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

29th July 1987

Anthony J.C. Kerr could never mingle with a crowd; he was far too distinctive a character for that.

He was an outstanding eccentric. He continued to travel the Border roads on a motor scooter long after they went out of fashion. He was completely unabashed by his unkempt appearance, indeed I think he was quite unaware of it.

Anthony always seemed to me to be a dreadfully shy man. Locally he was known by everybody and they all appeared to rather like him, but it was difficult to get any clear evidence that he knew the people who lived around him. His shyness seemed to make it very difficult for him to have that relaxed conviviality which is so evident when Borderers gather together. But in spite of that I never knew anybody who disliked Anthony and he was universally respected.

He was, of course, most widely known for his letters to the papers and the sheer knowledge which these embodied.

Although he espoused the political cause of Scottish nationalism, I do not know anybody who found him intolerant or abrasive as so many political enthusiasts can be. You felt that somebody else's politics were no barrier at all to him engaging in contact with them without the prejudice which many lesser political activists simply cannot do without.

This was very well illustrated to me when he asked me, a Scottish Conservative, to help, twice, with the revision of his excellent book "The Common Market and How it Works". I was very happy to join him in this work and I thought it was typically generous of him to share the acknowledgement of the work publicly and without prejudice.

Whether it was sitting under a night sky in the Borders, or driving him as a passenger to some rendezvous when his motor scooter was out of commission, he was fascinating to listen to on Scottish politics or Border history.

He was one of the first people to make an effort to introduce me to the Border Common Ridings and took me to my first "Redeswire", the gathering up by the Carter Bar which commemorates the Raid of the Redeswire in 1575 when a silly quarrel between the English Warden of the Middle Marches, Sir John Forster, and the Keeper of Liddesdale, Sir John Carmichael, could so easily have burst into war between Scotland and England, but has instead provided a good opportunity to commemorate the valour of the men of Jethart ever since.

When we went to Redeswire together he was more than generous in his hospitality to myself and my elder son, Tom, who was then only 3 years old. He made us feel wonderfully at home amidst the untidy muddle in which he and his son Andrew lived.

Anthony Kerr probably knew as much about that incident as anybody and it is one of the great regrets of my life that I should have been asked to deliver the Oration at the Redeswire Stane only after Anthony's death. It would have been the perfect opportunity to draw on his abundant knowledge of the history of the area to authenticate my remarks and, with his role in awakening my interest in the history of the area, it was a real sadness that he could not share my pleasure at the way in which his enthusiasm had borne fruit for me.


6th January 1977 – The Glasgow Herald


The decision to hold a referendum on devolution is obviously right; indeed I am surprised that the possibility of not having one was even considered. On the other hand there is room for argument about the questions and the timing.

In my view there should be two questions, whose precise wording must be left to an impartial body such as the Electoral Reform Society or the Human Rights Commission of the Council of Europe. First, "Do you wish some form of self-government?" Second "If so, how much?"

The first question calls for a straight yes or no, and is in the present circumstances the more important of the two. The second should involve a choice of three or four opinions, roughly corresponding to the Tory, Labour, Liberal and S.N.P. proposals. It would save time and money to add a third question on the fate of the regional authorities; if the people want them away, they might as well be discarded as part of the devolution package, making their present staff available to the new national authorities.

With this possibility in mind, and in order to save parliamentary time, I believe the referendum should be held as soon as possible after the new electoral register comes into force. If the Welsh don't want devolution anyway there is no point in debating at length the clauses which refer to Wales. If the Scots, by a large majority, want at least as much as the Government now offer, Tory delaying tactics and "watering down" amendments are useless. Instead of discussing them, Parliament should consider genuine and preferable agreed improvements to the Bill.


1st April 1977 – The Glasgow Herald


I would not like to stake my reputation as an election forecaster (seldom wrong where Scottish results are involved) on an English contest; nevertheless I am not impressed by William Russell’s piece on Tuesday.

He has overlooked two important elements; first the automatic third party vote which has generally gone to the Liberals because they were neither Labour nor Tory, but may be captured by the National Front as a result of the Lab/Lib alliance and secondly the hardline Left wing vote, some of which may go to Mr Paul Foot as a result of this same alliance, the more so as he is an interesting person in his own right.

