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A Step on the Road to Freedom
Chapter 4


The position of the Y.N.A. at that time was that the mainspring of the group had been called up on National Service, but those left were adamant that their effort to maintain a vigorous body of opinion for Scotland’s cause would go on.

The Party’s Secretary, John McCormick, a lawyer who, early in 1939 had said that he would endeavour to represent anti-conscription cases, changed his mind in 1940 and disregarded any request for advice. In fact, he and his coterie were so embarrassed that they ignored us and hoped we would go away. They had become besotted by the idea that if they co-operated with the Government, all would be well after the war and that they would be given Self-Government as a reward.

Naturally, we who had faced the tribunals and appeal courts could have told them that the Establishment had no intention of giving away their licence to govern Scotland by fair means or foul!!

As previously mentioned, we had three Nationalist objectors in the Y.N.A.. Frank and I went through the system and then took medicals. He went to the Army and I was given a National Service job as already stated. George Hay, however decided to go on the run and disappeared.

His mother was in contact with him through us, but as she was a widow, we felt it was necessary to help George with a small supply of money so that he could eat and buy small comforts, as required. This came through the Nationalists Mutual Aid Committee whose members were a fairly responsible group of Nationalists from all over Scotland. The Chairman was R.E. Muirhead; the members, A. Clark, W.O. Brown, I. Hillhouse, W.W. Fisher, Dr. Mary Ramsay, Dr. Munson, T. Maxwell, A. Donaldson, A. Logan, and Treasurer W. Ross.

It is necessary to mention this committee and other of our activities as these caused a series of events which rolled on until the Party got rid of the wafflers in 1942.

The hierarchy was very concerned about the thought that we would cause them to be discredited and harm their 100% support to the Government. In fact, it is known from official documents now available that the Party Secretary had given information to the police on more than one occasion and assisted them in connection with inquiries regarding extreme Nationalists and their activities.

The same source states regrettably the persons approached were all prominent in one or other branches of Scottish Nationalism. That was because Donaldson "like all other Quislings used the local Home Rule movement as the basis of his subversive activities". I wonder what John McCormick thought of that - or did he not care !!

But we, who did care, should be proud to belong to such an organisation.

The so called upholders of the law of the land certainly seem to neglect the old point that one is innocent until proved guilty and informers should remember the saying that truth will out, even although it takes 50 years.

It was clear that the whole anti-conscription affair was building up to a confrontation as Special Branch and MI5 believed that subversive acts were being committed by Arthur Donaldson and his ’tools and associates‘ under the mask of Scottish Nationalism. Further, George Campbell Hay’s action by dodging call-up was considered to be the last straw. Therefore, at 6am on Saturday 2nd May 1941, on instructions from M15, the homes of 17 so-called subversives were raided throughout Scotland, including Douglas Young, R E Muirhead, Arthur Donaldson and four members of the Y.N.A. (lain Haig, George Campbell Hay, Walter Ross and myself).

As George Hay was not at home, the Police and other services were very busy trying to find out where he was. It seems that they were watching every member of the Y.N.A.’s activists and it was on that Saturday that one of our girls, Margaret Green, was followed part way to a rendezvous at Arrochar.

From Achantibert on Loch Fyne, George had set out the previous day at 4.40 in the morning for the meeting, going by way of the Douglas Water and round Inverary into the relative safety of Glen Shira. On the way up the Brannie, which he describes in his diary as the longest dreariest and most featureless hill in Argyll, he lit a fire and breakfasted before struggling on in the shimmering heat. He forded the River Fyne and headed for Loch Sloy where he passed the time of day with a shepherd and went on to reach the Youth Hostel at 3.30 pm; a journey of perhaps 20 miles.

He spent the next day lying in the sun up the glen from the Hostel. Walking down again in the evening, he was followed by a man in a blue lounge suit - strange clothing for the hills. Later, when going to Arrochar to meet Y.N.A friends of the bus, he was stopped by another man in a suit, who turned out to be Inspector Thomson, sent at four in the morning from Edinburgh to catch him.

The police had obviously known approximately where George had been staying as they had already been to Achantibert and had also searched around Ben line, the Cobbler and the bothy at ‘Abyssinia’.

George was allowed to collect his gear from the Hostel and to say goodbye to Margaret before being taken to Alexandria Police Station for the night and next day escorted to jail in Edinburgh pending trial.

