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.
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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