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Anthony J.C. Kerr "A Man of Letters"
Chapter Four

June 1967


Human beings with immeasurable IQs are very rare on this planet and of course Anthony was certainly one of these. There was no secret about this. Even if he had not been known to be a member of MENSA it would have been obvious with his incisive comments, his deductive skills and his ability to retain everything he had ever learned.

Most of the world knew Anthony J.C. Kerr as a contributor to letter columns in the press but I knew him as a helpmate.

In my lonely furrow as the only member of my party in the European Parliament, both before and after direct elections from 1975, I had a lot to learn in this forum. At the outset of my time there it was full of distinguished European politicians, many of them with vast ministerial experience. I was naturally anxious to make my mark on the Chamber and to gain quick appreciation of procedures and lobbying methods. In this, Anthony as an expert on the European Parliament, was an invaluable adviser. He was always patient and ready to give advice at a moment's notice, even at weekends.

In a second way we co-operated in defining the party's position on the EEC and in defining my own participation there when I was elected and of course this had been an ongoing experience of my political life. I did have a knight clothed in shining words. His letters even found their way into the columns of many of the Highlands newspapers in my vast Euro constituency. I don't know, but I don't believe, he ever had that reply familiar to most of us, the editor's rejection slip.

To replace a man with such a devotion to Europe and a wide knowledge of world affairs and the facts and statistics thereof will simply not be possible. Perhaps I could say that in some way I will miss him hungrily for all these reasons.

Part of Anthony's high intelligence meant that he did not suffer many of the normal human frailties. He never bore a grudge. If people frowned on his eccentricities he really was indifferent to this. Having stood as an Independent without Party permission he ran into difficulties with the Party but patiently tholled his assize and patiently showed that he would work for the Party which had temporarily rejected him in precisely the same way as before. There was not occasion I can remember of significance politically where Anthony was not seen arriving on his motorbike (unless of course his work prevented him from attendance). Although a ken-speckled figure in Scotland he never sought personal publicity. That would not have been in his nature. Naturally the Party in its wisdom had the wit to welcome him back into the ranks where he continued to serve and indeed fought a very fine campaign for local elections gaining a very significant result.

Memories flood back to mind. One of my happy memories is when my husband made his one and only excursion into national politics and stood in the City of Glasgow Central as a parliamentary candidate. The party felt that not many good workers could be spared for what was not regarded as a bright electoral prospect. Anthony however insisted on being one of the small band who successfully saved Stewart's deposit by a handful of votes, a task that was thought to be superhuman. In this campaign I remember Anthony visiting every public house in the city centre and succeeding in having a poster placed in a prominent position on the gantry of almost every one of them. Apparently his Harrovian accent did not prevent the necessary communication to accomplish this Herculean task.

One cannot help wondering about the contribution such a man could have made to an Independent Scotland with its rightful place among the nations of the world.

1974 – The Scots Independent


One of the S.N.P's. major weaknesses, throughout its period of rapid growth and during the stage of reconstruction and consolidation which followed the 1970 General Election, has been its almost complete inability to make an impact abroad.

There have been many reasons for this - among them being the fact that Scottish newspapers scarcely penetrate London, and are never seen further afield - but the essential one is that we have not tried to make Europe and the world aware that we exist. The battle has had to be won here and foreign fields have been thought to be irrelevant.

There are however some very useful dividends to be won at home from a small investment abroad. In the first place, if people talk and write about us in the foreign press and in the Parliaments of other countries, this will enhance our standing here and gain us more votes.

Secondly, our friends abroad, once we have them, may help us in a variety of ways -financially and otherwise - and we may learn something from what they do in their own countries. Thus our highly successful election advertisements, signed by leading personalities and local people, were originally a Danish idea, developed by anti- and pro- Marketeers in their referendum campaigns, and taken up by the Free Democrats and the Christian Democrats in the West German General Election of November 1972.


A third point, though I am reluctant to mention it, is that our opponents are not pledged to non-violent means of preventing Scottish independence as we are pledged to non-violent means of achieving it. Ultimately we may need to seek out-side support. It would be as well to start preparing the ground now.

