The 1940ís -
King Johnís Rule
Despite the high profile of some of the leaders of
the SNP, particularly John MacCormick, the Party in the 1940ís was in
extremely poor shape. Robert McIntyreís ability to combine a number of
taxing assignments was severely strained in his early period as
Organiser, and later as Secretary. He discovered that there was really a
small coterie of active branches:
Edinburgh, Glasgow Central and places like Aberdeen
and Paisley were exceptions to the general rule and the total membership
was only around 600.
McIntyre was bold in shocking the Partyís Executive
with this knowledge. His view was, "I had been given the job of
Organiser and I took it seriously." In normal times, to reverse the
process of stagnation would be difficult, but, given all the constraints
of the War, it was almost impossible. Almost before he could get
started, the Party entered into a schism of real conflict, which could
have proved terminal to its survival.
Arthur Donaldson took the view that, "The split
in 1942 was, without question, the most serious threat ever to the
National Movementís continuation in Scotland. It divided the Party
into two almost equal factions."
However, the situation of the Party, specifically
relating to a brush with authority of some of its members, had a
considerable effect on the overall climate.
At the commencement of
the Second World War, a sizeable proportion of the Party activists were
extremely hostile to being involved in war, without having a democratic
say in such issues as conscription. Among those who took this stance
were Arthur Donaldson and Douglas Young, who differed in character and,
indeed, on long-term political aims and strategy.
Simultaneously, at around
7am on 3rd May 1941, a number of raids were made by the police on the
homes of individuals whom they suspected of "subversive"
activities, including Arthur Donaldson at Lugton, Douglas Young in
Aberdeen, Roland E Muirhead at Lochwinnoch and Muriel Gibson in Glasgow.
The files on this event,
which were only made available in 1995, after more than 50 years,
contain a remarkable vignette of the attitude of Military Intelligence.
Vi Donaldson gives a
vivid description of the events at Lugton. As it happened, at the time
of Arthurís arrest, the Donaldsons were paying host to more than
twenty evacuees from Clydebank and, when the police arrived to carry out
the search and arrest, a cousin of Arthurís, David Donaldson, who had
been bombed out in Clydebank, was also a "guest". As the
police arrived, David was about to catch the train to get on his way to
his work at John Brownís, Clydebank, and he just walked right through
the police lines - hardly an exercise in efficient pursuit of
Arthur was conveyed at
first to Kilmarnock and thence to Barlinnie, Glasgow. This action was
taken under Section 18 (b) of Defence (General) Regulation 1939 and,
among those acting on behalf of the aptly named Major P Perfect,
Scottish Regional Security Officer, was R Brooman-White, a future Tory
Minister at the Scottish Office. The Secretary of State for Scotland,
Tom Johnston, was in an extremely awkward position, the more so as one
of his mentors, Roland E Muirhead, was involved.
to the Scottish Nationalist cause should be given adequate recognition
some day. Johnston in his "Memories" pays him scant
compliment. Squeezed between Jimmy Maxton and Sir Alfred Duff Cooper,
Johnston supplies a "thumbnail" sketch of Roland Muirhead
which deals with the incident of the search on his house in the
following manner; "At the time, somebody took it upon himself to
hint to the police that Roland might be a sympathiser with Hitler, or at
any rate anti-English, to warrant a raid upon his house. A raid duly
took place and after some locks had been forced there was borne off in
triumph a sporting rifle of the last century vintage which had belonged
to an uncle or brother...
existed at the time in the offices of the Crown Prosecutor and the Lord
Advocate a sense of humour, and the engines of war referred to were
hurriedly ordered to be returned, so that Roland Muirhead was deprived
of a martyrís crown...".
Even allowing for the
elapse of ten years from the event, it is difficult to recognise that
Johnston was writing of an individual whom he had known for nearly fifty
years and who had bankrolled the paper "Forward" which
Johnston had been instrumental in founding in 1906 and of which he had
Much nearer the truth is the disclosure in the files
in the Scottish Record Office of a Secretary of State struggling to
reconcile his "Home Rule" and socialism past with the actions
of an establishment in panic.
His office was bombarded with letters and James
Maxton, MP, to his eternal credit, did not hesitate to keep up an attack
by means of Parliamentary Questions.
What the Military Intelligence were up to, no one
will ever really know. In a memo dated 10th May 1941 for Tom Johnston,
it is stated: "Grave suspicions attach to Arthur Donaldson of
Lugton against whom there is a considerable body of evidence
demonstrating highly subversive activities extending over a long
"Donaldson ... like
other Quislings", it is suggested, " ... uses a local Home
Rule Movement as a basis for subversive activities."
