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The Scot in England
Chapter X - Eight Scottish Prime Ministers


In spite of the fact that Great Britain has had eight Scottish Prime Ministers, there is a vague tradition that Scotland has not produced statesmen of the first rank. One hears about it when bright young thinkers of Oxford and Cambridge forgather to discuss the higher aspects of politics. It pops up every now and then in the writings of acute London essayists. It passes unchallenged because Scotland is so moribund, politically, that the average Scot has no interest in the matter.

Scotsmen have not dominated the political state at Westminister. They have filled the highest offices of State with methodical efficiency, but one looks in vain for a Scot with the reforming zeal and political finesse of Mr. Lloyd George, or one with the far-visioned, bold, and predatory statecraft of Pitt. One cannot easily imagine a Scot prosecuting the Great War with the blazing and indomitable vigour displayed by the Welsh Wizard.

Paradoxically enough, it is because of his low-pressure imperialism that the Scottish statesman has been, and continues to be, a strong cementing agent in our modern Empire, and one of the chief hopes of its future. If we examine the records of our Scottish Prime Ministers, we discover that all of them have displayed a common trait while in office—a tendency towards pacifism. It is not timidity, nor is it a lack of vision. It rises from the deepest well-springs of Scottish character. It is an instinctive feeling that all wars are futile, and that the Empire will get along better if it avoids protracted brawls on foreign soil. The best type of Scot has none of the bellicose spirit of the Englishman. He has no desire to teach the lesser breeds how to behave themselves, but he would brave blizzards and searing desert winds to teach them to buy Scottish goods. He does not whip himself into a fine passion every time something happens that seems to reflect on Great Britain's honour, but he would be disturbed to the depths by sneering references to the character of Robert Burns. He would sell his life for the Empire, and dearly, but he would rather sell Empire goods at profitable prices.

That is why the Scot appears so frequently as a pacifist in politics, and the role of a pacifist is never so spectacular as that of a national hero leading an inflamed public into wars of vindication that never pay dividends—after the profiteers have received theirs. Because Scottish statesmen tend to act as reducing agents at Westminister, drawing combustible elements from the body politic, Scotland's contribution to the political development of Great Britain has been very great, and will become greater still as the Commonwealth develops along democratic lines.

Since the beginning of the parliamentary system, as we know it to-day, there have been thirty-eight Prime Ministers, and of that number eight have been what might be termed typical types of Scotsmen. Considering that the seat of Government and the great bulk of the wealth and population of these islands are in England, and that the average Englishman's opinion of Scottish statecraft is pretty low eight Prime Ministers out of thirty-eight is an achievement of which Scotland may well be proud. It is an achievement of which Scotland may well be proud because of the records of the Prime Ministers she has produced—not because of the dry statistical fact so often paraded when Scots forgather to raise their voices in an anthem of self-praise.

The fact that statesmen and parliamentarians like Mr. Joseph Chamberlain and Lord Curzon did not reach the office of Prime Minister, while men of obviously inferior talents did, is sufficient to indicate, to any intelligent person, that luck and political intrigue play important parts in elevating a man to the office. There was a day when the guileless public believed that a Prime Minister was placed in his exalted office by virtue of his own transcendent abilities. It was reverently assumed that he was the chosen one because there were no other men in public life as capable of shouldering the heavy responsibilities of the office. That era of public gullibility, so pleasing—and indeed so necessary—to a hereditary political caste, has pretty well passed away with the growth of education, the coverage of the country by sharply intelligent and independent-minded newspapers, and the increasing participation of the ordinary citizen in practical politics. It was quite an easy matter to make isolated and devout crofters of Argyllshire believe that Lord Bute was a great statesman ; it is not so easy to make the modern trade unionist swallow such humbug.

It would not be difficult to name more than one Prime Minister who reached his office as a result of the purblind patronage of a great predecessor in office. Nor would it be difficult to name others who have reached their goal by the exigencies of not very elevated political compromise. It would be possible to name others who, half-bewildered, found themselves at the top of the tree because they had been hoisted upward roughly at the psychological moment by active and strong-armed gentlemen who were not even in parliament.

It is not enough, therefore, in this enlightened and somewhat cynical age, to parrot that Scotland has produced eight Prime Ministers of Great Britain. They might all of them have been rogues or blockheads. Their elevation to the high office may have resulted from political wire-pulling, the influence of powerful predecessors or newspaper proprietors, or sudden political upheavals, or other factors having little to do with their intrinsic merits as statesmen. We must know whether or not these eight men were capable Prime Ministers—whether or not they measured up to the high office they filled, whether they were strong or weak, rigid or venial, and whether or not they advanced the best traditions and interests of the country during their tenures of office. Finis coronat opus!

