With the Annual
Conference behind them, the new hierarchy had to survey what they were
left with as far as organisation was concerned.
Naturally the Party, as
all others, was running at half cock. Some branches were at a standstill
through lack of active members. On the other hand, several new branches
had been set up since the war started, all through the efforts of Dr.
McIntyre, who had a penchant for this type of organising, and now that
he had a free hand, he proceeded to build an up-to-date structure of
organisation in the Party believing in basic discipline in the branches
as well as all other sections of the Party. The idea being to stop
individuals or groups negotiating and advocating policies not shared by
the majority of members. From now on the principles would be expounded
from the National Council with no modifications to gain short term
expediencies, and to proceed to convert the Scottish people to the ideas
of the S.N.P.
At this time quite a
number of policies were put in place, many of which had been expounded
by various Party speakers and office bearers in the past, but now we had
a wealth of talent to put them into a feasible Party Constitution.
Arthur Donaldson, along with R.E. Muirhead, were issuing leaflets giving
information of wrongs that were being committed from day to day, i.e.,
conscription of women into jobs in England with unsuitable accommodation
and conditions (a bit like the Germans were doing with their friends);
and, of course, the general attack on Scottish peoples’ freedom at all
times by the Unionist parties.
It is amazing what they
have given away for all time in the promise of its good for all of us,
but as we knew, it’s all take and nothing given in return. It is
absolutely necessary to hammer this point at all times. - we want to
resuscitate Scotland, no one else.
The Y.N.A. at this time,
if not dormant, was not very active, because most of its members had
been conscripted or, in connection with the war, moved to all sorts of
jobs in all parts of Britain. The Edinburgh Branch of the S.N.P. was
lucky in that it had quite a few ‘granny’ and ‘granddad’
members, retired people looking for something to do, who gave their
services to do a magnificent job, manning the office most days of the
week, so that any member on leave or passing through would not be
without a welcome, and would be brought up to date with the Branch and
Y.N.A. activities. - and, of course, cups of tea as required. Some
ladies were competent typists and helped with office duties.
For myself (I was very
much a loner in these days) and for anyone else in the same position, it
was necessary to find a few days a month to perpetrate a number of our
propaganda efforts as in the past, just to show that a continuity of
such activities was available, even in these difficult times and also to
help the new National Council in its efforts.
The result of the
resignation of John MacCormick and a considerable number of Party
members did not seem to affect us at all, and as time passed, most of
them returned to the fold.
John’s efforts then
concentrated on the setting up of the Scottish Convention in
anticipation of an all out campaign after the war ended, and
endeavouring to get other political parties to accept the need for such
an organisation. This was mostly administrative work, and members who
returned to the S.N.P. complained of the lack of information and real
However, the motto was to
be 'unity in diversity’, which covered a multitude of sins. As with
all family quarrels, the differences between the two groups would take a
good few years to heal, and as one who saw everything turn full circle,
I can say that the S.N.P. is well served today by members from both
I think it is time to
analyse the rise and subsequent disappearance of Douglas Young from the
As I have previously
mentioned, when he arrived back in Scotland after his University days in
Oxford, and started his career as a lecturer, he became a member of the
Aberdeen Branch and being a friend of George Campbell Hay, we in the
Y.N.A. saw quite a lot of him for a year or two in the late 1930’s.
My memory of him recalls
a gaunt figure of a man, tall, clad in black, with a dark beard and a
‘French artist’s hat’. With his strong Anglo-Saxon accent, a most
outstanding person at first sight - George Hay always referred to him as
Dia, (Gaelic for God). Peculiarly he was then engaged in writing ‘Lallans’
poems and translating Scottish poems into Russian and vice versa. He
must have had a hard time speaking Lallans!
When the war issues
developed, he became very much engaged in the anti-conscription cause,
and as most people know he was the only one of a kind, because after the
tribunal and appeal against conscription failed, he refused absolutely
to conform to this imposition, stood trial, and spent some time in
Saughton jail for his pains.
Instead of outright
condemnation, the Scots people showed an intelligent interest in his
point of view, and it was hot news for the media. What other news was
there! So they blew it up as hard as it would go, and he became in no
time at all a well known ‘politician’. Apart from the main
anti-conscription issue, he put forward a very able manifesto, including
many of the Labour Party ideas, and also a list of social policies such
as public housing and views on health and education. So, at the end of
1943 Douglas Young was a very exciting Party Chairman.
Dr. McIntyre, sensing
that our troubles had faded somewhat, and with a bye-election due in
December, had Douglas Young nominated as our candidate in Kirkcaldy.
This was a most successful ploy. The manifesto, issued in this Labour
held seat, included nationalisation of the mines and railways and the
fair allocation of jobs on the return of the Scots Forces from abroad.
The canvassing from door
to door prompted great interest, as the anti-conscription issue which
had caused such a furore in the press was explained to an eager
audience. The reason for this and comments on the activity of some of
its members, showed that we were hitting the right chord on very
important points and there were no hostile recriminations.
