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A Step on the Road to Freedom
Chapter 2

In the beginning, most meetings of the Y.N.A. were concerned with interpreting Party Policies and methods of dispensing the message throughout the Edinburgh area. Generally, the members of the S.N.P. were too cautious in presenting its policies and, therefore, a more robust approach was needed. As the Chairman and the Secretary of the branch were with us, as were many Branch members, we had an urge to put our ideas into effect.

These methods of propaganda were vigorously and methodically carried out.

To draw the attention of the general public, nationalist slogans were inscribed in prominent places in the city, - SCOTLAND NEEDS INDEPENDENCE - at first with blocks of easily carried pipeclay or, when larger text was required, with pots of distemper or whitewash. The latter was used in painting the walls of Edinburgh Castle. Contrary to newspaper reports, the climb was not by way of the 300 feet high precipitous rocks below, but by a previously reconnoitred route to the sally-port above King’s Stables Road, and along the sloping grassy ledge below the walls overlooking the Ross fountain, - not too difficult in daylight, but stimulating in the blackout of 1939.

Two ascents were made to this site and on one occasion, a member of the party fell asleep while the others painted.

A similar expedition to the walls of the Calton Cemetery called for the same careful planning, and this time the cliffs below were ignored. Entry to the cemetery was gained by climbing up and over the high iron gate in Waterloo Place, then ’dreeping‘ over the wall to a ledge. We, in the Y.N.A. were nothing if not self-confident.

The roof of the bandstand in Princes Street Gardens also received attention, but was not very successful as the inscription could only be seen clearly from the Castle and there were few visitors there during the war.

Also, one of our main painting efforts was the plastering of "SCOTLAND NEEDS A FORTH ROAD BRIDGE" on the road from Cramond Bridge Hotel to the Hawes Inn in South Queensferry; - one of our successes?

As well as election meetings, we made our presence known at other political meetings; a Communist meeting in the Usher Hall and an Indian Congress Party meeting in the Oddfellows Hall, addressed by Krishna Menon, who later became a member of the Indian government.

Ploughing a Nationalist furrow, but along different lines, were characters like Dr. Mary Ramsay, Major H. Sleigh ( Scottish Front ) and Matthew Hamilton. The latter claimed to be an expert on the Treaty of Union and its various breaches by subsequent governments, but he was unfortunately highly eccentric. Major Sleigh, a kindly and charming elderly man, was also eccentric, and it was a little embarrassing to visit him in the New Club, where he lived, when he would commandeer the armchairs beside the huge fireplace in the club room and talk at the top of his voice.

It will be noticed that our propaganda did not go further than the Edinburgh area. This was because primarily the Y.N.A. was a local group, and only on national occasions, like Bannockburn and Wallace Days, did we meet our contemporaries from the west and north. This applied up to the commencement of the war. As problems arose from the conflict, it became obvious that those who continued nationalist activities during the war were suspected of being Quislings, but our greatest concern was that the Scottish question was being neglected and we, who were still at home, had a duty to keep things going.

Although there had to be a general re-assessment of our activities, the main activities continued in a limited degree during the "phoney war", ( autumn 1939 to late spring 1940) and one of the Party’s policies was being put to the test, i.e. THE NATIONALIST OBJECTION TO CONSCRIPTION.

It had been decided at the Conference in 1937, that the Party would support those who refused to serve in any of the Crown Services until the Government agreed to the Party’s demand for self-government. Now was the time to see what would happen.

The Y.N.A. had discussed the subject in depth. Three members did object, and went through the Tribunals and Appeal Court. Others, with family considerations or some other obligations, could not object, but agreed to support those who did, as did Edinburgh Branch members. However, it was the Party’s Officers who let us down, publishing in early 1940 a public pledge to support the war effort to the full, and denigrated all those who made an objection. We felt let down, to say the least, and vowed to change these ideas in the very near future.

It was then that the Y.N.A. became nationally involved. Already, we had loose connections with other nationalist bodies and individuals. HQ was not approachable, but Arthur Donaldson and Oliver Brown, along with R.E. Muirhead, were endeavouring to keep nationalist ideals alive in their various districts.

On the few occasions we got off work during the war, we met and discussed nationalist difficulties. Arthur Donaldson took a very strong line, like myself on continuing activities as far as it was possible, and also being able in some way to help those who were in trouble with the Conscription Law, particularly those whose objections were also on religious grounds. In this connection the "Nationalist Mutual Aid Committee" was set up to assist objectors or their families, although as far as I can remember, no great sums were collected or handed out. It was a gesture that could have been important, if necessary.

It is now known, and evidence is to hand, that the Police and MI5 were most interested in the so-called "subversive activities being carried out under the mask of Scottish Nationalism as the latest scheme by Arthur Donaldson", who was the arch demon according to these very suspicious people.

It seemed all was signed, sealed and delivered when the Secretary of the S.N.P. stated that the Party did not countenance the United Scotland Movement, set up by Arthur Donaldson in place of the S.N.P., to help those who were in difficulties due to the change in Party policies.

We decided that all Y.N.A. members not called up should stand for either National Council membership or a National Officer post, and I became a National Council member as national posts were more difficult to acquire and would take more time to negotiate. However, by going to every National Council meeting, we found out who was for and who was against us. Contacts were being built up all over Scotland. It was particularly noticeable that we had the full support from the Aberdeen area.

The National Press in the pages of The Scottish Daily Express began to take a great interest in our activities. Jimmy Angus, the Chief Editor’s nephew, attended our meetings, and we were also meeting the Chief Reporter, Bill Gibson, from time to time. What scoop they hoped to get one could only conjecture.

With one thing and another, it was a very active period for all of us, endeavouring to change the Party’s line, but all the time our membership was gradually growing less through call-ups to the Forces. Duncan MacDonald and Ross Gibson were the first to go to the K.O.S.B. Unfortunately, Ross was killed at Berwick-on-Tweed during an air raid. We were devastated.

Frank Yeaman was the first objector who went to the Army. As for myself, I was declared Grade 5 and posted to the Admiralty for the duration of the war. (I might add that within a few years after the war, I passed Grade 1 by an American Oil Company). However, the Admiralty job was within the Edinburgh area, and this was O.K. by me.

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