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A Step on the Road to Freedom
Chapter 5

With the Annual Conference behind them, the new hierarchy had to survey what they were left with as far as organisation was concerned.

Naturally the Party, as all others, was running at half cock. Some branches were at a standstill through lack of active members. On the other hand, several new branches had been set up since the war started, all through the efforts of Dr. McIntyre, who had a penchant for this type of organising, and now that he had a free hand, he proceeded to build an up-to-date structure of organisation in the Party believing in basic discipline in the branches as well as all other sections of the Party. The idea being to stop individuals or groups negotiating and advocating policies not shared by the majority of members. From now on the principles would be expounded from the National Council with no modifications to gain short term expediencies, and to proceed to convert the Scottish people to the ideas of the S.N.P.

At this time quite a number of policies were put in place, many of which had been expounded by various Party speakers and office bearers in the past, but now we had a wealth of talent to put them into a feasible Party Constitution. Arthur Donaldson, along with R.E. Muirhead, were issuing leaflets giving information of wrongs that were being committed from day to day, i.e., conscription of women into jobs in England with unsuitable accommodation and conditions (a bit like the Germans were doing with their friends); and, of course, the general attack on Scottish peoples’ freedom at all times by the Unionist parties.

It is amazing what they have given away for all time in the promise of its good for all of us, but as we knew, it’s all take and nothing given in return. It is absolutely necessary to hammer this point at all times. - we want to resuscitate Scotland, no one else.

The Y.N.A. at this time, if not dormant, was not very active, because most of its members had been conscripted or, in connection with the war, moved to all sorts of jobs in all parts of Britain. The Edinburgh Branch of the S.N.P. was lucky in that it had quite a few ‘granny’ and ‘granddad’ members, retired people looking for something to do, who gave their services to do a magnificent job, manning the office most days of the week, so that any member on leave or passing through would not be without a welcome, and would be brought up to date with the Branch and Y.N.A. activities. - and, of course, cups of tea as required. Some ladies were competent typists and helped with office duties.

For myself (I was very much a loner in these days) and for anyone else in the same position, it was necessary to find a few days a month to perpetrate a number of our propaganda efforts as in the past, just to show that a continuity of such activities was available, even in these difficult times and also to help the new National Council in its efforts.

The result of the resignation of John MacCormick and a considerable number of Party members did not seem to affect us at all, and as time passed, most of them returned to the fold.

John’s efforts then concentrated on the setting up of the Scottish Convention in anticipation of an all out campaign after the war ended, and endeavouring to get other political parties to accept the need for such an organisation. This was mostly administrative work, and members who returned to the S.N.P. complained of the lack of information and real activity.

However, the motto was to be 'unity in diversity’, which covered a multitude of sins. As with all family quarrels, the differences between the two groups would take a good few years to heal, and as one who saw everything turn full circle, I can say that the S.N.P. is well served today by members from both groups.

I think it is time to analyse the rise and subsequent disappearance of Douglas Young from the S.N.P. scene.

As I have previously mentioned, when he arrived back in Scotland after his University days in Oxford, and started his career as a lecturer, he became a member of the Aberdeen Branch and being a friend of George Campbell Hay, we in the Y.N.A. saw quite a lot of him for a year or two in the late 1930’s.

My memory of him recalls a gaunt figure of a man, tall, clad in black, with a dark beard and a ‘French artist’s hat’. With his strong Anglo-Saxon accent, a most outstanding person at first sight - George Hay always referred to him as Dia, (Gaelic for God). Peculiarly he was then engaged in writing ‘Lallans’ poems and translating Scottish poems into Russian and vice versa. He must have had a hard time speaking Lallans!

When the war issues developed, he became very much engaged in the anti-conscription cause, and as most people know he was the only one of a kind, because after the tribunal and appeal against conscription failed, he refused absolutely to conform to this imposition, stood trial, and spent some time in Saughton jail for his pains.

Instead of outright condemnation, the Scots people showed an intelligent interest in his point of view, and it was hot news for the media. What other news was there! So they blew it up as hard as it would go, and he became in no time at all a well known ‘politician’. Apart from the main anti-conscription issue, he put forward a very able manifesto, including many of the Labour Party ideas, and also a list of social policies such as public housing and views on health and education. So, at the end of 1943 Douglas Young was a very exciting Party Chairman.

Dr. McIntyre, sensing that our troubles had faded somewhat, and with a bye-election due in December, had Douglas Young nominated as our candidate in Kirkcaldy. This was a most successful ploy. The manifesto, issued in this Labour held seat, included nationalisation of the mines and railways and the fair allocation of jobs on the return of the Scots Forces from abroad.

The canvassing from door to door prompted great interest, as the anti-conscription issue which had caused such a furore in the press was explained to an eager audience. The reason for this and comments on the activity of some of its members, showed that we were hitting the right chord on very important points and there were no hostile recriminations.