Needless to say, the
Labour party was not pleased that we were contesting the seat, being
used to the S.N.P. touching the forelock in the hope of crumbs of their
political favours. From now on Labour would receive the rebukes of our
Party for the cat and mouse game they had played with us over the last
two decades. Now the gloves were off!
efforts of Dr. McIntyre and Arthur Donaldson in a few short months began
to show, and the remarkable activity by the S.N.P. was commented on at
the time and is alive today, all built during this period of the split!
The result of the
election was the most successful of all time for the Party - Labour:
8268. S.N.P. 6621. It seemed as if the people were at last listening to
us. We meant something to them. We were no longer ‘Tartan Tories’.
We had a message and could get a response. Conventions and plebiscites
had their place, but the bread and butter issues are basic and real,
especially during a punishing war, and if we could give a light to a dim
future, they’d listen. But we had to convince by constantly reminding
the people of our intentions all from a Scottish point of view and the
realignment of Party policies, past and present, to suit the situation
of the time.
After the election, it
was obvious that a wealth of confidence emanated from all officials.
They felt that the support the Kirkcaldy voters had given them,
vindicated the rumpus of the past months, and showed that the radicals
had not been wrong in becoming more ‘one party’ minded. They were
all for getting down to business on policies and attitudes to other
parties and their members.
One resolution, which
seemed to have the support of the majority of members, prohibited
National and Branch officers from belonging to other parties. Douglas
Young meantime seemed to have settled down to Branch life again, but it
was noticeable during and after the election that he was a maverick as
far as party politics were concerned, and although on some points like
anti-conscription, he was very radical, in other ways he was more to the
Convention point of view. He also had a strong socialist streak.
This was not how the
National Council now felt. To tie Douglas down to a specific method was
difficult indeed, and after a good National Conference in 1943, he
became less and less involved in Party affairs, ultimately joining the
Labour Party just after the war ended. Much was made of this in all
sections of the media, and some members attacked his action, but in
hindsight, he was such an individual that in a small party like ours, he
could have caused overpowering havoc to our activities. In the Labour
party he could be lost in the main stream of the political story.
One thing from our point
of view, which is without doubt, no one knows what would have happened
to the Party without him, and he did keep a watching brief on
self-government issues all the rest of his comparatively short life.
After the Kirkcaldy
election, the Party’s new officials decided that the main road to
Scotland’s freedom would be through Parliamentary elections, and the
whole of the Party’s structure was re-built on that basis. Discarded
were the ideas of co-operation with Liberal, Labour or even Tory
Parties, as none of these had the slightest interest in helping us
achieve our aims, and as there was a large increase in membership and
more cash in the Party’s coffers, it was realised that we were capable
of running our own show.
The point was made that
the devolutionary style of government was definitely ruled out and that
Independence was our true aim. This was quite a task, as for years we
had advocated ‘home rule with strings’ as had our predecessors. The
saying, ‘home rule is better than no rule’ had stuck to us as it
seemed that the Scottish people did not want to go further, but the
recent events on the political front altered all our thinking and so
from this point we were to go forward with a clearer view of our idea of
The build up of the
various branches of the Party started to show from the end of 1943
onwards and gradually it was seen to take form. Dr. McIntyre’s efforts
were taking shape to everyone’s delight. In 1944 he published a
leaflet on the principles of Scottish reconstruction, a cluster of
policies which brought some meaning and direction to all members of the
Party, and even today rule the hands that guide the S.N.P.
As I have said before and
can’t reiterate enough, these were the days that our Party created
itself in the minds of the Scottish people, and is never to be forgotten
by any who survived those days and turned our efforts at last into a
worthwhile cause united in its positive acceptance.
To close this chapter on
a note of euphoria would be quite excusable, but this is no end to our
story, and as with all journeys, there are ups and downs.
It is therefore timely to
take a look at the outcome of the Y.N.A.‘s original vow at the
beginning of the war to keep the S.N.P. alive, and to stabilise it. At
the end of 1943 it would be no lie to say we had achieved both of those
aims as far as the internal workings of the Party were concerned, but as
has been mentioned, the main function of our group was to let the people
of Scotland know of our grievances through all forms of propaganda, and
to keep faith with our departed members during what must have been a
very frustrating time.
The war showed that an
end would come sooner than later, and as I said that the Party was now
stabilised in its views. Also, as a competent executive was in place one
could give a reasonable argument in saying that once the war was over,
the Party could look forward to handing over its activities in good
working order to the lads who were looking forward to carry on the
After ten years hard work the Y.N.A. aims
had come a long way, and although a lot of political bashings had taken
place there were no fatal casualties. A lot of noses had been put out of
place, and as already said, there were two camps with quite different
points of view on how to achieve self-government. In retrospect it is
quite clear that the dog-in-the-manger is and always will be the English
Government as proved time and time again in its ownership of all they
survey, no feeling of fellowship to their kindred human beings, and all
I have written here happened 50 years ago when we were so naive as to
think we were dealing with fair and honest people ! Now we know !