With this in mind I think it is now high time to set up a European affairs committee, by whatever name we may choose to call it, with the following remit:

1. to keep a small number of Continental newspapers under constant observation and send them a steady flow of letters and Scottish news items;

2. to establish and maintain contact with Continental senators, MPs. provosts and so on;

3. to induce Continental students and other young people to come to Scotland for a holiday, and put them in touch, through Headquarters or otherwise, with Nationalists who are willing to provide hospitality, show them around the hosts’ home towns or districts, and take them to branch meetings and other activities;

4. to create supporting branches and groups abroad;

5. to supply HQ or the Election Committee with any useful ideas emerging abroad; and

6. to organise hospitality and contacts for our MPs and office bearers on their Continental visits.

A few hard-core

Since this committee would not be required to develop policy or issue statements in the Party's name, it would not be essential that all its members should hold an S.N.P. membership card: a few hard-core supporters who have worked alongside the Party for years (e.g. Oliver Brown) would be very acceptable; and its base might well have to be on the mainland rather than in this country - e.g. my pied-a-terre in Brussels if I were to serve on it as convener, secretary or anything else.

About eight, nine or ten regular members would be needed, with occasional help from as many others as were willing to help. The essential qualifications for membership of this committee would be that people should be able to read an article and write a letter in at least one foreign newspaper, preferably two, with financial support from their branches if necessary since these papers can be rather expensive (60p a week or more for Die Welt and not much less for Le Monde).

Who is to observe which papers is something that would have to be decided once we knew who were available, which languages they had and which papers they already took. But I think we should need to have about 12 major newspapers under constant observation, and 50 more could be supplied with occasional letters and news items as and when opportunities occurred.

Another important qualification would be that committee members should either live in Scotland and travel abroad frequently or live abroad but come home at least once every five or six weeks. Permanent exiles are not as a rule sufficiently in touch with Scotland or with S.N.P. activities to play a really effective part.

First step

As a first step we have to know who is available and willing to help, and I should be grateful if anyone who is interested in joining such a committee, or working occasionally with it, would get in touch with me c/o the Scots Independent. This would be more satisfactory than writing to my home address in Jedburgh as my work keeps me constantly on the move.

I should also be glad to hear from anybody who possesses or can obtain a very large Saltire and knows how to run it up on a mast. Two highly suitable masts are at present available, in Luxemburg and Brussels respectively, as a result of Norway's refusal to join the Common Market, and they make the whole frontage look untidy when the other flags are flying. This is our chance to remind Europe that Scotland exists.


October 1974 - The Scots Independent


I am happy to stand corrected by Mr Starforth about Scottish National party defence policy (September Scots Independent) though I feel it would do no harm if the Defence Committee (and other S.N.P. committees) were allowed to publish their recommendations "without prejudice" so that ordinary members could contribute to the discussion before the Party's Assembly took over.

At the same time I should like to congratulate your Defence Correspondent on another excellent article. I can bear out what he says, as I was in Switzerland, as a boy of ten, at the outbreak of the second World War and saw the general mobilisation procedure carried out. It was a most impressive performance, with a 5.30 a.m. start.

This article, however, contains two minor inaccuracies. The Julier pass stands 7,750, not 3,750, feet above sea level, and the 118 days training period is for private soldiers only. On completing it, a young man may opt to do the same again and pass out as a corporal: he then comes back with his new rank for his annual camp, or if mobilised. Having passed out as a corporal, he may opt for a further four months and qualify as a subaltern.

Norwegian example

I should also like to comment on Mr Ferrier's letter (September issue). He seems to ignore the case for a separate monarchy, e.g. with Princess Alexandra as Queen of Scots. I feel this would safeguard our independence and national dignity far better than a union of Crowns, and there should be a constitutional provision to prevent the Crown of Scots from ever being united again with any other.

Norway adopted this course when her union of Crowns with Sweden was dissolved in 1905. Prince Carl of the royal house of Denmark, which had ruled the country from 1397 to 1814 (so far as I can recall), was invited to become king. Much to his credit, he insisted on a plebiscite to confirm this invitation. He then changed his name to Haakon and solemnly renounced, for himself and for his heirs, any claim to the Danish throne.


(P.S. The Swiss "national population" is not 6,629,000 but under 6m., the balance being of permanent or temporary foreign residents who are not, of course, liable for military service. This makes the country's effort even more creditable than your Defence Correspondent suggests. The Swiss Army at full strength is actually a little over a million, and this figure was reached at critical periods in the last war - for instance when the Germans over-ran France and seemed likely to take a short-cut across the Swiss midlands and the Jura to bypass the Maginot Line. A "second mobilisation", however, is required to attain this maximum.)