It has already been necessary, for historical purposes, to discuss the first of these Scottish Prime Ministers—Lord Bute—so we may move along to the middle of the nineteenth century and make acquaintance with the first of his seven successors. He is the Hon. George Gordon, fourth Earl of Aberdeen. Like Bute, he came from the ranks of the nobility. Like Bute, he was a Tory, a patron of the arts, and a polished gentleman in society. Unlike Bute he had had practical experience of politics in a number of different spheres, under able masters— as Ambassador at Vienna in 1813, as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in the Duke of Wellington's administration in 1828, as Secretary for War and the Colonies in both Sir Robert Peel's administrations, and as an oppositionist. When Peel died in 1850, Aberdeen loomed up with some importance as leader of the Peelites, but he displayed a peculiar caution in declining to join Lord John Russell's government, or to form one of his own.

Perhaps his apparent hesitancy was political intuition, for in less than two years he saw the downfall of the Russell and Lord Derby administrations. His hour of destiny had struck. He was asked to attempt a combination between the two progressive parties, and out of his efforts came a coalition of the Whigs and Peelites. Here was progressivism, but, like Bute, Aberdeen was to be frustrated by the dogs of war.

The Eastern question loomed up, a dark and menacing cloud. Once again England was for war. The jingoes fumed and threatened. Lord Palmerston stormed in the seats of the mighty. Once again the country had a Scottish Prime Minister who had no stomach for a war of speculative value. Aberdeen, as Foreign Secretary in Peel's second administration, had pursued a pacific policy. He had prevented war with the United States in 1842—fortunately for Great Britain! Again, in 1844, he was the man of peace who avoided another war with France. He enunciated his policy in the following words: "England will occupy her true position in Europe as the constant advocate of moderation and peace."

How true! Such a man could have no stomach for the costly shambles which killed so many Scots in the Crimea. He hesitated, when he should have gone forward boldly. The Crimea War overtook him. What he foresaw happened. The war was a shambles. The appalling losses and the stupidity of the War Office were too much for the country. There was dissension in the Cabinet. Russell left it as a protest against the state of affairs in the Crimea. The opposition thundered. The man who warned the country against the adventure went down before the accelerating avalanche of adverse public opinion. Aberdeen was finished. He was seventy years old when his political career ended.

In that career, which came up to the orthodox standards of intelligence and rectitude expected of a Prime Minister, he displayed the same quality that Bute displayed—a desire to keep England out of costly trouble. It was not a popular policy, and can never be a popular policy in a nation accustomed to vainglorious demonstrations of war, but it was a wise policy, and called for more moral courage on the part of the Prime Minister than acquiescent servility to the inflamed passions of the people. We shall discover, as we scan the careers of the succeeding Scottish Prime Ministers, that all of them have displayed this same pacific tendency to tone down English arrogance and militancy. Aberdeen's record was one of which Scotland may well be proud. He was a typical Scot, cool, precise, and honest. Although a Tory, and a product of the leisured class of his day, he was a progressive statesman, and used his influence for the good of the common people.

England had been served by two Prime Ministers who came from the ranks of the Scottish nobility She was soon to have another Scottish Prime Minister but the third one was a typical example of the able and, in fact, brilliant class of Scotsmen who came from the ranks of the common people in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.

William Ewart Gladstone was born at Liverpool on the 29th of December, 1809. He was the fourth son of Sir John Gladstone, by his second wife, Anne Robertson, whose father was the Provost of Dingwall. The elder Gladstone was a native of Lanark, where his family had been known as Gledstanes. The Gledstanes, under their anglicized name of Gladstone, had amassed wealth and prestige in Liverpool, to which centre so many Scottish families gravitated following the Union of Parliaments.

William Ewart Gladstone, therefore, had the advantage of an education at Eton and Oxford. At Oxford he distinguished himself by taking a double first—the sure sign of intellectual capacity far above the ordinary. Sheer intellectual capacity, in fact, in conjunction with a heavy sincerity that no one could doubt, and a ponderous weight of moral suasion and heavy eloquence that was almost pontifical, combined to make him a giant among men. There was a largeness about the man intellectually, physically, and morally, that made him seem apart from his fellows. By any test of statesmanship he was the greatest Prime Minister that England had seen— perhaps the greatest that she has ever seen.

At twenty-three he was elected for Newark, and, quick to notice his ability and energy, Peel made him Junior Lord of the Treasury. Later, in the same administration, he was made Under-Secretary for the Colonies. It was merely a taste of Cabinet responsibility for a man who had the capacity to carry several heavy portfolios. After his brief introduction to the responsibilities of office came a period on the Opposition benches.