Needless to say, the Labour party was not pleased that we were contesting the seat, being used to the S.N.P. touching the forelock in the hope of crumbs of their political favours. From now on Labour would receive the rebukes of our Party for the cat and mouse game they had played with us over the last two decades. Now the gloves were off!

The organisational efforts of Dr. McIntyre and Arthur Donaldson in a few short months began to show, and the remarkable activity by the S.N.P. was commented on at the time and is alive today, all built during this period of the split!

The result of the election was the most successful of all time for the Party - Labour: 8268. S.N.P. 6621. It seemed as if the people were at last listening to us. We meant something to them. We were no longer ‘Tartan Tories’. We had a message and could get a response. Conventions and plebiscites had their place, but the bread and butter issues are basic and real, especially during a punishing war, and if we could give a light to a dim future, they’d listen. But we had to convince by constantly reminding the people of our intentions all from a Scottish point of view and the realignment of Party policies, past and present, to suit the situation of the time.

After the election, it was obvious that a wealth of confidence emanated from all officials. They felt that the support the Kirkcaldy voters had given them, vindicated the rumpus of the past months, and showed that the radicals had not been wrong in becoming more ‘one party’ minded. They were all for getting down to business on policies and attitudes to other parties and their members.

One resolution, which seemed to have the support of the majority of members, prohibited National and Branch officers from belonging to other parties. Douglas Young meantime seemed to have settled down to Branch life again, but it was noticeable during and after the election that he was a maverick as far as party politics were concerned, and although on some points like anti-conscription, he was very radical, in other ways he was more to the Convention point of view. He also had a strong socialist streak.

This was not how the National Council now felt. To tie Douglas down to a specific method was difficult indeed, and after a good National Conference in 1943, he became less and less involved in Party affairs, ultimately joining the Labour Party just after the war ended. Much was made of this in all sections of the media, and some members attacked his action, but in hindsight, he was such an individual that in a small party like ours, he could have caused overpowering havoc to our activities. In the Labour party he could be lost in the main stream of the political story.

One thing from our point of view, which is without doubt, no one knows what would have happened to the Party without him, and he did keep a watching brief on self-government issues all the rest of his comparatively short life.

After the Kirkcaldy election, the Party’s new officials decided that the main road to Scotland’s freedom would be through Parliamentary elections, and the whole of the Party’s structure was re-built on that basis. Discarded were the ideas of co-operation with Liberal, Labour or even Tory Parties, as none of these had the slightest interest in helping us achieve our aims, and as there was a large increase in membership and more cash in the Party’s coffers, it was realised that we were capable of running our own show.

The point was made that the devolutionary style of government was definitely ruled out and that Independence was our true aim. This was quite a task, as for years we had advocated ‘home rule with strings’ as had our predecessors. The saying, ‘home rule is better than no rule’ had stuck to us as it seemed that the Scottish people did not want to go further, but the recent events on the political front altered all our thinking and so from this point we were to go forward with a clearer view of our idea of the future.

The build up of the various branches of the Party started to show from the end of 1943 onwards and gradually it was seen to take form. Dr. McIntyre’s efforts were taking shape to everyone’s delight. In 1944 he published a leaflet on the principles of Scottish reconstruction, a cluster of policies which brought some meaning and direction to all members of the Party, and even today rule the hands that guide the S.N.P.

As I have said before and can’t reiterate enough, these were the days that our Party created itself in the minds of the Scottish people, and is never to be forgotten by any who survived those days and turned our efforts at last into a worthwhile cause united in its positive acceptance.

To close this chapter on a note of euphoria would be quite excusable, but this is no end to our story, and as with all journeys, there are ups and downs.

It is therefore timely to take a look at the outcome of the Y.N.A.‘s original vow at the beginning of the war to keep the S.N.P. alive, and to stabilise it. At the end of 1943 it would be no lie to say we had achieved both of those aims as far as the internal workings of the Party were concerned, but as has been mentioned, the main function of our group was to let the people of Scotland know of our grievances through all forms of propaganda, and to keep faith with our departed members during what must have been a very frustrating time.

The war showed that an end would come sooner than later, and as I said that the Party was now stabilised in its views. Also, as a competent executive was in place one could give a reasonable argument in saying that once the war was over, the Party could look forward to handing over its activities in good working order to the lads who were looking forward to carry on the fight.

After ten years hard work the Y.N.A. aims had come a long way, and although a lot of political bashings had taken place there were no fatal casualties. A lot of noses had been put out of place, and as already said, there were two camps with quite different points of view on how to achieve self-government. In retrospect it is quite clear that the dog-in-the-manger is and always will be the English Government as proved time and time again in its ownership of all they survey, no feeling of fellowship to their kindred human beings, and all I have written here happened 50 years ago when we were so naive as to think we were dealing with fair and honest people ! Now we know !

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