(P.P.S. Readers of the S.I. will be pleased to know that Czechoslovakia is at present - August/September - thickly covered with banners, placards and posters in praise of the S.N.P. I didn't put them up - they were placed by the Government to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the Slovak National Partisans uprising - but they look most encouraging.)

4th March 1974 - The Hawick News


As an ex-candidate and as one of the S.N.P. polling agents last Thursday, I should like to express my admiration for all the people who worked in and around the polling stations - a tedious and often lonely job but essential if the will of the people is to be expressed in an orderly fashion.

The outcome, both in the UK as a whole and in our own country is an excellent one for Scotland and should bring self-government very much nearer. The local result could have been more satisfactory for my party and its candidate - I had expected him to get around 7, 000 votes, a figure in keeping with our general level of improvement across the board. No doubt our Constituency Association will seek to establish why we only achieved a 20% increase instead of 100% (the national average) or a little over.

In any event I am convinced we shall do very much better next time, because there is no longer any danger of letting the Tories in. Any Nationalist candidate who was effective enough to take 9,000 Liberal votes (Mr Steers present majority) would also take at least 3,000 of the Tories, retain the existing S.N.P. vote and collect some votes from Labour voters and people who abstained this time. He would then come first or second in a recount and the Tory candidate would be third.

What matters is that Scotland and the Scottish National Party can no longer be ignored and the days when they could be ignored will not come back. If the S.N.P. plays its cards correctly, freedom is only one election away, or two at most, and the next election is likely to be within a matter of months.


3rdJuly 1974 - The Scotsman
the Editor


As an S.N.P. member I go along with my Party's support for the Kilbrandon scheme A. I would however add two comments of my own. It is important that the proposed Scottish Parliament should be large enough to cope effectively with committee work, to provide an adequate Cabinet from its own members, and to function as a constituent Assembly and as an entirely independent legislature if required. The 70 members suggested by the Liberals are not nearly enough for these purposes. I would suggest 142, making it possible to use the existing constituencies, with two members each, or to split them up into single member constituencies.

Though I am prepared to accept PR I don't like it, and prefer the French system as used in Presidential elections. That is to say, only those candidates who obtain a clear majority of votes cast are elected in the first round. Otherwise there is a run off between the two leading candidates. Slight adjustments are needed where this system is combined with two member constituencies, since there are three possibilities in the first round; two members elected outright, one member elected or nobody with a clear majority; in this last case I would envisage a run off between the first three.

In passing I hope there will be a minimum of statutory disqualifications. I see no reason why peers, ministers, priests and parsons should not be free to take their seats if elected. Officers and civil servants, as in most European Countries, should be free to stand taking unpaid leave for this purpose but should resign their commission or appointment if elected.


September 1987

Anthony Kerr

He was most interesting and knowledgable on many subjects, especially Politics and Religion. His views and opinions on these were always worthwhile listening to, and never did he try to force his beliefs on anyone.

On many occasions he did translations of foreign correspondence for me, doing so in an agreeable and helpful manner. He made one feel it was a pleasure doing this favour.

While dining with his son (Andrew) they would both have very animated discussion on matters of Politics, Policies, but completely oblivious of anyone listening to them, not trying to impress or attract attention.

He was a very fine character, and much respected in all walks of life.

28th March 1975 - The Hawick News


While I am in favour of Scotland remaining in the Common Market, at least for the moment, I do not like the counting and declaration arrangements which have been officially proposed for the referendum. They run contrary to general election procedure here and to established referendum procedures abroad and a very convincing case would therefore need to be made out for them if public opinion is to accept them. No such case has been made out.

Our traditional arrangements save time and money. They place less strain on police manpower which is already fully stretched. They reduce the risk of any substantial number of votes being lost or fraudulently added to the count. Above all we are used to them.

There would appear to be two reasons for the cumbersome procedure which the Government envisage. The first is that they are afraid of national differences appearing between Scotland, Wales and England. The second is that constituency results would be embarrassing to M.P.s who vote against a majority of their constituents. Both amount to the same thing, a wish to conceal inconvenient facts. But the first of these facts will emerge in any event from public opinion polls, spot checks at the station gates and constituency referenda which the S.N.P. may organise, while the second is already a matter of common knowledge, most M.P.s holding their seats on a minority vote.