On the collapse of Lord Melbourne's ministry, Gladstone got his first real chance under Peel, for he became vice-president of the Board of Trade. In this office he was in his element, for his inherited knowledge of the principles of business and his uncanny capacity for handling figures soon established his pre-eminent fitness for ministerial responsibilities. He had, too, more than the restricted ability of a skilful mathematician or accountant; he had the imagination to translate his grasp of facts into the needs of the people of his time.

Thus we find him bringing about tariff reductions in 1842. In 1843 he was elevated to the presidency of the Board of Trade under Peel, and in Lord Aberdeen's coalition he became Chancellor of the Exchequer. His profound grasp of the nation's business was reflected in his first budget. It was commended by every intelligent Member of Parliament, and established its able author as a master mind in the political realm. Meanwhile, the political tide ebbed and flowed. Lord Derby's administration passed from the scene in 1858, and Lord Palmerston came back to power. Again Gladstone became Chancellor of the Exchequer—this time as a Liberal and a Free Trader. With the confidence of a man who thoroughly knew what he was about, he introduced six budgets, and they changed the whole trend of British industry and set it going on the Free Trade basis that made the country the richest political unit on the face of the earth. It was as if a benign fate had created Gladstone for his great task, for by his successive strokes of genius at the Exchequer he aligned the country, politically, with the industrial revolution that was placing England far in the forefront of the nations of the world.

Cabinets came and went, but the country marched forward to its great new destiny. Again Gladstone is in the shades of opposition, but it is a new Gladstone, who thunders against the doubtful Lord Derby and the devious Disraeli—a statesman of proven worth, whose tremendous energy, sincerity, and ponderous eloquence have captivated the country and the House of Commons. Before his measured assaults the Tories crumbled, and in the General Election of 1868 there was a Liberal landslide. No one was in doubt as to who brought it about. The country had found a great leader again. The Queen sent for Gladstone. The country rejoiced.

Well it might. As Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone fashioned a new England. He revivified everything he touched, and his magic hand reached into every corner of the country. For six years he bestrode the country like a benign colossus, towering above his political contemporaries like a great oak among lesser trees. In parliamentary debates he had no master. No man could arouse the public to such ecstasies of loyal enthusiasms. His vast ability and unassailable integrity had touched the imagination of the entire country. Never stooping to the shallow arts of flattery and dissembling, striding along in stiff integrity, like a prophet, the man was sacrosanct. He had reached the zenith of his career; the slow but unmistakable descent to oblivion had begun.

The country was surfeited with his reforms. His enemies had rallied. Sensing the changing feeling, Gladstone laid down the reins of government in 1874, declined a peerage, and went into private life. He still retained his magic hold upon his followers and the public, however. Three years later he sniffed the political wind and buckled on the armour. With the intuition of genius, he went to Scotland to arouse England, delivering a series of dramatic and powerful speeches in the Midlothians that rang like clarion calls from one end of the country to the other, and which became one of the noblest traditions of political campaigning in these islands. Gladstone was too sincere to assume a false fervour, and when he became aroused nothing could withstand his oratory. His tour of the Midlothians was a triumph, of which men spoke for decades. It electrified Great Britain, and swept the Liberals back into power.

Once again Gladstone was Prime Minister of Great Britain and Chancellor of the Exchequer, at the age of seventy-one. He was still master of the Ministry, still the idol of the public, but the shadow of foreign troubles was across his path. Gladstone, like every other Scotsman who has been Prime Minister of Great Britain, was essentially a domestic statesman. All his genius was directed towards improving the lot of the British people by intelligent reforms. He was incapable of Machiavellian scheming to further Great Britain's selfish interests in foreign fields; he lacked the deviousness of the diplomatist and the breeder of wars. When foreign threats confronted him he dealt with them bluntly, but without rattling the sword. He stood somewhere between the warmongers and those who demanded peace at any price, and between these two stools he fell to the ground. It was his heavy indifference towards the threats of foreign disaffections that brought about his defeat in midsummer of 1885. When he resigned, he was again offered the customary honour of an earldom, but declined it.

Gladstone had become a national institution. He was in his seventy-sixth year, but his tremendous vitality appeared to be unimpaired, and he still commanded his party. Lord Salisbury had his fling in the Prime Minister's office, but within the year The "Grand Old Man" was again Prime Minister, and in this, his third Cabinet, appear two other Scots who were destined to become Prime Ministers— Lord Rosebery and Mr. Campbell-Bannerman. Irish Home Rule rocked this Cabinet of the talents, and on the defeat of the bill Lord Salisbury again led the Tory host back to power.

It looked as if Gladstone had come at last to the end of his political career, but his powerful voice was raised again in the General Election of 1892, and he led the Liberals and the Irish Party to victory. For the fourth time Gladstone became Prime Minister. He was now in his eighty-second year, and time had left its mark on him. The inescapable infirmities of age were creeping over the stalwart figure. His hearing was impaired, his voice had lost its resounding note, and he looked fatigued.