If the National Front overtake the Liberals which is not unlikely, and the Socialist Workers run up a four figure vote, which is also on the cards, both will have to be taken more seriously than hitherto, and the alliance will be in serious danger. Had I been Mr Russell I would have given these minor parties a paragraph each to assess their chances of getting that far.


Author’s Note: In the by-election the Liberals were overtaken by the National Front, and the hard left parties polled nearly a thousand votes between them. The seat was won by the Tories from Labour.

13th April 1977 – The Glasgow Herald


I believe a strong currency is something we can learn to live with, as Switzerland and West Germany have done. It will, as the S.N.P. points out, reduce the cost of imported raw materials and help to keep inflation under control: If, as I hope, independence also leads to improved industrial relations and much improved communications with the outside World, our export industries will on the whole be better places than they are now.

I am also reluctant to believe that it is impossible to reduce the flow of Scottish oil, and with it the rate of depletion, if our Government decides this is in the national interest. It may be uneconomic in the short term, but in the long term it will pay to make our own supplies last while they run out elsewhere.

The comparison with Ireland is largely invalid, because the Scottish economy is in itself more diversified and viable than the Irish, and less inherently dependent on England.

One aspect which your contributions have overlooked is that a free Scotland will probably not be run by any one party but on a consensus basis by three parties, the S.N.P., the SLP (absorbing those members of the UK Labour Party who accept independence when it comes), and the SCP, resulting from a similar split in the Tory Party, which could occur at any time and is likely to occur after the next General Election.


25th June 1977 – The Glasgow Herald

Schlobstrabe 52



The short answer to Mr William P. Scott (or Herr Schott) is that you give a man a different identity if you "translate" his title, forename or surname.

No such effect is normally produced by using the traditional English, French, German or Italian name of a major city, e.g. Algiers, Edimbourg, Venedig (German for Venezia or Venice), and Stoccarda (Italian for Stuttgart). They remain the same whatever you call them.

An exception only occurs when the city's national or cultural identity is in dispute.

The French get rather sensitive when one uses the traditional English spelling "Strasburg", and are still more upset by the traditional German "Strassburg" which they have made illegal for the local German-language paper.

Similarly with Luxemburg. The French and the English to please them, give it an extra "o". The Americans stick to the older usage but its "national" name is actually "Letzeburg".

In Central Europe a large number of places formerly had German names which were easy to spell and to pronounce: Karlsbad, Marienbad, Brunn, Laibach, Agam.

All these have been Slavized to the greater confusion of foreigners. Except for the last of these (now Zagreb), I find it less bother to use the German names, but some locals may not like it.

Similarly with South Tyrol (otherwise Alto Adige) and its towns and villages, all of which have two officially recognised names. Most foreigners, unless they know the province, use the Italian names, those who know it decide on the basis of their personal sympathies and take a chance on alienating the other ethnic community.

To prove my point I have Germanised my name and address, and think they look credible enough.


June 1977 – The Scots Independent

The issue of the Monarchy is one which, like the Common Market, can only be settled once we are independent since it depends, in part at least, on the Queen’s attitude at the time; or rather on that of her English advisers.

While I have been in favour of a separate monarchy rather than a Union of Crowns since first joining the S.N.P. in 1960, I accept the fact that most Scots wish the Queen to remain as head of the Scottish State and think the Party is right to accept this fact as well, until events prove such an arrangement to be impracticable.

If Westminster refused to accept the verdict of the Scottish electorate, and we have to declare ourselves independent, the Union of Crowns obviously cannot continue, and we have to choose between separate monarchy (preferably with a member of our present Royal family as Sovereign of Scots) and a republic; and I think a monarchy is more Scottish.

If on the other hand we achieve independence by negotiation (and S.N.P. policy is that it should, if possible, be achieved in this way) a Union of Crowns is possible, provided the Queen agrees to reign in this country through purely Scottish authorities and to be represented here by a Scottish-based Regent or Guardian and not by a Governor-General sent out from England.

I remain unenthusiastic about this kind of relationship and think we will be more independent with a Queen or King of our own, reigning in Scotland and nowhere else; but we do not have to decide now, or on the basis of outside advice. We are mature enough to make our own choice when the time comes.