The mammoth count looks, and is a deliberate fraud. It will arouse tremendous resentment and the Government must think again.


4th January 1975 - The Scotsman
the Editor


It is difficult to answer such a man as Mr Birt of Gourock, who is apparently afraid of freedom. But perhaps one can clarify some of the main implications of national independence - the fearful bogeys which he holds before our eyes.

In the first place, national independence does mean a visible frontier, Armed Services of our own and a Scottish Foreign Office with our own diplomats abroad. Secondly, however, these things are not as terrible as they seem.

A visible frontier does not mean Iron Curtain procedures lasting an hour or more. It need not even mean regular passport control and baggage checks for all travellers. What it means is that there are border posts at which cars may be stopped and passports checked if circumstances justify it (e.g. if the Scottish authorities are looking for specific individuals to be arrested or sent back whence they came, or if terrorists are suspected of trying to enter the country). In the normal course of events frontier procedures will take less time than getting through the traffic lights at either end of Princes Street.

Defence services of our own need not mean higher expenditure than at present, since we have to pay our pro rata share of U.K. defence. S.N.P. spokesmen have claimed in the past that we would actually spend less. The need to protect our oil installations and the growth in world terrorism have changed this, and my personal impression is that we shall spend much the same as now, but get far better value for it, partly through more efficient administration, partly because fewer of our men will be serving far from home, and partly because defence contracts will be placed in this country whenever possible, and in other countries only in exchange for their contracts placed here.

I have little confidence in the British defence set-up and feel that our part of the job-protection of Scotland itself, of our oil-fields, the route from the North Atlantic into the North Sea and the Baltic, and perhaps a small sector of the Iron Curtain from Lauenburg to Lubeck - is something we could handle better for ourselves as a member-State of NATO in our own right. It would probably involve restoring National Service, though not in the same form as before it was abolished - more as in Switzerland, with a relatively brief period of initial training (four months to qualify as a soldier, then an optional four months to qualify as an NCO and another optional four months to qualify as a subaltern), followed by refresher camps lasting a fortnight each every year or two. Unlike the Swiss, however, we would also require a professional navy, but this could be backed up by an RNVR-type force, based on the same principle of training and recall as the Army, and employed in the defence of our fishing grounds and oil rigs. I must stress that the S.N.P. is not committed either way on National Service, though I think very few of its members are unconditionally opposed, or in favour of a lengthy period (say two or three years). Most of us either think we should try to get by without it, but be prepared to restore it if necessary, or consider, as I do, that it is a valuable experience for young people anyway, provided it does not last too long.

A Scottish Foreign Office, with a reasonably number of diplomatic missions, adequately but not extravagantly staffed, should not cost as much as our pro rata share of the UK apparatus. I last worked out the sums in 1968-69 when Britain was spending £200m a year of which Scotland might be assumed to contribute £20m. Switzerland, Norway and Denmark were each operating on a budget of £10m. approximately, with fewer personnel than the British Embassy in Washington or Paris alone. There is of course no question of a Scottish Embassy in each of the 130-odd countries now represented in UN. About 40-50 missions, some of them covering several countries, or one country and a couple of international organisations (e.g. France. UNESCO and OECD, or Switzerland, ILO and WHO) would be ample. Again we get little for Scotland out of being represented as part of the UK; British foreign policy is not outstandingly successful and there are no foreign embassies in Edinburgh spending the counterpart of what Britain spends abroad at our expense, and we would be better off running our own show.

This only leaves the argument that Britain will not allow us to have independence anyway. I do not call that an argument but a blatant appeal to cowardice, which has never got anybody very far in their dealings with the Scots. We shall deal with that problem if and when it arises, but my impression is that it will not arise, because the British would find it intolerably expensive to hold Scotland down by force. They have trouble enough in Ulster and would need at least five times as many troops to maintain an effective presence here, let alone control the country. It simply isn't on in political, economic or military terms. The worst we are likely to face, in the event of UDI, is the sort of pressure applied to Rhodesia, but with fewer countries taking part, and not for very long. It will be moderately inconvenient while it lasts, but we can survive it, and in the longer term it will benefit our economy by compelling us to diversify and enabling various industries to re-establish themselves.


