This step was significant in that it broke away from
loose electoral and political groupings and set a pattern for a distinct
concerted political party campaigning for votes at the ballot box.
Future schisms and splits were to revolve round the
virtues and vices, real and imagined, of this distinctive approach and
the best way to achieve the mandate and mechanisms of independence, but
the long haul of adhering to a party which would put its case to the
Scottish people in elections, local and national, is the end which the
SNP has continued to pursue.
A dominant figure in the creation of the National
Party of Scotland was John MacCormick (King John) who proved a lively
and controversial influence on Scottish politics for the next thirty
years. Starting in Glasgow University student politics with strong
Independent Labour Party leanings, he "progressed" to standing
as a Liberal candidate for Inverness in 1945. But his contribution and
skills should not be belittled. He was an accomplished organiser and an
impressive public speaker who developed an not inconsiderable affection
for his own talents and a liking for socialising with the great and the
His position as secretary of the National Party of
Scotland enabled him to forge understandings and contacts with the more
right wing and gradualist organisation, the Scottish Party, which was
headed by such dignitaries as the Duke of Montrose, Sir Alexander
MacEwan and Andrew Dewar Gibb. In this, MacCormick was aided by Neil
Gunn who, living in Inverness, had a fairly close association with Sir
Alexander MacEwan through his son Robin MacEwan.
Neil Gunn played a key role in smoothing out
difficulties in connection with party rivalries affecting the candidate
in the by-election in Kilmarnock in 1933.
After a disastrous performance in a by-election in
East Fife, in which the candidate was Eric Linklater (who used his
experience to good effect in his novel, "Magnus Merriman"),
The National Party of Scotland was extremely wary of contesting further
by-elections, especially if it meant that this might expose divisions in
the "nationalist" ranks.
It was, therefore, with some consternation that
leading members of the National Party of Scotland viewed the
intervention of the Scottish Party, in the form of Andrew Dewar Gibb as
their candidate, in a by-election in Kilmarnock late in 1933. This
prompted Neil Gunn to write Andrew Dewar Gibb in highly charged terms on
this decision of the Scottish Party. "This has certainly given all
a severe shock. The National Party decision to fight Kilmarnock is
months’ old and weeks ago schemes were considered and drawn up. In
view of recent troubles, never has it been so essential for the National
Party to fight an election, and not merely for any tactical good to
itself but for the advancement of the cause for which it has strenuously
Obviously, the NPS was anxious to expunge the effect
of the mere 3.6% of the vote which it had achieved in East Fife.
Therefore, it had become essential to arrive at some understanding with
the Scottish Party and its leaders.
MacCormick’s opinion was that the National Party of
Scotland "could not allow the Scottish Party to continue in its
separate existence. It was led by men whose names were far better known
to the public than were many of ours and who command the respect which
is always given, whether due or not, to rank and position".
Not surprisingly, this assessment did not meet with
complete acceptance within the National Party of Scotland and was
opposed strenuously by delegates from the London and Edinburgh branches.
Ultimately, the blocking of discussions with the Scottish Party by
members of the London Branch could, in MacCormick’s analysis, only be
removed by the expulsion of leading branch members.
This was achieved in October, 1933 and the path was
cleared for the adoption of an agreed candidate for Kilmarnock, Sir
Alexander McEwan, who polled over 6,000 votes and achieved 17% of the
The discussions involving the candidature of Sir
Alexander McEwan broadened to embrace discussions of proposals leading
to the merging of the two parties.
After considerable deliberation, and much heart
searching by key figures in the National Party of Scotland, the two
parties agreed to combine and this was made official on 7th April, 1934.
The following years to the outbreak of war in 1939
were fraught with difficulties for the new party mainly related to lack
of discipline and an inability to agree on purpose and direction.
The Party’s results in the November, 1935 general
election were disappointing with only MacCormick in Inverness and
MacEwan in the Western Isles achieving respectable results. In
subsequent by-elections, the results varied from over 31% of the poll
against Ramsey MacDonald in the Scottish Universities seat, to a meagre
6.8% in Dumbarton in March, 1936.
As the conflict in Europe became more certain, the
SNP was experiencing a period of being at war with itself. Some of the
former members of the Scottish Party departed the scene but, whilst this
helped a little in producing some semblance of cohesion, the fundamental
problem of claril~4ng whether the SNP was a "movement" or a
political party, with a programme of action which would gain the
independence of Scotland, remained unresolved.
This conflict was to continue to engage the party’s
energies and personnel until it eventually caused the split in 1942.
One wonders what the newly graduated Dr McIntyre saw
in this organisation of which he was to become a member in the late 1930’s.
Whatever were his initial thoughts, he was to find himself rapidly
promoted through the ranks, becoming Organiser in the early 1940’s.