It was at this time that an MP began enquiries about the raids and the arrests of Arthur Donaldson, G.C. Hay and others, and the various allegations and accusations from our own Party officials were shoved in our faces. (John McCormick said no members of the S.N.P. were involved - peculiar, I would say, as we were all paid up Edinburgh Branch members.)

Many letters were seized by the police which were mostly from service men, and normal Party information. In the end, all this effort came to nought because no case could be brought, and, as the police report says, with one exception, nothing of a seditious nature was found in the correspondence.

After a full investigation Parliament found we had nothing to answer to and ordered the Police to return all letters etc., to their owners.

It will be appreciated that with all this activity one’s own family were much upset by it all. Why should one of them be so disloyal in this time of war - ‘not for us to reason why’.

My own mother was seriously ill with double mastoids, and after the initial scuffles, I managed to convince the five policemen that this was so, but not before the Inspector had a peek into my mother’s bedroom. One never realises how alone one is until it occurs. My house was searched meticulously, and I was constantly asked where the "explosives" were, and when told there were none, they wouldn’t believe it. So, getting fed up, and with tongue in cheek said ’Try under the floor boards’. This at least stopped them asking silly questions. Then came the lecture, "Why does a nice young fellow like you get mixed up with the likes of Arthur Donaldson. You should forget all about those ideas." - and, I suppose, tell all !

On this occasion I was very pleased that my second sister was at home looking after my mother, and for the first time in her life decided to serve her brother a slap-up Scottish Breakfast; B&B parlance, sausage, bacon, fried bread, tomato, tea and toast, and a very good wartime effort.

When she arrived, tray loaded up, I do not know who was most surprised, myself or the police. However with mouths agape and quivering lips they remarked they had no breakfast yet. They did not get any either!

My sister was not politically inclined, but the old saying ‘blood is thicker than water’ certainly applied there. I can assure everyone the interrogation went much better for me thereafter, and having been raided and also knowing you have nothing to answer makes it much easier to endure.

The police had been entirely misinformed, and you could feel this in the questions asked.

Repercussions to these goings on were remarkably slow in coming. Naturally, you were treated like a leper at first by your acquaintances who got to know about your involvement and even some good Party members looked over their shoulders when they talked to you. Notoriety brings strange bedfellows. Several Irish characters edged up to me saying they understood how I felt. I didn’t quite know how I felt I and there was no safe way of contacting your co-subversives; some were in jail and most of the rest were taking cover to see what the end result would be; maybe another knock on the door.

In due course, Parliament cleared us of all treachery and other criminal charges. George Hay was released from incarceration after 10 days, as was R.E. Muirhead, Arthur Donaldson and all others who were locked up, except Douglas Young, who refused to have a medical and got a stiff jail sentence. George, however, did take a medical and was awaiting posting to one of the Army services.

After a happy and gregarious meeting, George and I decided that we should first collect our gear from the police, making haste to the main Police Station in the High Street, Edinburgh. We asked for the inspector in charge of the raids on our houses, to be told that he was not available. So, holding a copy of the 'Daily Express’ with the article showing our innocence in headlines and the commitment to return our letters etc., caused instant pandemonium and shouts of 'Get out of here’. We shouted back that we would contact our MP’s and newspapers immediately and inform them of how we had been received. Again there was a show of aggressive hostility, but bit by bit started to get our stuff back - urging the police all the time to admit their duty to deliver. In the end, after two hours, we got everything they had taken. This was great for our confidence at a time of despondency.

In the next few months, many contacts were made by us throughout Scotland now that things were mainly normal for those of us left at home. However, the split in the Party between those who wanted an organisation with loose contacts with all other parties who said they believed in Home-Rule and those who wanted a positive stand on whether we were a political party or not, with policies we could stand by was, as already stated, rapidly coming to a head.

The argument at National Council and similar meetings showed that this was a bitter fight and it was obvious that when the challenge came, it would be some battle.

Throughout the latter part of 1941 it is claimed by some that the pro-war group was bent on getting rid of the anti-conscriptionists. However, I can assure everyone that on the other side, the feeling was mutual and they were building up support all the time.

As our natural speakers were once more available and, what is more, accepted by most Nationalists, the Movement, it was strange to say, was buzzing with activity. The Y.N.A. itself was not active locally. We still had meetings at the Mound and painted slogans at our convenience, but as far as Scottish affairs were concerned, we were invited to every function that was available and accepted as the fount of Scottish action in the Edinburgh area.

