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Dr Robert D McIntyre
Chapter 18 - Post-War Politics

Immediate post-war circumstances were not conducive to advances by the Scottish National Party. While the Conservatives had been heavily defeated in terms of seats, they still had 10 million votes against Labourís 12 million and, in Scotland, they held 29 seats to Labourís 37.

A good proportion of the Conservative defeat could be attributed to the service vote. One distinguished aristocrat reckoned that 80 per cent of the soldiers coming through his club were stating that they would vote Labour in 1945. The declaration of the result had been delayed for three weeks to enable these votes to be added to those already cast.

While Labour in Scotland had made pledges on Scottish Home Rule, these were quickly shelved from the legislative programme. The SNP had put up eight candidates in 1945 and secured a mere 30,000 votes. Clearly, electoral prospects were bleak. But there were other aspects of activity claiming attention.

The most charismatic figure, in terms of Scottish politics. John MacCormick, was concentrating on plans for his Scottish Covenant and had thrown in his lot with the Liberals. In March, 1947, he called together a Scottish National Assembly in the expectation that, if Labour could be persuaded that there was widespread agreement on measures to reform the government of Scotland, then progress could be made.

This all-party/no-party forum began its formal task of appointing subcommittees to look at the legal and constitutional implications of the establishment of a Scottish Parliament. Eventually, it produced its "Blue Print for Scotland" which was to form the mainstay of the Scottish Covenant campaign.

A meeting took place with Labourís Secretary of State for Scotland in early 1948 but the Assemblyís proposals were rejected by Arthur Woodburn who did not consider that there was any widespread demand for the Assemblyís schemes, and he indicated that he would be bringing forth his own proposals with regard to Scottish legislation at Westminster. When these came in a White Paper, they amounted to a tinkering with the system. More powers were given to the Scottish Grand Committee, in terms of ability to take Second Readings of Bills, and additional opportunities were provided to debate Scottish issues in Estimate Debates - but no concessions of substance were given in relation to the Assemblyís proposals.

MacCormick fought a by-election in Paisley in early 1948 and had put great fear into the Labour Party who thought that he would inflict defeat on its candidate, Douglas Johnstone, QC. As it happened, Johnstone won by 4,000 votes.

Rebuffed at the polls and by Government Ministers, MacCormick launched for public signature a new Scottish Covenant. As he argued, the language was moderate but firm and designed not as a petition but as a solemn undertaking for all who signed it to strive to attain the set goal.

The Covenant declared:

"We, the people of Scotland who subscribe this Engagement, declare our belief that the reform in the constitution of our country is necessary to secure good government in accordance with our Scottish traditions and to promote the spiritual and economic welfare of our nation.

"We affirm that the desire for such reform is both deep and widespread through the whole community, transcending all political differences and sectional interests, and we undertake to continue united in purpose for its achievement.

"With that end in view we solemnly enter into this Covenant whereby we Pledge ourselves, in all loyalty to the Crown and within the framework of the United Kingdom, to do everything in our power to secure for Scotland a Parliament with adequate legislative authority in Scottish affairs."

From the late months of 1949 right through to early 1951, signatures were collected for the Covenant. The claim is made for over 2 million and, even allowing for some duplication etc., this was a considerable body of opinion showing a desire for constitutional reform.

Nationalists, like Robert McIntyre, did not stand aloof from activities surrounding the Covenant. While not holding out much hope for success. McIntyre took part in meetings to promote signatories to come forward.

In the immediate post-war period, the SNP was a small and hard pressed organisation. Some, like James Halliday, retain happy but realistic memories of the period. Halliday, a life-long Nationalist with a West of Scotland background, first met Robert McIntyre in the late 1940ís, when James was a student at Glasgow University. Halliday signed the Covenant and was active in MacCormickís successful campaign to become Rector of Glasgow University.

His assessment of the Party at the time is of an organisation with an extremely restricted financial and membership base. McIntyre had taken steps to ensure that, although small, it would not be a one person show and had sought to bring back into the Party some of those who had left during the early 1940ís. But, despite these endeavours, Hallidayís description of the Party not being able to raise funds and having an effective membership in the low hundreds does not indicate that its strategy of showing the Scots that the way to independence was through the ballot box was having much effect.

Hallidayís opinion is that, at this period, McIntyre was realistically the only SNP member who had the ability and, as important, the wherewithal to make contact with leading political figures in Scotland. Such factors as the difficulties and expense in travelling about Scotland for meetings and to assist in Party organisation at this time was a major obstacle to Party growth. Robert was one of the few members who possessed a car and who could thus make Party contacts on his "own wheels".

When it is put to Robert McIntyre that the Party was in the doldrums for the period from 1945 to nearly 1960, he rejects this opinion. His view is that the Party was obtaining a fair amount of publicity and that it was building up here and there to enable it to fight constituencies, and this takes time.

But even his optimistic assessment is tempered by the acknowledgement that, in the 1950ís, things were "pretty bad" and was forced to plead to constituency associations that he should not be the only candidate standing for the SNP in the 1950 General Election.

What is often forgotten by the great mass of people who participate in politics solely through the important voting procedure of the ballot box is that parties have to be organised and financed. For a party like the SNP, with no trade union or big business source of funds, this is a voluntary effort as is much of the organisational and administrative resources of the Party at national and local level. A considerable sacrifice of time and family life, to say little of finance, is the burden for Party activists and this, more often than not, goes unnoticed and neglected by the public at large.

In a very real sense, "we" get our politics much too cheaply in Scotland, and the minority of folk who keep parties active bear a vastly disproportionate share of the effort to keep democracy alive.

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