September 1987

Anthony J.C. Kerr

Scotland lost one of her most colourful political characters through the death of Anthony J.C. Kerr.

A big-hearted humble man, keenly interested in what others had to say, Anthony (although unquestionably dedicated to the cause of the S.N.P.) treated those of other political affiliations with true respect.

He enjoyed life and gained a great deal of satisfaction and fun out of politics.

His regular phone calls or visits to the "Jedburgh Gazette" office always began with the piercing question: "How are things?" His distinct English accent beckoning a reply on the latest revelations in local affairs.

A man of great integrity he chatted with Lords yet still held the common touch, his trademark throughout the Borders being his Lambretta scooter, which he even - on occasions - rode to Brussels.

Of his letter writing he once said to me: "I feel I have something to say. It is, in a sense, my art form. Just as others write poems or short stories, I write letters to the papers."

In 1982 he wrote so often to the "Glasgow Herald", they sent a reporter to the Borders to check he was a genuine person and not a syndicate.

In all I admired him most for the way he always - sometimes against all the odds - did what he felt was right, even to the extent of losing his top English teaching job for competing in and winning top prize in Hughie Green's "Double your Money", and being expelled from his Party for eight years for standing as an unofficial S.N.P. candidate in the Borders in 1965.

When there was a principle at stake, Anthony would fight his ground. I miss him as a friend.


(Journalist and SDP/Liberal Alliance Regional Councillor)

February 1978 – The Scots Independent

SHARE A PLATFORM says Anthony Kerr

As the Devolution Bill moves through its Committee stage, the time has come to consider very seriously how we shall fight the referendum campaign, if there is one. This is uncertain as yet: the Bill could fail in the Lords or, more probably, it could be sent back to square one by a general election. What happens thereafter would then depend on how many seats S.N.P. can take and whether the new Government can survive without our support.

Two main issues arise. The first is what we should do about the question on independence if there is one, and the second is whether we should campaign on our own or coalesce for this occasion with the Liberals, the SLP, the devolutionist majority in the UKLP and the large devolutionist minority among the Tories.

On balance I do not expect a question on independence, because of the political risk involved. If it is fairly worded, there may be more support for independence than there is supposed to be for the S.N.P. If it is loaded the outcome is meaningless and there is a definite possibility, especially if the bias is too obvious, of a heavy protest vote on a relatively low poll. The Unionists could then lose and this would be very embarrassing for Mr Callaghan.

Nevertheless the government may still take that chance, and if they do the question will probably be biased. We shall be invited to vote for separation, secession, disruption, withdrawal from the United Kingdom or something along those lines. In my view the S.N .P. should campaign for independence regardless of the name the other side choose to give it, though of course protesting against the unfair wording of the question. This is what I shall do in any event, no matter what the Party decides (the only realistic alternatives are to campaign for independence regardless of its name, or leave the matter to the individual judgment of members, if they do not like the idea of voting against the Queen; to campaign against "withdrawal" or "separation" is politically not on, and would probably break the Party into "Redmondite" and "Sinn Fein" factions).

On the second and in my view the more relevant issue at this stage (since there will certainly be a question on devolution even if there is none on independence by whatever name), there is absolutely no doubt that we ought to coalesce with other pro-Scottish persons and bodies, presenting a united front against all those who are afraid or ashamed to be Scots, and do not trust in their ability to take Scottish decisions on Scottish soil for Scottish reasons. The contest must appear as one between Scotland regardless of party and relying on her own resources on the one side, and on the other side all the cowards, traitors and hirelings, backed by English finance, English-controlled firms and London-based scribblers and broadcasters, and relying heavily on imported speakers.

The existence of an effective "Scotland is Scottish" organisation, taking in the whole of three parties and substantial sections of two others, should in itself be enough to prove that Scotland can be run as a country and that there are people here, of all five parties, who add up to a credible potential Scottish Government, and are in fact prepared to work together for a common purpose. It is therefore necessary to create this organisation.

We should bear in mind that, while the other side have more money, what really counts is man-power (and woman-power) together with effective leadership.

