of four political parties so far. As a schoolboy at Harrow he was a kind of Socialist. At Cambridge he became a Lib., then a Tory. He has been in and out of the Scottish National party, contesting David Steel's seat as an Ind. Scot Nat. brought him banishment for eight years. He was back working for George Leslie at the Hillhead by-election.

On his wedding day in 1957He agrees that his help as a canvassing trooper is mixed. "I have this broadcasting House accent," he says. "Sometimes there is the advantage that I am not immediately recognised as a nationalist." Au contraire, people find it difficult to believe he is Scottish.

For eight years he was an itinerant school teacher in Jedburgh, Glasgow, Motherwell, even Coatbridge. There were six schools in the eight years. "I think I was good at putting knowledge across, and less good at maintaining discipline," he says.

His Jeddart loyalty is intense. He only happened up there because there was a job at the grammar school. But it is the central seat of the Kerrs. (He is left-handed).

He reckons he has every year about 60 letters to the editor printed in several journals. He uses newspapers well. Rolled-up Heralds provide him with the fuel for cooking sausage and egg in the fire-place at 52 Castlegate. He finds, though, that boiling water takes longer.

His middle initials are for John Crawford. He is 53.

 

 


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