In the beginning, most
meetings of the Y.N.A. were concerned with interpreting Party Policies
and methods of dispensing the message throughout the Edinburgh area.
Generally, the members of the S.N.P. were too cautious in presenting its
policies and, therefore, a more robust approach was needed. As the
Chairman and the Secretary of the branch were with us, as were many
Branch members, we had an urge to put our ideas into effect.
These methods of
propaganda were vigorously and methodically carried out.
To draw the attention of
the general public, nationalist slogans were inscribed in prominent
places in the city, - SCOTLAND NEEDS INDEPENDENCE - at first with blocks
of easily carried pipeclay or, when larger text was required, with pots
of distemper or whitewash. The latter was used in painting the walls of
Edinburgh Castle. Contrary to newspaper reports, the climb was not by
way of the 300 feet high precipitous rocks below, but by a previously
reconnoitred route to the sally-port above King’s Stables Road, and
along the sloping grassy ledge below the walls overlooking the Ross
fountain, - not too difficult in daylight, but stimulating in the
blackout of 1939.
Two ascents were made to
this site and on one occasion, a member of the party fell asleep while
the others painted.
A similar expedition to
the walls of the Calton Cemetery called for the same careful planning,
and this time the cliffs below were ignored. Entry to the cemetery was
gained by climbing up and over the high iron gate in Waterloo Place,
then ’dreeping‘ over the wall to a ledge. We, in the Y.N.A. were
nothing if not self-confident.
The roof of the bandstand
in Princes Street Gardens also received attention, but was not very
successful as the inscription could only be seen clearly from the Castle
and there were few visitors there during the war.
Also, one of our main
painting efforts was the plastering of "SCOTLAND NEEDS A FORTH ROAD
BRIDGE" on the road from Cramond Bridge Hotel to the Hawes Inn in
South Queensferry; - one of our successes?
As well as election
meetings, we made our presence known at other political meetings; a
Communist meeting in the Usher Hall and an Indian Congress Party meeting
in the Oddfellows Hall, addressed by Krishna Menon, who later became a
member of the Indian government.
Ploughing a Nationalist
furrow, but along different lines, were characters like Dr. Mary Ramsay,
Major H. Sleigh ( Scottish Front ) and Matthew Hamilton. The latter
claimed to be an expert on the Treaty of Union and its various breaches
by subsequent governments, but he was unfortunately highly eccentric.
Major Sleigh, a kindly and charming elderly man, was also eccentric, and
it was a little embarrassing to visit him in the New Club, where he
lived, when he would commandeer the armchairs beside the huge fireplace
in the club room and talk at the top of his voice.
It will be noticed that our propaganda
did not go further than the Edinburgh area. This was because primarily
the Y.N.A. was a local group, and only on national occasions, like
Bannockburn and Wallace Days, did we meet our contemporaries from the
west and north. This applied up to the commencement of the war. As
problems arose from the conflict, it became obvious that those who
continued nationalist activities during the war were suspected of being
Quislings, but our greatest concern was that the Scottish question was
being neglected and we, who were still at home, had a duty to keep
Although there had to be
a general re-assessment of our activities, the main activities continued
in a limited degree during the "phoney war", ( autumn 1939 to
late spring 1940) and one of the Party’s policies was being put to the
test, i.e. THE NATIONALIST OBJECTION TO CONSCRIPTION.
It had been decided at
the Conference in 1937, that the Party would support those who refused
to serve in any of the Crown Services until the Government agreed to the
Party’s demand for self-government. Now was the time to see what would
The Y.N.A. had discussed
the subject in depth. Three members did object, and went through the
Tribunals and Appeal Court. Others, with family considerations or some
other obligations, could not object, but agreed to support those who
did, as did Edinburgh Branch members. However, it was the Party’s
Officers who let us down, publishing in early 1940 a public pledge to
support the war effort to the full, and denigrated all those who made an
objection. We felt let down, to say the least, and vowed to change these
ideas in the very near future.
It was then that the
Y.N.A. became nationally involved. Already, we had loose connections
with other nationalist bodies and individuals. HQ was not approachable,
but Arthur Donaldson and Oliver Brown, along with R.E. Muirhead, were
endeavouring to keep nationalist ideals alive in their various
On the few occasions we
got off work during the war, we met and discussed nationalist
difficulties. Arthur Donaldson took a very strong line, like myself on
continuing activities as far as it was possible, and also being able in
some way to help those who were in trouble with the Conscription Law,
particularly those whose objections were also on religious grounds. In
this connection the "Nationalist Mutual Aid Committee" was set
up to assist objectors or their families, although as far as I can
remember, no great sums were collected or handed out. It was a gesture
that could have been important, if necessary.
It is now known, and
evidence is to hand, that the Police and MI5 were most interested in the
so-called "subversive activities being carried out under the mask
of Scottish Nationalism as the latest scheme by Arthur Donaldson",
who was the arch demon according to these very suspicious people.
It seemed all was signed,
sealed and delivered when the Secretary of the S.N.P. stated that the
Party did not countenance the United Scotland Movement, set up by Arthur
Donaldson in place of the S.N.P., to help those who were in difficulties
due to the change in Party policies.
We decided that all Y.N.A.
members not called up should stand for either National Council
membership or a National Officer post, and I became a National Council
member as national posts were more difficult to acquire and would take
more time to negotiate. However, by going to every National Council
meeting, we found out who was for and who was against us. Contacts were
being built up all over Scotland. It was particularly noticeable that we
had the full support from the Aberdeen area.
The National Press in the
pages of The Scottish Daily Express began to take a great interest in
our activities. Jimmy Angus, the Chief Editor’s nephew, attended our
meetings, and we were also meeting the Chief Reporter, Bill Gibson, from
time to time. What scoop they hoped to get one could only conjecture.
With one thing and
another, it was a very active period for all of us, endeavouring to
change the Party’s line, but all the time our membership was gradually
growing less through call-ups to the Forces. Duncan MacDonald and Ross
Gibson were the first to go to the K.O.S.B. Unfortunately, Ross was
killed at Berwick-on-Tweed during an air raid. We were devastated.
Frank Yeaman was the
first objector who went to the Army. As for myself, I was declared Grade
5 and posted to the Admiralty for the duration of the war. (I might add
that within a few years after the war, I passed Grade 1 by an American
Oil Company). However, the Admiralty job was within the Edinburgh area,
and this was O.K. by me.
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