There were one or two by-elections fought by the S.N.P. at this time. In Cathcart with a Mr. Whyte as candidate who was so pro-government in his stance regarding the war, he put many Party workers off and the electorate must have guessed the confusion and gave Mr. Whyte one of our worst electoral performances; a mere 5.5% of the vote. This, with other good showings from the Party skirmishes, started a year that was to be outstanding for the future of the Party and the Independence Movement.

During this time, no change was noted in the attitude of the establishment or Government to the blandishments of the Party hierarchy in their endeavours to get some promise of support for the aims of the S.N.P. after the war. In fact, it would seem that Mr. McCormick’s many compromises and entreaties got no reply whatsoever. Also the appointment of Tom Johnston as Scottish Secretary, which was regarded by some as the Governments kindly answer to our pleas, but as we have all learned by experience that when it comes to promises about Home Rule, the Labour Party was using the Scottish issue to further their own ends, and a Socialist Britain was more important than a Socialist Scotland, and Mr. Johnston was forever running hot and cold over his replies to various queries, never quite getting to the point, showing once again that the conception of Scotland as an entity does not even enter the mind of the average Labour, Tory, or Liberal activist; and would never change unless we did something about it.

At this time also the Party Secretary was further developing (as another string to his bow) the idea of a Scottish Convention with all Parties in Scotland involved in a plebiscite after the war, and it seemed he still wanted to be attached to the S.N.P. in a steering capacity. This ‘will of the wisp’ attitude did not augur well for the Party’s future. How could a person of such high ability be so gullible. Statesman-like it was not, and could have been a point of much derision if it had come to fruition in the way he desired. Happily, contact with other like-thinking Nationalists was proving very promising for the Y.N.A. As most of its active members were called up, the few of us who were left were in constant communication with the mainstream opposition in the Party, Arthur Donaldson, now a free man, but was considered the enemy as far as the Party hierarchy was concerned, and we had to be careful not to be too obvious in our contact with him.

Meantime Douglas Young was still in limbo with his trial pending, but his statements from time to time were causing favourable comments, especially from Party members as Party officers were unable officially to give vent to their real feelings - frightened of rocking the boat. The fact that the S.N.P. objectors were protesting against conscription as a violation of the Act of Union, and also outstanding issues of what the Government attitude was to self government for Scotland would be after the war, as not one reply had been made to enquiries made by the hierarchy, which was riding along on Cloud Nine hoping for the best, instead of getting tough with the despoilers of the idea of democracy. A good threat sometimes works wonders.

The rebels in the form of R.E. Muirhead, A. Donaldson, Oliver Brown etc., had become exceedingly active at this time, and although forced to be outside the Party, were helped by those Party members with like ideas, especially those who were not attached to government quangos as were the likes of Dewar-Gibb, William Power, and Dr. McDonald who were so divisive in their point of view. The rebels were also helped by the newspaper efforts to get ‘newsworthiness’ from our predicaments !!! They naturally blew everything up to the highest degree, causing such great concern among the wafflers, that some resigned from the Party, and others were not available any more, But the fact was that the public was most interested and, in many circumstances, helpful, because they were looking forward to the end of the war, and as we seemed to be the only people concerned about their future, we were building a good picture of our ideas on a future Scotland, not perfect by any means, but in hindsight, creating for the first time in many Scottish minds, the image of a political party, not tartan Tories’. So much for keeping your mouth shut and wait for our handout!.

With such a diversity of activity taking place, Party and Branch officials had a thankless task. However, Dr. McIntyre was active in his own quiet way in the body of the Party caucus. He also, in my opinion, had some conception of the gigantic task we in the Party had to contend with in the future. Two hundred and fifty years of white washing had not made us the most cohesive nation in the world. The ‘lies and damned lies’, which the English Parliament had honed to a fine art, fed to us every so often to keep the pot boiling - that "Scotland costs England money"; that "Britain was too small to have too many sources of government" and, of course, "Scotland has some of the best soldiers in the World". That I would say was fair enough! But they were no good outside the British Army according to our English friends. Misinformation like this takes years to eliminate, and other lies will always be put forward, knowing that the Scottish Unionist of all parties will accept them as fact.

Over the past 45 years, one of the main jobs of the new S.N.P. was to endeavour to put these matters straight. However, with officials like Dr. McIntyre guiding us through to the end of the war, and through the fifties, sixties and seventies when we reached the zenith of our effort, it took great tolerance and dedication to proceed through all these years, being confronted by the media with opposition lies, or ones they invented to discredit our Party and officials, and never a threat or menace to those who would have loved to destroy the whole conception of Scottish nationhood and history in pursuit of their goal of British Nationality.