30th April 1976 - The Hawick News


The present state of chaos in our schools is a direct consequence of the reorganisation of local government foisted on us in the interests of so called "administrative efficiency".

What has happened is that in order to take our minds off Scottish self-government the Tories and Labour combined to create new entities which proved cumbersome and expensive to run giving new jobs at inflated salaries and with unspecified responsibilities to a variety of officials. The original scheme was in fact devised by a Labour Government slightly amended and translated into legislation by the Tories and finally implemented by Labour again.

Since it cost money to appoint new officials a saving had to be made somewhere. This was done by closing library reading rooms (a home-from-home for many old age pensioners) and stopping their supply of papers, by closing several public conveniences and by reducing the working hours and therefore the wages of school cleaners, most of them middle aged and older women who needed the money and who provided a very necessary service - certainly more necessary than whatever is being done by the spare bureaucrats.

There is no doubt that we were better off under the old system of local administration yet the Government in their White Paper had the effrontery to suggest that the position of the new authorities should be entrenched for some years so that the Scottish Assembly and Executive when set up would not be able to touch them until any further change seems more trouble than it is worth.

No wonder the S.N.P. has scored one by-election gain after another and established itself as the main opposition even where it has been able to take the seat. The regional authorities were set up as an obstacle on the road to independence and for no other purpose. They have done nothing to improve the quality of life. The sooner they are swept away and replaced by the old authorities or something like them the better


3rd May 1975 - The Scotsman
Letter to the Editor


I was present at the S.N.P. "anti-Market" rally last Sunday and can confirm that the points made were substantially as stated by Mr. Maxwell. However, I do not agree with all of them, and those which are valid are a reason for leaving the UK rather than for leaving the EEC. This for instance is true of our lack of direct EEC representation and perhaps still more of the "oil sell-out" danger. The risk here is of a unilateral surrender by Britain rather than the adoption of a common energy policy placing all oil resources under Community control: such a policy would have to be unanimously agreed and would be vetoed by Ireland, which has oil, by Denmark, which is likely to have it, and by Holland, which certainly has gas and may also have oil.

There is no danger at present of a European super-state: any move in that direction is certain to be vetoed by France, Italy, Denmark and Ireland, probably also by Holland.

Mr Maxwell is evidently more British in outlook than I am, since he does not regard trade with England as part of our foreign trade. I do, and it is an excessively large part. Membership of the Common Market, even indirectly through the UK, but still more as a member-State in our own right, should help us to redress the balance. This is why Ireland joined, and this is largely why she is staying in.

On Mr Maxwell's third point I am not convinced that non-membership of the Common Market will make it easier for us to sell to the rest of the world since it does not, in general, have a special tariff against the EEC. But an economist would be better placed to comment. My impression is that we would lose markets in those developing countries (nearly the whole of Africa for a start) which are now associated with the EEC under the Lome Convention, and will remain associated with it whatever the UK does, simply because Europe, with or without Britain, is more use to them than Britain alone.

As regards excessive market centralisation, again London is a more dangerous place than Brussels. Indeed the EEC Commission is likely to be of some help to our Government, when we have one, because it is making a determined effort to break up existing monopolies and to stop new ones being formed.

What is true is that we must exercise constant vigilance against those whose motto is "if it moves, harmonize it". But we can do this quite effectively as a member-State, once we achieve independence, with Scottish civil servants and experts criticizing such proposals as they move up through Commission and Council working parties, and Scottish ministers ultimately vetoing them in the Council. In fact there has been less of this since the UK, Ireland and Denmark joined and no more has been heard of the "Euroloaf" and the "Europint".

This leaves fisheries, regional aid and a Norwegian-type free trade agreement.

As regards fisheries, the present Community rules are likely to be reconsidered before 1982: in any event there is a great deal which a British Government could do, and which a Scottish Government would do, by way of quite legitimate conservation measures, which would have the general effect of making fishing in our coastal waters grossly uneconomic for any but locally based vessels. The Regional Policy is only just getting off the ground, and it is too early to assess it yet. As for a free trade agreement, I would regard it as a fall-back position if we cannot negotiate satisfactory terms for Scottish membership of the EEC. It has two serious disadvantages, in that we, like the Swedes and the Swiss, would be thirled to rules we had no hand in making, and that it would not apply to agricultural products.

