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Dr Robert D McIntyre
Chapter 5 - The Scottish National Party in the Nineteen Thirties


While Robert McIntyre was refining his political skills, others were organising and laying the foundations of the Scottish National Party.

The SNP has taken its official foundation from 1934 when there was a coming together of the National Party of Scotland and the Scottish Party. But it could be argued that a more appropriate beginning was the foundation of the National Party of Scotland in 1928. The NPS was itself the creation of four smaller groupings: the Scottish Home Rule Association, the Scottish National Movement, the Scots National League and the Glasgow University Student Nationalists Association.

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 good.

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 fought".

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 poll.

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.


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