Yes! Dr. McIntyre proved his worth to Scots and Scotland, and being contemporary with him I understand how he would love to be back in full swing. We know that he has done an excellent job and will always be a significant part of S.N.P. history.

It would be the right time to mention that our Forces members did visit us while on leave, but the chance to help us in our activities was extremely rare as long working hours and one week-end a month off in four, did not adjust to Forces leave passes, but it was good to see them again and to hear their viewpoint and criticism or appreciation of our efforts in their absence.

Some, however, did not come back to see us ! Circumstances had sent others in a different direction, courting, marriage. After all, the difference between an eighteen and a twenty-two year old is considerable, especially during a war. Bob Pringle was a Radio Officer in the Merchant Navy, sailing between U.S. and Britain was unfortunately taken prisoner in the Atlantic and finished up in a Japanese P.O.W camp, where for three years he suffered a pretty horrible life, was in very poor health when released, but has always been one of the Party’s most resolute members. The Y.N.A. did loose two members in action as mentioned before; Ross Gibson killed in an air raid, and Douglas Craigie, an air gunner, never came back. Both these gentlemen were a credit to Scotland.

George Campbell Hay was sent to Greece on active service, and having command of at least six languages, was used by the Forces in that area to get information. Unfortunately, he fell into the hands of the Communists, who so ill-treated him that when he returned to this country at the end of the war, his mind was so affected that he had to have treatment for many years and was never the same man he had been when we first knew him.

Life in the Forces must have have been very frustrating for our Nationalist lads. Their anxiety about their own and Scotland’s future must have dwelt in their minds in the quieter hours of their service, and the lack of information regarding all political activities at home must have been frustrating to say the least. We at home tried to give as much news as possible. Censorship was very much a fact of life and there was no way round it. Those who had no home leave just did not get any news of our activities. We for our part answered every letter received to the best of our abilities!

At the end of 1941 and the beginning of 1942, it was obvious that the Conference in May 1942 would be one of the most important in the history of the Party. Both factions were busy laying out their ideas, but it appeared that the crux of the matter would be the selection of the Chairman. The leadership nominated William Power, one of the stoic, middle-of-the-road Nationalists, and a henchman of John McCormick. Their idea was to hold on until the end of the war, before proceeding with any real Party activities, and in the meantime putting the seed of a Scottish Convention into the minds of the other ‘British’ Parties in the hope that they would become our partners in this ploy. The other side backed Douglas Young, Dr. McIntyre being in the forefront of the radicals’ choice in this election.

Although it seemed at first that it would be no contest, the Branches started to show a distinct interest, and it became clear that all was not going ‘King John’s’ way. Also, the principal policy of the rebels, i.e. Independence and the support of anti-conscriptionist and other controversial ideas, were popular. So, with the line up quite clear, the arguments on both sides were raging and it was clear that there was a lot of dirty linen flying about.

As the day of reckoning drew near, canvassing was hectic and no side could claim to be winning. Looking back, it seemed impossible that this could happen during a major war, but it did, and changed the Party’s policy forever. When the National Conference came round in 1942, there was a quiet air of excitement in anticipation of the contest for Party Chairman, and, as usual, motions from the Branches on various policies were dealt with first, so it was late on that Saturday afternoon that the election of office bearers began.

I, myself had been chosen to represent the Edinburgh Branch. Originally there had been five of us but at the last minute one had opted out. With the Branch 100% behind Douglas Young, we were apprehensive that we would let the side down, so all the time leading up to the election great efforts were made, without success, to find another delegate. Bill Gibson of the ‘Daily Express’, to whom I have referred before suggested he’d like to join the Branch, and it then struck me that this was the answer. So he paid his sub. and I made him a delegate there and then. When the vote came and the result announced, there was no overpowering response, just handclaps, and I reflected that the vote of 33 to 29 was enough to make my conscience just a bit clearer.

The reaction of the Establishment was at first, reasonable and normal, but after a tea break Mr. McCormick came back to say he was resigning from the Party forthwith. Half the Conference went with him, but after a few months, most returned to the fold. John hadn’t got an organisation yet, and what ideas he had were based on ‘Convention’ lines as usual. The lack of organisational discipline is not a good thing for a Nationalist group. Arthur Donaldson and other previously expelled members of the Party were allowed to return, so with Young as Chairman, McIntyre as Secretary, and Donaldson as editor of the ‘Scots Independent’, it was a powerful body to start us on our journey into the future.


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