I think the best is to stay in the Common Market at present, and use the Continentals for leverage against the English as Wallace and Bruce did (though in a more peaceful way) and reconsider our position once we are independent.


Author’s Note

The approach in the referendum my father used was to put the Scottish case for a ‘Yes’ and to argue for utilizing potential support on the Continent. Generally, the contributions by the S.N.P. in international terms has been very much on an individualistic basis. My father assumed at the time of "present support for the S.N.P. in 1975" that independence would only be a few years away. He did not bargain for the ham-fisted way in which the Party would play its cards, nor the sudden cold-feet of the Scottish people. However, his philosophy did have some influence on S.N.P. thinking. Today, it has adopted a pragmatic approach to Europe and the EEC.


20th June 1975
Extract from an article in The HawicK Hews commenting on the EEC vote – but more specifically in this case on the S.N.P.’s role in Europe.

For our immediate purposes the most useful of these institutions is the EEC Assembly of "European Parliament", in which we can reasonably claim two seats for the S.N.P. and six altogether for Scotland. What we should do there is not only to assert our rights as Scots but to reinforce all those who are opposed to needless standardisation and centralisation, those who defend the interests of the small man, of the small farm and of outlying and underpopulated areas generally, and those who believe Europe should consist of countries and of nations, making no attempt to become a Super State like America since it would then lose what makes it different and worthwhile.

30th July 1976 – The Hawick News


It is seldom that I have occasion to comment on one of my own articles – but the one you so kindly printed today seems a little out of date.

Mr Short has (fortunately) been replaced by Mr Foot and the preposterous idea of rearranging all the seats in the old R.H.S. building has been abandoned. The electoral system which I recommended (two members of each of the present constituencies, two votes per voter and the two leading candidates elected in each case) has in fact been adopted and several improvements have been made on the original White Paper scheme.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the Devolution Bill will be enacted at all. Under severe pressure for other reasons, the Government may try to dodge the issue by holding a General Election before it is due to be introduced. If they win by a majority which makes them independent of S.N.P. support, they will find they have other and more urgent priorities. If the Tories have a working majority they will discard the scheme, which they never supported in any event, give the matter further consideration, and ultimately produce something much weaker and take as long as they can to enact it.

What happens to Devolution in the end will not depend on whether Labour or the Tories win, taking the United Kingdom as a whole, but on how the Scottish National Party does in Scotland. Those who regard the Government’s present scheme as adequate, or even as a worthwhile step in the right direction, would do well to bear this in mind. The scheme is basically there to attract their votes. Once it has served its purpose it will be quietly forgotten. There is only one Party worth supporting if we are genuinely concerned about Scotland’s future and that is the Party which has consistently put Scotland first.


This article was written in July 1975 and published a year later.

August 1975 – The Scots Independent


One problem which will have to be resolved, before we can get much further as a Party, is that of the correct balance between unity in essentials and diversity of opinions on issues which are only of secondary importance.

From conference to conference and election to election, the aggregate volume of S.N.P. policy has grown to the point where nobody can reasonably be expected to know it all, let alone agree with it all. In theory, however, all of it is binding on all our members. Is it really wise to insist on unanimity or should we now adopt a more flexible approach?

I am not one of those who believe that independence alone matters and that the rest of the policy is irrelevant. On the contrary, during my brief period of service on the National Executive, I drafted the Education Policy and helped to draft the Agricultural Policy, holding then as now that the public was entitled to some idea of what we would do or hope to do for an independent Scotland, and would be more likely to vote for us if we could show that we had at least a tentative vision of how our country would be organised.


In my view we have three basic commitments - to national independence, to a non-violent way of achieving it (unless the other side use force against us first) and to a democratic set-up thereafter. There is no room in the S.N.P. for anyone who rejects any of the above.

Beyond this it is reasonable to expect general support for the policy, but not a full acceptance of every detailed item. I went through the October Manifesto and found that I agreed with 92 per cent of it, which seems about right and not unusual. The exceptions in my case were the Common Market, which I support in its present form (though I am against the concept of a European federal super-State), and comprehensive schools, about which I am less than enthusiastic in the cities, though I regard them as the logical arrangement for smaller communities and in fact send my eldest son to one of them. Others may dissent on other points.