The balance of political ability in this country is overwhelmingly in favour of devolution, or something better. Even among the Tories, who divide about 60/40 against it, those in favour have a far greater combined weight of administrative experience and sound judgment. They include Home*, Lothian, Cromarty, Dundee, Perth, Buchanan-Smith, Monro and almost everybody else who has a bit of back-ground, against the likes of Taylor and Sproat. Some go further than others, but they all agree on the general principle of an Assembly with some power to legislate. Those in the Tory and Labour parties who oppose devolution would, with few exceptions if any, be quite incapable of running this country as a country, and cannot believe that others are more competent than themselves, because it is an unpleasant fact to acknowledge; so they prefer to think it cannot be done and should not be attempted.

There are times when even Nationalists must put country before party, and I am certain this is one such occasion. We may achieve more for the S.N.P. by campaigning on our own, but Scotland is more important, and we can do more for Scotland by working with others. The time for politicking is over: the time for statesmanship is now.

*This article was written a year before the referendum took place. It did not take into account Lord Home's unexpected intervention in the campaign, advising people to vote NO in order to get a better deal from an incoming Tory Government. My father's criticism of Lord Home later was not that Lord Home might have changed his mind - witness lain Lawson - it was the self-deception of electors that a Tory Government might put forward a stronger Assembly Bill - when it was quite evident to most people that Mrs Thatcher had no intention of setting up an Assembly.

Monday 3rd April 1978 – The Scotsman


There is a strange and undefinable quality about nationhood and culture, which makes it difficult to answer Sir Andrew Gilchrist. We are another people in another land, and we know it, but how and why this is so is something one can only begin to explain. Language is only part of the difference; Scotland has three languages and three literatures; England has only the one.

As a semi-professional writer, I would suggest that when we use English, as most of us do, we tend to use it in another way, requiring less emotional content and involvement. Recognisably Scottish authors, as distinct from exiles completely steeped in the metropolitan culture, generally specialise in factual writing or in historical fiction. Few of us go in for the other and more usual kinds of fiction - romantic, "psychological", crime - and when we do, it probably does not compare with the best from England or America.

Similar differences exist in other fields, especially architecture. Anybody who survived a parachute drop into the centre of Jedburgh or Carnwath would know at once that he was in Scotland and not in England, and this even without looking at the names of the banks. Kelso looks Flemish rather than Scottish, but again it could not be English, any more than Peterhead or Arbroath.

The Bay City Rollers, as Sir Andrew says, do not produce a distinctly Scottish sound. But Paul McCartney and the Campbeltown Pipe Band have between them supplied an expression of the Scottish territorial instinct which I regard as rather more credible than "Scotland the Brave". Cliff Hanley's words, though written by a native Scot, give the impression of an Englishman's rendering of what he thinks we ought to feel: McCartney, though an incomer, has instantly absorbed the mist, the heather and the waves, and his "Mull of Kintyre" is unquestionably the genuine article - as much so as "Flower of Scotland" (officially by Roy Williamson but, according to persistent rumours, really by Willie Wolfe) or, in other languages, Muller-Gutenbrunn's "Banater Schwabenlied" or Dalcroze's "Mon Hameau".

As for our history, that is different too. The essential differences are that the Romans crushed Boadicea at King's Cross while Galgach held them to a standstill near Aberdeen, and that the Anglo-Saxons were overwhelmed at Hastings while we swept the Anglo-Normans away at Banockburn.

As a result, the Scottish ethnic and political mixture was built up more gradually than the English one: its various components were absorbed in acceptable doses one after the other - often consisting of people who, at different times, had opted for freedom: the common soldiers of the Ninth Legion, who massacred their overbearing tribunes and centurions somewhere west of Galashiels; the harassed Yorkshiremen and Northumbrians who joined their kinsfolk in the Lothians rather than become villains, cottars or landless slaves under the Conqueror's yoke.

Sir Andrew's suggestion of a cultural conference at Aviemore is perhaps worth taking up. As it happens, the S.N.P. is holding its National Conference there next year: perhaps he should join us (I think he rather likes to be on the winning side), help to form a branch of Hazelbank and appear as its delegate, to propose a suitable resolution.