What was the nature of this supposed evidence? Given
that Arthur Donaldson never sought to hide his activities, this Ďso
calledí "considerable body of evidence" available to the
authorities has never been revealed. The almost amateurish nature of the
approach to the gathering of such evidence is shown in a report compiled
by the Chief Constable of Glasgow, P J Sillitoe, on a meeting held on
Sunday, 5th April 1942 to commemorate the Declaration of Arbroath in
Arthur Donaldson who had returned to the bosom of his
family in June 1941, after six weeks in Barlinnie, was one of the
speakers along with Hugh MacDiarntid, Alexander Sloan MP and Oliver
The Chief Constableís
five page report for the Scottish Office goes into remarkable detail on
the activities of these "subversives", campaigning in the open
air, aided by the "Clan MacKenzie Pipe Band - playing the platform
party on to a lorry".
According to this report, Arthur was quite frank
that, "They should not be frightened by the fact of his having been
in Barlinnie. He had been put there because he was a Scotsman trying to
obtain the freedom, politically, socially and economically of his
Hugh MacDiarmid is
reported to have told the crowd, of approximately one hundred, that he,
"hated facisim wherever he found it, were it Germany, Italy, Spain
Next came Alexander Sloan
MP who launched a bitter attack on Labourís Herbert Morrison, as Home
Secretary, and the last speaker was Oliver Brown who gave his views on
the war issue by, "calling upon Scottish men and women to support
democracy by reviving the spirit of the 1320 Declaration, as at present
we have a sham Parliament, a sham democracy, a sham religion and a sham
The report concludes by
stating: "During the meeting a collection was taken on behalf of
the St Andrewís Ambulance Association".
Thus the hammer of
Glasgow "Razor Gangs" reported to his political masters on
those who were being accused of undermining the state.
One of the above group,
Hugh MacDiarmid, had written to the Secretary of State regarding the
return of a 20,000 word typescript entitled, "A brief Survey of
Modern Scottish Politics - in the Light of Dialectical Materialism"
which he thought had been taken in one of the raids in May, 1941. The
letter from Whalasay to Tom Johnston began, "Dear Comrade" and
concluded with an attack on the governmentís imposition of
conscription by asserting that the Secretary of State, "must be
aware that all the legislation under which conscription and other war
time measures are being applied in Scotland is utterly illegal". It
is little wonder that the Civil Servants of the time had some difficulty
in determining Tom Johnstonís reply.
An indication of the
extent to which the authorities did go to try to obtain
"evidence" relating to Arthur Donaldsonís activities is
given by their treatment of other Nationalists like Muriel Gibson and
Isa (Hillhouse) Fisher.
The events surrounding
their searches of Muriel Gibsonís premises vary from the bizarre to
Muriel had been a
supporter of the Nationalist cause since 1932 when she became a member
of the National Party of Scotland in Glasgow. At the outbreak of war,
she chose to join the Red Cross and eventually was called up to the
Voluntary Aid Detachment, which gave clerical and administrative
assistance to the army.
On 3rd May 1941 when she
was billeted in Gilsochill School in Maryhill, she was awakened at 7am
by the police who proceeded to search her quarters and belongings.
Muriel always had
"her books" with her and, as it happened, one - which she
admits she had not read - happened to be "Mein Kampf", which
must have at least aroused suspicions as to the future loyalties of the
Additional cause for
concern was provided by copies of Arthur Donaldsonís monthly
newsletter "Scottish News and Comment".
for this was that she had been in the habit of getting eggs from Arthurís
farm at Lugton and, in addition to supplying food for the body, he had
thought it appropriate to sustain the mind as well by keeping her
supplied with his own views on current events.
When the police officers
escorted Muriel back to her home in West Regent Street, Glasgow her
anxious Mother, Mrs Charlotte Gibson, awaited them. Mrs Gibson was small
of stature but certainly no push over for the Glasgow Police. One can
picture her increasing agitation as she witnesed the search of the
rooms, drawer by drawer, inch by inch before Muriel was conveyed to the
Central Police Station.
Mrs Gibson summoned every
bit of spirit in her 5 ft frame and cautioned the Police Officers over
the tenement stair bannister, "Be sure and bring that girl back in
the same condition that youíre taking her away!"
More importantly for the
record is that Muriel Gibsonís future career in the army was one of
great distinction and advancement. Having entered the ATS as a private,
she achieved the rank of Major by the end of 1945 and eventually left
the Womenís Royal Army Corps as a Lt Colonel. As they say "What
would she have achieved had she read Mein Kampf?"
But this and other
investigations go to prove that the authorities were really determined
to seek out those who had relationships, albeit of a minor nature, with
Nationalist leaders, particularly of the calibre of Arthur Donaldson in
order to try to implicate those who appeared to be the great challenge
to the established and establishmentís opinions and desires.