Nevertheless, he drew from the deep wells of his unquenchable vitality, took on the heavy responsibilities of the office of First Lord of the Treasury, led the House of Commons, and with a burst of his old vigour piloted his ill-fated Home Rule Bill through the stormy cross-currents of the Commons.

The old warrior resigned in March of 1894, and he was never seen again in the House of Commons. He had been Prime Minister of Great Britain for thirteen years. Four years later he died at Hawarden, at the advanced age of eighty-eight.

Of the thirty-eight Prime Ministers who have served this country with such uniform distinction, William Ewart Gladstone stands out as one of the very greatest, if not the greatest, of them all. He was everything that the leader of a great country should be—scholarly, wise, courageous, inspiring, sincere, honourable, and energetic. He had his defects—the lack of humour and a heavy piety were among the most noticeable—but he belonged to the high mountains and the great castles of men, and he gave to modern England an impetus and political traditions that made her truly great.

The day of the Scot in British politics had arrived. Gladstone was succeeded in the Prime Minister's office by the Hon. Archibald Philip Primrose, fifth Earl of Rosebery. This gifted son of the Midlothians had been called "the man of the future" by Gladstone, and that he owed something to the patronage of the old gladiator cannot be denied. Certainly no man ever entered political life under more promising auspices. Rosebery was a product of Eton and Oxford, he basked in the sunshine of Gladstone's patronage, and before he reached his thirtieth year had married the only daughter of Baron Meyer de Rothschild, an alliance that brought him a vast fortune. At thirty-four he was made Under-Secretary at the Home Office. In 1885 he became First Commissioner of Works and Lord Privy Seal.

So far he had not displayed unusual capacity as a statesman, but in 1886 he was appointed Foreign Secretary, and in that office he displayed consummate tact and sagacity, and a gift of lucid and charming oratory that has seldom been equalled in the House of Commons. Twice he took over the onerous responsibilities of the Foreign Office, and when Gladstone left the stage for the last time in 1894, he was succeeded by his young protege.

Rosebery had achieved all three of his greatest ambitions—he had married the most beautiful heiress in England, had won the Derby, and had been placed in the highest office in the gift of the State. His rise had been rapid ; his descent was like that of a falling star. He was an exemplary Prime Minister, and charmed the House of Commons and the country with his oratory, but the tide soon turned against him, and he relinquished the helm of the ship of state. He did not return to the treacherous seas of politics, and his life from then on was spent in quiet waters. A few scholarly books came from his retreat, then this brilliant man ceased to be a factor in influencing British affairs. It was as if the flame of his genius had burned too brightly. Perhaps the sword had injured the scabbard. At any rate, the shadows of a voluntary oblivion gathered round him more deeply as the years passed; he was almost a legend when the nation learned, one morning, that the golden voice was for ever stilled.

Arthur James Balfour, who became Prime Minister in 1902, on the retirement of his uncle, Lord Salisbury, was born on 25th July, 1848, at Whittinghame, Haddingtonshire. His ancestors were typical lowland lairds, and Arthur James went through the accepted educational routine for young men of his station—

Eton and Cambridge. Like Lord Rosebery, Arthur James Balfour had a brilliant mind, and, like Rosebery, he owed much to the patronage of a more dominant statesman. In Balfour's case the guiding hand was that of his uncle, Lord Salisbury. Gently pushed from behind by that great man, Balfour flitted from one office to another at Westminster, carrying out his duties with passable skill and finding time to write with facility on philosophical subjects. He became, successively, private secretary to Lord Salisbury, President of the Local Government Board, Secretary for Scotland, Chief Secretary for Ireland, First Lord of the Treasury, and then Prime Minister.

Balfour was too much of a dilettante to dominate a Cabinet which contained men of strong convictions ; the rising flood of Free Trade soon had him adrift, and there were bickerings on the weather side of the quarter-deck. Balfour resigned languidly in December of 1905, and the country survived the shock. He was an orthodox Premier—a capable stop-gap and nothing more. He was so involved, intellectually, in the higher realms of philosophical speculations that his grip of the solid earth on which his fellow beings moved became weakened. His speeches were erudite, and tinged with polite insolence at times, but the public were just beginning to be a little tired of the clever persiflage that passed, in those days, for parliamentary eloquence. Mr. Balfour went through life in a pleasant haze of scholarly uncertainty, and the public were never quite certain about him. In a plutocratic State he would have made a good undersecretary of the department of social ethics; in practical England he narrowly escaped being a figure of comedy.

