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A Ballad for Douglas Young

An exciting literary find by JOHN MANSON of a previously unpublished poem by one of the foremost Scottish poets of the twentieth century has been forwarded to the Scots Independent for publication in this issue of the paper.

Searching amongst Dr Robert D McIntyre’s papers lodged with the National Library of Scotland, he found a poem by Sydney Goodsir Smith entitled ‘A Ballad for Douglas Young’ dated July 1942. John Manson told the SI that "A Ballad for Douglas Young" was found in an envelope in the National Library of Scotland in Acc 9902, a collection containing letters to R D McIntyre 1935-36 and 1942-45. On the back of the envelope is written "For National Library/Ballad for Douglas Young/Written down by Dr R D McIntyre / May not have been published / Obviously by Sydney Goodsir Smith".

Permission has subsequently been received from both the National Library of Scotland and the poet’s widow Mrs Hazel Smith to publish the poem in the Scots Independent.

The poem was written during the time that Douglas Young, then National Chairman of the SNP, was first imprisoned for refusing to be conscripted during the Hitler War. Of his first prison term, served in Saughton, Douglas Young wrote — "On weekdays I used to work about the grounds in what was called "the garden party" and on Sundays play a wheezy old harmonium for the Presbyterian services in the chapel, the voluntary most requested being Handel’s Largo. It added to the gaity of the occasion when Dr Robert McIntyre, secretary of the National Party, organised a procession complete with bagpipes to serenade me at the prison-gates; the poet Hugh MacDiarmid being amongst the most demonstrative of the demonstrators".

Shortly after his release from prison Douglas Young stood as the SNP candidate in the Kirkcaldy Burghs by-election in February 1944. His Election Agent was Arthur Donaldson and the campaign owed much to the input of Dr Robert D McIntyre. In a three-way contest, Douglas Young polled 6,621 votes 42% of the poll, securing a strong second place to the successful Labour Coalition candidate.

Dr McIntyre was, of course, to be even more successful in the next Scottish By-Election contested by the National Party when he became the first ever SNP Westminster MP in the April 1945 By-Election in Motherwell and Wishaw.

The Scots Independent is grateful to John Manson for allowing us the opportunity to publish for the first time this important literary find of a poem by Sydney Goodsir Smith. The friendship between Sydney Goodsir Smith and Robert D McIntyre resulted not only in the appearance of his work in the SI but his splendid editorship of one of the best ever SI publications — "Bannockburn: The Story of the Battle and its place in Scottish History" — in 1964.

The finding of the poem amongst the papers of Dr Robert D McIntyre is a timely reminder of his invaluable contribution to both the development of the modern SNP and, in our 75th anniversary year, the continued publication of the Scots Independent.

Peter D Wright
Executive Chairman

by Sydney Goodsir Smith

Click here to listen to this poem in Real Audio
Read by Marilyn Wright

Douglas Young they’ve pitten by
In Saughton jail is he
He bides mang thae that rob and rape
That stude for Scot land free.

He testified gin unricht bonds
They tighter pu the chains
But we’ll hae Douglas oot, ma Lords,
An Scotland rule her ain.

Their talk o’ freedom’s jist a say
As Douglas kens owre weel
He talked o’ Scottish libertie
Sae Douglas bides in jail.

His crime was that he spak the truth
Anent oor trauchled land
He caad for justice
- he’d a hope
Frae English-monied hands.

On Union’s skaith they’ve sooked and starved
Oor bodie, harns and saul
They hae oor bluid tae fecht their wars,
In peace we hae their dole.

When Douglas tellt them historie’s truth
Nae answer could they gie,
They pit him by for a twalmonth
I’ the war
for libertie!

But bide a wee, ma bonnie Lords,
There’s twa can play yir game
And we’ll hae Douglas oot again
An Scotland rule her ain!

Sydney Goodsir Smith
July 1942

"A Ballad for Douglas Young" is published by kind permission of the National Library of Scotland and Mrs Hazel Smith, with thanks to John Manson.


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