8th March 1978 – The Scotsman


No useful purpose can be served by continuing sanctions against Rhodesia, or by refusing to recognise the new transitional government, which appears to command overwhelming majority support inside the country. Messrs Nkomo and Mugabe may feel aggrieved, because they have been left out of the deal, but they opted for supremacy rather than compromise, and they have backed the wrong horse. This often happens in politics.

If the new set-up is not recognised the "Patriotic Front" leaders, unable to find the amount of civilian support they need for a successful guerrilla campaign, will probably attempt an invasion using Soviet and Cuban personnel as well as equipment. The transitional government will then call on such help as they can obtain - essentially mercenaries and South African volunteers, and Zimbabwe will have to assert its existence by force as Israel did 30 years ago.

On the other hand, if the transitional Government gains temporary recognition and a respite from sanctions, at least until free elections have been held, the outside leaders will know there is little prospect of bringing it down, especially as many who would not fight for Rhodesia are prepared to fight for Zimbabwe. The chances are they will then try to salvage what they can from the situation by offering a cease-fire.

I might add that I have very serious reservations about British and American foreign policy in general. It seems totally lacking in the courage and determination shown by Israel and Rhodesia - the courage and determination one might also expect from an independent Scotland. It appears, rightly or wrongly, to be based on a belief that the Communists are bound to win in the end, and that one should try to gain time and civilise the barbarians rather than make any real effort to resist them. How can anyone be expected to have any pride in being British in the face of such an example?


September 1978 – The Scots Independent


There are two possible answers to the problem of the "separatist" lies mentioned by Douglas Smart in the July issue of the SI. The first is to renounce "separatism", as he suggests, by undertaking that there will never be any alteration in the Union of Crowns, any customs post at the English border, any restriction on the movement of labour and capital between Scotland and England or any need for separate passports for Scots and English. The second is to get the people to accept as much "separation" as is required in order to safeguard our independence.

The difficulty about Mr Smart's answer is that we cannot guarantee that the same person will be prepared to reign over Scotland and England as separate entities, nor that the English will refrain from setting up customs posts if our VAT and excise duties happen to be lower than theirs. Furthermore, if we cannot restrict movements of capital or labour we have no way of preventing English firms from acquiring Scottish ones to close them down, or bringing in subsidised English workers to swell the Unionist vote. If there is to be no need for separate passports (and in fact Swedes and Norwegians have different passports though they do not produce them on crossing their common frontier) this means the passport-issuing authority must be an all-British one, inevitably located in England; this authority may refuse passports to individual Scottish citizens for its own political reasons. Lastly, if we renounce "separation" we must give up our right to opt out of the Common Market while England stays in, or to stay in if for any reason she gets out.

In any event the S.N.P. will not make the renunciation of Scottish sovereignty envisaged by Mr Smart, and would break up if it did. A more radical Nationalist movement would then emerge, similar to Sinn Fein in its outlook and methods, and the consequences are not difficult to imagine.

We must therefore look at the alternative approach, which is to make "separation" acceptable, preferably to a majority, and failing this to a minority large enough to win an election (Labour did it in 1974 with 36 per cent, and 40 would be almost certainly adequate). Relatively few Scots have seen a land frontier between two independent States: those of us who travel abroad mostly go to a single business or holiday destination and return the way we came, without going through more than one foreign country (in addition to England) on any one trip. Hence a great deal of ignorance and prejudice surrounds the entire subject, and this plays into the hands of our opponents.

The first point to bear in mind is that out of the European Community's 260 million inhabitants, no fewer than 10 million live within 10 miles of land frontier (the distance from Jedburgh to Carter Bar or Annan to Gretna). They include nearly everybody in Luxembourg State, the entire population of Dunkirk, Lille and adjacent cities, Saarbrucken and Strasburg, the Volkswagen car workers, the Trieste dockers and a vast number of farmers and shopkeepers. It is something one gets used to easily enough, and we need take little heed of the scare-mongers who rant about divided families and people cut off from their shops, their markets or their jobs. This has indeed happened at the Iron Curtain, but nobody expects a similar relationship, or lack of relationship, between Scotland and England. Within Western Europe, three main types of frontier may be seen:

I. Completely open (within Scandinavia, and between Belgium and her two Benelux partners, Holland and Luxembourg). Nobody checks your passport or identity card, whether going in or out, looks at the contents of your car, or makes you pay duty on anything. All that happens, not necessarily at the border, is that you may have to change your money, or lose a little in the shops if you keep on using your national currency; and, if you are entitled to be in one country but not in the other, you may be caught in a policy spot-check and sent back - thus some Africans are entitled to be in Belgium but not Holland, while for Dutch West Indians it's the other way round.