Yet this greatly favoured Scot rendered valuable services to England, not as Premier, it is true, but as a tool in the firm hands of Asquith and Lloyd George. With these master-minds to direct his vague, lackadaisical mind, he served the country with great distinction, notably as an envoy to the United States in 1916 and as a delegate to the Peace Conference in 1918. It cannot be said that he was a great Prime Minister, in any sense, nor that he had even the qualifications of a Prime Minister, but he was a high-minded, able, and patriotic public servant, and added, as much as any man, to the tradition of disinterested service and high integrity that has become a feature of our national politics.

On the resignation of Mr. Balfour, another Scot was called upon to form a Cabinet. The man chosen was Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who was born at Kelvinside House, near Glasgow, on 7th September, 1836. Like Gladstone, he represented the intellectual flowering of the middle and lower classes of Scotland, and his background was curiously similar to that of his great contemporary. Gladstone's father was a Lanarkshire man of business who had a baronetcy conferred upon him. Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's father was a Lanarkshire manufacturer who also had a baronetcy conferred upon him. William Ewart Gladstone took a double first at Oxford ; Henry Campbell-Bannerman took his degree with double honours in classics and mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge. Both men spent their whole lives in parliament. Both were handsome and powerfully built. Their most notable difference was in the sense of humour. Gladstone seldom relaxed, and with him a joke was a serious matter. "C.-B." was the other type of Scot: he liked the good things of life, liked a good joke, and helped to pass good jokes along. When he was Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1884, he went through that dangerous political ordeal without injury, largely because he had the sagacity to leave things alone and tell good Scots stories in Dublin.

Campbell-Bannerman's executive responsibilities ranged over a wide field. He won his spurs as Financial Secretary to the War Office in 1871, and from that beginning was promoted to be Secretary for War. It was in the year 1897 that the moral fibre of this splendid Scotsman was tested. In that year he was made a member of the South African Committee on the famous Jameson Raid. He agreed in its findings. Two years later, as Liberal leader in the House of Commons, he propounded the policy—the Scots policy!—of peace, retrenchment, and reform. Also, he felt compelled to denounce the British military policy in South Africa, pouring scorn on our system of concentration camps. His pronouncement was prophetic :

"The first duty of the Ministry, after victory had been secured," he told the House, "would be to aim at the conciliation and harmonious co-operation of the two European races in South Africa, and to restore to the conquered States the rights of self-government."

If Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman had done nothing more during his entire political career, he would deserve a place among the greatest statesmen for making that pronouncement. It rang with the metal of true statesmanship. In this country the great hour usually produces the great man, and the hour of South Africa's humiliation and anguish produced a Scot who was not afraid to go through a Gethsemane for what he believed to be the right. When Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman made that statement on behalf of our dismembered South African States he brought down upon his head one of those recurrent storms of bitter abuse that are a feature of the Englishman's perverted patriotism. He was denounced as a pacifist and traitor, by the Press and on the floor of the House of Commons. The jingoes railed against him. Friends deserted him. Tested in this inferno of criticism, Campbell-Bannerman displayed the stuff that he was made of—the hard core that lay under the genial surface. He met ignorant abuse with dignified silence. He accepted the treachery and disloyalty of associates with equanimity. The years passed. Chamberlain electrified England with his Tariff Reform proposals. Campbell-Bannerman met the challenge with a ringing defence of Free Trade. Between the blasts and counter-blasts Balfour passed from the stage, and "C.-B." was called upon to form a Government. His Cabinet, which included master-minds like Asquith, Haldane, Lloyd George, and Sir Edward Grey, appealed to the country on a reform programme and was returned with an emphatic majority.

One of the first things that the new Premier did was to grant self-government to South Africa and set up the Union. Campbell-Bannerman had kept his word, and had vindicated his own judgment of South Africa's affairs. No sounder act of statesmanship was ever consummated. It preserved South Africa for the Empire by sowing the seeds of goodwill in that embittered country. It is not too much to say that had it not been for Campbell-Bannerman's courage and clearness of vision, South Africa would have remained an open sore in the loins of Great Britain.

The great era of popular reforms that was ushered in by Gladstone was continued by Campbell-Bannerman. It was he who caught the torch that fell from the hands of the "Grand Old Man". When the House of Lords repudiated his democratic legislation, "C.-B." sternly carried through a resolution in the House of Commons that "the will of the people should be made to prevail", and from that declaration came the Parliament Act of the following session of parliament—an Act which destroyed the cynical autocracy of the Upper House.

This great Scotsman had been active in the House of Commons for forty years. He died with the marks of the nation's harness on him, on 22nd April, 1908. As a man, and as a statesman, he takes his place in history as one of the greatest this country has seen.

Fourteen years were to pass before another Scot became Prime Minister, but the man to whom the honour came was already in the House of Commons. Not much more could be said of Bonar Law at that time, nor for many years afterwards, and his sudden elevation to the leadership of the Conservatives and the Government form one of the most intriguing episodes in the political history of Great Britain.