By demanding total allegiance to an excessively detailed policy we expose ourselves to the following handicaps:

(i) we discourage many useful people from joining the S.N.P.;

(ii) we discourage others, who join us with reservations on specific points, from playing an adequate part in our activities;

(iii) we compel our candidates to speak against their innermost beliefs, and to be unduly cautious in answering questions on many important issues. As a result they are less convincing than they should be, and our vote suffers. A clear answer, even if it has to be corrected later, is better than no answer or an obviously evasive answer.

There were only 161,000 votes between us and Labour last October, and these handicaps probably account for rather more than this quite modest shortfall. With a more forceful image, and more candidates who looked like potential MPs, we should have closed the gap without any real difficulty; and our candidates were undoubtedly at a disadvantage because they had to keep on looking over their shoulders to ensure they did not step out of line.

Labour disunity

Their opponents did not have this problem, and if Labour suffered from excessive disunity it was not because its leaders held different opinions but because they attacked one another. Nobody was seriously worried by the fact that Jim Sillars, for instance, stands much further to the left than John Mackintosh. Neither would have much of a chance in the other's constituency, but as it happens they both fit in.

The time has come to take a critical look at the vast mass of S.N.P. policy and decide exactly how much of it should be regarded as mandatory and how much of it is there for guidance.

Guidance Policy

The guidance policy could be as long as the October 1974 Manifesto: including specialised documents it could indeed be longer. The mandatory policy should include a dozen points at the outside: the Almighty got by with ten on Mount Sinai, so twelve may even be a little over-ambitious.

The difference between the two should be made clear not only to the party but to the general public.

Once we have corrected our priorities in this way, we should find it much easier to put our case across. This is vital, because we shall be judged as a potential Government next time, and no longer as a body which is useful to have around in order to make the others sit up and take notice.

Under those conditions the public is going to be more demanding altogether. It will not expect our candidates to say the same thing across the board. It will expect them to look like people who are able to cope.


September 1975 – The Scots Independent


A curious feature of the debate on devolution so far, as conducted through the public media, is that hardly anyone has suggested that the Scottish people themselves might have something valid to say on the subject, through an elected representative body similar to the Constitutional Convention in Ulster.

To the best of my knowledge the only proposals along those lines have been made by Professor Richard Rose (an American) and myself (partly Continental. and a Cambridge graduate). It would appear that most of those who were born and bred in this country accept it as a fact of life that major decisions are made for us elsewhere.

If we have any pride in our nationhood, the logical first step is to elect a Convention with a three-fold remit:

(i) to work out constitutional proposals, which need not be identical with those contained in the White Paper or in the Kilbrandon Report;

(ii) to give advice on Scottish legislation and other matters affecting Scotland;

(iii) to function as the Scottish Legislature during a brief running-in period when devolution takes effect.

This last would make it impossible for Westminster authorities to find some excuse once, the Convention had submitted its proposals. They would be stuck with a body elected for three years, with two years or more of its mandate still to run, enjoying a great deal of popular support, and capable of turning itself into a Parliament if any attempt were made to dissolve it.

To save bother and reduce the scope for argument at Westminster to a minimum, this body would be elected on the basis of the existing constituencies, but with two members each and therefore two votes for every elector, and the system used would be the same as at present, but the two candidates with most votes would be elected in each case and, in the present state of national and local opinion, they would not necessarily belong to the same party.

The practical effect, in terms of seats for parties, would be much the same as if all the existing constituencies were split down the middle, but the actual individuals elected might not be the same, because there would be a tendency for many voters to give one of their votes to the party they habitually supported and the other to the best candidate regardless of party.

This it is possible, if the existing constituencies were simply halved, that some of our MPs would contest the wrong half and fail to get in, and the same might happen to several of our leading "non-MPs". With the system I envisage, they would all get in, assuming they chose to stand as I think they should.

Issue of principle

No harm can be done by pressing for such a Convention. If we don't get it, this shows the Government and Tories are afraid of us. If we do get it, we would win a lot of seats, probably 60 out of 142, which would make us the largest single party.

In any event there is a major issue of principle involved. Westminster is foreign soil - as foreign as Amsterdam or Paris and more foreign than Oslo. It is the home of a Government and a Parliament of whose membership no more than one-eighth are Scots.

It is not the place where Scotland's future ought to be worked out.




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