2. Fairly open. Most other frontiers within the EEC and those between Switzerland and her Common Market neighbours, France and West Germany, are of this type. As a rule nobody is very interesting in who is leaving the country, unless there is a search on for specific criminals or agitators but you are controlled when entering. Between Switzerland and the EEC, you may have to pay customs duties; even within the EEC (e.g. West Germany -Belgium) you have to pay the difference between the lower and the higher rate of VAT on furniture, television sets, etc., where these are not the same, but you do not get a refund in the other direction. As a rule you also have to change your money, but not at once: marks are readily acceptable in Strasburg and Basel and French francs in Saarbrucken and Geneva. There are also whole categories of foreigners, sometimes running to a million people or more in one State alone (e.g. Turks in West Germany and North Africans in France) who are allowed in one country but not the other; but citizens on either side except for a few terrorists and criminals who are individually excluded, move freely to the other side, and many working commuters and shoppers cross daily, especially where the border runs through a built-up area as often happens.

3. Controlled. The frontiers between Italy and her neighbours are of this type; so was the French-Spanish frontier until quite recently (it now falls within the second group). You are only supposed to cross in a few specified places, though this is not very strictly enforced against locals and mountain hikers. Passports, and sometimes car documents, are checked going out and coming in, and luggage is also searched, but only on entry as a rule. There is a tradition of smuggling and political insecurity in some areas; nevertheless commuter traffic is quite substantial between Italy and Switzerland where Canton Ticino juts out into the Lombard plain, and between Italy and Yugoslavia at Trieste.

In principle S.N.P. policy favours a completely open frontier (Type I); in practice we shall probably have to live with Type 2 (fairly open) though I must stress this is a personal and not a party view. This depends essentially on England's attitude to a free Scotland; if she accepts us as a fixture on the map and if we are not faced with a large number of Asians and West Indians wishing to move from London, the English Midlands and Bradford into Scotland, we may be able to do without controls altogether.

What we have to remember is that even a Type 2 frontier (the standard kind in Western Europe) is quite easy to live with, and causes rather less inconvenience than a set of urban traffic lights. More often than not, the people on either side speak the same language and profess the same Religion, so that intermarriage is quite common; indeed they have more contact with their neighbours just across the line than with their fellow-countrymen fifty or a hundred miles away. Inevitably, something is cheaper, better or more readily available on the other side, so they are constantly going across, and the customs officials, who do likewise when off duty, get to know them all and seldom bother them. Long-haul lorries (as distinct from private cars and local international transport) may have to wait their turn to have their documents checked, depending on what they are carrying and where they are going, but the drivers need a rest occasionally and there are always cafes and shops at the border; they are there because it is there and people who are going into a new country often feel they have to eat or drink something to give themselves time to adjust.

I think we shall also learn to live with independence itself. It is nothing to be afraid of, though some people may at first feel slightly worried - essentially those who expect to be carried by the rest, and find it reassuring to have 55 million fellow-citizens to fall back on rather than 5 million (though they forget that there are also a few million people expecting to be carried in England, and the Scottish State will not have to provide for them). Others again, especially those who remember Britain as an Imperial power, may find it hard to accept that they are citizens of a small country, unable even to keep up the make-believe activities of Mr Callaghan or Dr Owen on the world stage, let alone aspire to the real influence of a Churchill or an Eden. But no country that has experienced freedom has willingly gone back on it. The Irish would not vote themselves back into the Union, the Icelanders would not ask the Danes to send them another viceroy; the Norwegians would not opt for the restoration of Swedish rule and the Finns would most certainly not seek readmission to the Russian Empire. Once we have reclaimed the right to take our own decisions, even at the cost of making our own mistakes, it will seem so natural to us that no one will even think of giving it up.




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