Here was a Scot of an entirely different type to those who preceded him in the office of Prime Minister, yet he was, perhaps, the most typical Scot of them all. Bute sprang from a decadent aristocracy. Lord Aberdeen represented the hereditary landowners. Gladstone had been educated in England. Balfour, Rosebery, and Campbell-Bannerman had enjoyed all the advantages of long-established family wealth. Bonar Law was the son of a struggling Presbyterian minister who had migrated to a poverty-stricken village in New Brunswick, his education in Glasgow was of an elementary and sketchy nature, he settled down into the heavy harness of the iron trade at an age when most boys from suburban homes are still at school, and he did not enjoy the compensating advantage of travel. To put the matter bluntly, Bonar Law moved, as a young man, in a dull and restricted sphere, and he continued to move in it contentedly until he was forty years old. The only indication he gave of his latent political ability was his interest in the Glasgow Parliamentary Debating Society, but he was only one of scores of young men who took part in that mock assembly, and he did not distinguish himself in its debates. Yet this dry, precise suburbanite from the Clyde entered the House of Commons when he was forty-two years old, and there, without making a single false step, became one of the most skilful parliamentarians and one of the most lucid and deadly debaters that the country had seen in many years.

The clean dive which he made into the murky waters of parliamentary procedure and debate was astounding. He had barely assumed his seat in the House when he was on his feet attacking a dangerous debater like Lloyd George, and he continued to shoot at big game with cool assurance and deadly marksmanship. He did not charm the House with a golden voice or with majestic oratorical pibrochs, but he introduced to parliamentary debates a style of speaking that made the old style look rather silly. In a perfectly unaffected manner, he stood up and said what he had to say, without passion, using words sparingly, and so clearly did the man reason that his speeches have a quality that is almost clinical, and the lasting beauty of simplicity. He told the members of the parliamentary press gallery, in a quiet after-dinner speech, that he had never heard a truly eloquent speech in the House of Commons. It was a startling statement, coming from the Glasgow iron merchant who had not made a political speech until he was forty years old, but it had a ring in it that the journalists were quick to recognize as truth.

It was this gift of making crystal-clear, direct, and measured speeches that brought this quiet Scot to the front. He had convictions to express, of course. Joseph Chamberlain was making his great stand against Free Trade. Bonar Law, coming to the House of Commons from a business that was being crippled by foreign competition, believed that the man from Birmingham was right. He, too, took his stand for Tariff Reform, and very soon he became Chamberlain's right-hand man in the House and on the public platform, not because he could arouse the passions of his fellow men, but because he could explain and defend the new fiscal policy with telling skill. Behind all that lay the great fact that friend and foe alike recognized in the Scotsman a figure of unassuming and unassailable integrity—and the House of Commons and the public will always render homage to the man of that character. In 1911 he was chosen leader of the Unionists.

The Great War changed everything. Tariff Reform was relegated to the background. Bonar Law became Secretary of State for the Colonies in the Asquith administration. The plot against Asquith developed. Bonar Law was asked to form a Government. He was willing—if Asquith would serve under him. Asquith rejected the suggestion with frigid dignity. Bonar Law stepped aside in favour of Mr. Lloyd George. In the Government of the Welsh Wizard, the man from Glasgow assumed the unprecedented responsibilities of the Exchequer Office, and heard his first budget denounced by a Scotsman who was destined to win his way to the office of Prime Minister —James Ramsay MacDonald. When the Armistice came, Bonar Law was a spent man, with a new gravity in his eyes, for he had lost two sons in the war. His fine Scottish face was "as a book where men might read strange matters". Something in the hard fibre of him snapped suddenly, and the public learned that he was fighting grimly to regain his shattered health.

He was almost a forgotten man when he reappeared at Westminister in the autumn of 1921, to electrify the House of Commons with one of his old, terse, ringing speeches. As if by magic, he again made the country conscious of him, yet he was a sad, perhaps a disillusioned man, without definite ambitions. We know that in October of 1922 he had decided to put politics behind him for ever, but in the same month he became Prime Minister. He led the Unionists to the country, won the mandate he sought, and settled down to the grim task of putting the country on a peace basis. His career, however, was almost over. A malignant disease, with which he had suffered for years, smote him down. On 20th October, 1923—exactly one year after he became Prime Minister—the nation learned that he had passed away.

It has been said that this Scottish Prime Minister left no definite accomplishment of statecraft to commemorate his term of office. In a sense that is true, but even if we pass over the cleansing influence which his style of speaking has had on parliamentary debating, and the significant fact that his career shattered the tradition that Prime Ministers must be products of Eton and Oxford, we cannot possibly ignore the fact that he took the torch of Tariff Reform from the failing hands of Joseph Chamberlain and so impressed the public with the need of a revised fiscal system that his doctrine took hold of the people, and gradually broke down the sacrosanct system of Free Trade. This development has been one of the most revolutionary changes brought about in Great Britain during the past fifty years.

In less than a year James Ramsay MacDonald was Prime Minister, and England got a close-up view, which she is still enjoying in this year of Our Lord 1934, of another type of Scot. Mr. MacDonald was reared in conditions of extreme poverty in Morayshire, lived on ten shillings a week in London, became a pioneer in the Labour Movement, won a seat in Parliament, made himself extremely unpopular by his pacifist utterances at the outbreak of the Great War, passed into the wilderness of politics and remained there for seven years, came back into prominence when the country embraced the Labourites in 1922, and became Prime Minister when he led his flushed political parvenus to victory in 1924.

The Campbell case and the famous Red Letter put his administration on the rocks, but the Labourites had not shot their political bolt, and in the General Election of 1929 they returned to power, 289 strong. Mr. MacDonald was sent for again, and by his dexterous achievement of the present coalition, he is still Prime Minister.

Many people claim that he is Scotland's greatest gift to England. Perhaps he is. He has been called a great statesman and a great orator. Perhaps he is both. Our own opinion is that he personifies—as no other man does—the power of persistency in politics. Therein we claim lies the secret of his success. A man of Mr. MacDonald's elasticity will get to the top if he lives long enough. It is merely a matter of time. It has nothing to do with his qualifications for the job he sets out to fill. It is a matter of will and ambition. In the long run the opportunities will present themselves. It has been so with Mr. Mac-Donald, and he is a great man. When a man becomes Prime Minister of Great Britain he is a great man. We shall be better able to judge Mr. MacDonald's statesmanship ten years hence, but we can judge his oratory now. One of his most famous speeches—his declaration in the House of Commons following the outbreak of the Great War—has been solemnly quoted by one of his claqueurs as an example of powerful oratory. Here it is:

The right honourable gentleman, to a House which in a great majority is with him, has delivered a speech the echoes of which will go down in history. The speech has been impressive ; however much we may resist the conclusion to which he has come, we have not been able to resist the moving character of the appeal. I think he is wrong. I think the Government which he represents and for which he speaks is wrong. I think the verdict of history will be that they are wrong. We shall see. The effect of the right honourable gentleman's speech in this House is not to be its final effect. There may be opportunities, or there may not be opportunities, for us to go into detail, but I want to say to this House, and to say it without equivocation, if the right honourable gentleman had come here to-day and told us that our country is in danger, I do not care what Party he appealed to, or to what class he appealed, we should be with him and behind him. If this is so we will vote him what money he wants. Yes, and we will go further. We will offer him ourselves, if the country is in danger. But he has not persuaded me that it is, and I am perfectly certain when his speech gets into cold print to-morrow he will not persuade a large section of the country. If the nation's honour were in danger, we would be with him. There has been no crime committed by statesmen of this character, without those statesmen appealing to their nation's honour. We fought the Crimean War because of our honour. We rushed to South Africa because of our honour. The right honourable gentleman is appealing to us to-day because of our honour. There is a third point. If the right honourable gentleman could come to us and say that a small European nationality like Belgium is in danger and could assure us he is going to confine the conflict to that question, then we would support him. But what is the use of talking about coming to the aid of Belgium when, as a matter of fact, you are engaging in a whole European war which is not going to leave the map of Europe in the position it is in now? The right honourable gentleman said nothing about Russia. We want to know about that. We want to try to find out what is going to happen, when it is all over, to the power of Russia in Europe, and we are not going to go blindly into this conflict without having some rough idea of what is going to happen. Finally, so far as France is concerned, we say solemnly and definitely that no such friendship as the right honourable gentleman describes between one nation and another could ever justify one of these nations entering into war on behalf of the other. If France is really in danger, if, as the result of this, we are going to have the power, genius, and civilization of France removed from European history, then let him say so. But it is an absolutely impossible conception which we are talking about to endeavour to justify that which the right honourable gentleman has foreshadowed. I do not know, but I feel that the feeling of the House is against us. I have been through this before and 1906 came as part recompense. It will come again. We are going to go through it all. We will go through it all. So far as we are concerned, whatever may happen whatever may be said about us, we will take the action that we will take of saying that this country ought to have remained neutral, because in the deepest parts of our hearts we believe that that was right, and that alone was consistent with the honour of the country and the traditions of the Party now in office.

Perhaps that is a great speech—to people who have not read Lincoln's address at Gettysburg. To most unbiased minds it will appear to be a jumble of rabacheries that would be heavily blue-pencilled by a grammarian. Bonar Law could have put the whole woolly mass of contradictions into one crisp sentence, for we take it that Mr. MacDonald merely meant to say—if he meant anything—that he was prepared to back the Government in its conduct of the war, but felt compelled, by a sense of moral duty, to point out that the Government should have stood out firmly for neutrality, and that posterity would condemn it because it had taken its so-called stand of honour. It is no wonder that such a speech drove Mr. MacDonald into the wilderness.

There is no power like the power of persistency in politics, backed by personality. Mr. MacDonald has both. He has been Labour propagandist, pacifist, pariah, politician, and patrician, and persistency and personality have carried him from one role to another. One does not remember what Mr. MacDonald said; one remembers what he looked like when he said it. He has passion. He is too Scotch to break down and weep bitterly—as Lord Curzon did—in moments of anguish and disappointment, but he has gone as far as to appear in public, during a crisis, with his fine head bowed in his hands. As the cinema experts say, he has "it", and when a politician has "it", backed by persistency, nothing will keep him out of the green pastures.

We do not wish to be cynical about this Labour leader who deserted Labour to become the head of a Government that represents capital. Mr. MacDonald is a great man. He has toiled and he has suffered. He has courage—the kind of courage that tries a man's soul. In moments of adversity, with the tide of public opinion running against him, he appears at his best, for he seems to be sustained with an inward strength. His strength is as the strength often, because his heart is pure. He sits where he sits to-day, hobnobbing with dukes and dowagers, because he talked the language of a disillusioned public after the war. He had been out in the fields all night, but when the morning came the common people were out looking for him, and he came to them, like a prophet, and told them that there was hope if they would only believe—in Labour. It is all very well to jeer at this complex man and his contradictory career, but there was not another man in the House of Commons five years ago who could have done what he did— built a strong coalition while he stalked out of the ruins of his own moribund party.

Now, in this year 1934, James Ramsay MacDonald, the passionate Radical, is the head of a Government that represents old-fashioned Toryism in all its frills and furbelows. He seems to belong to another world, a world of morning coats and garden-parties and Highland shooting-lodges, and Philip Snowden has called him a fool, but—and mark this well!—this Scottish Prime Minister is persistent and he has personality. He may perhaps be the Scottish Prime Minister who boxed the political compass, steering his last course through a disorganized and startled Tory fleet to lead a new and revivified Labour Party to a better wurrrld! He could do it with a perfectly clear conscience, too.

Scotsmen have proven that they are at least as adept at the game of politics as the English. In the good old days, when England looked upon her colonies with disdain, as places in which to transplant younger sons who were unable to get into the Diplomatic Service or the Indian Civil Service, Englishmen from Eton and Oxford were quite all right as Prime Ministers. But the times have changed. Our colonies are no longer miserable dependencies. They have become Dominions, with very pronounced ideas about their own importance. They maintain ornate offices in London. They are anxious to bargain with us, and have become such voracious negotiators that we are in grave danger of being skinned alive by them. [The Ottawa Conference provides melancholy proof of the fact. In that protracted haggle, which we were permitted to view at close range, John Bull got a fearful mauling.]

The only way to protect ourselves against our junior partners is by making them do their bargaining with Scots of the stamp of Bonar Law. It would mean prosperity for Great Britain, and perfect peace and understanding all over the Empire, for our Dominion statesmen would not resent being properly laced, as they certainly would be, by hard-headed Scots. If Englishmen were to do it, the Empire would fall to pieces immediately. The role of the English statesman in inter-Empire bargaining—or extra-Empire bargaining, for that matter—should be purely social. He adds a touch of dignity to the proceedings, and is invaluable as an after-dinner speaker. There, however, his activities should cease. If this policy had been followed at Washington when we adjusted our war debts with Uncle Sam, we would not be confronted to-day with a debt that looks like an involved calculation in astronomical distances.

The Empire has settled down into a strictly business proposition. It has all the territory it can look after. What it needs, for about fifty years, is a succession of hard-boiled business administrations which would keep us from fighting wars of honour all over the place while our manufacturers developed new markets for new inventions. The more we think about it, the more we incline to the opinion that the Governments we have in mind should be composed largely of Scotsmen. We would suggest Prime Ministers from Lanarkshire, Chancellors of the Exchequer from Aberdeenshire, Ministers of War from Wigtownshire, Foreign Secretaries from Ayrshire, and Solicitors-General from Fifeshire. Within a decade, we predict, the Empire would not be recognizable.

[Scottish Prime Ministers of the UK since 1900: A. J. Balfour; Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman; A. Bonar Law; J. R. MacDonald; H. Macmillan; A. Blair; G. Brown; D. Cameron. The list of Scottish leaders of the three main political parties is even longer, plus Scottish political and economic thinkers (e.g., Adam Smith) who have been major influences on British policy-makers.]


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