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The Cause: A History of Scottish Nationalism

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Billy Kay Billy Kay | 12:00 UK time, Friday, 21 September 2012

"Arthur Donaldson used to claim that we only had a thousand members, and I used to say to him, "Arthur, you're an exaggerating old scoundrel!" There would be perhaps nearer 150 members in the whole country!" James Halliday.

"It was a sect...it was curiously like Trotskyism actually, and it was something that at that time was a blind alley." Tom Nairn

These statements from a Scottish intellectual and a former Chairman of the SNP refer to the status of Scottish nationalism in the 1950's and 1960's. They are also testimony to the remarkable transformation of a movement which was once marginalised and disparaged, but within a few decades holds political sway to such an extent that it is giving the Scottish people the opportunity to vote for or against their fundamental desire, their fundamental cause of Scottish independence. What a story this is, and one I am excited to present to the Radio Scotland audience.

Now unless you were extremely fortunate, if you belong to my generation you probably got little Scottish content in your education. A vivid memory I have is of the 17 year old me browsing the book shelves of Kilmarnock's Dick Institute, and discovering a book called The Scottish Insurrection of 1820 which was full of references to radicals in my home town of Galston! It brought history alive for me, but it also made me question why we had been taught so little of our own culture and history and this galvanised me in my determination to learn more for myself. At university, I switched from modern languages to Scottish literature and since then in my programmes and books I have tried to show people what they missed out on in their education. The series then is thrang with resounding quotes from the many writers and artists involved in the national movement.....Hugh MacDiarmid:

"For we hae faith in Scotland's hidden pouers
The present's theirs, but aw the past and future's oors"

R.B. Cunninghame Graham:

"The enemies of Scottish Nationalism are not the English, for they were ever a great and generous folk, quick to respond when justice calls. Our real enemies are among us, born without imagination."

If anyone gives the lie to the criticism of nationalists as "narrow and parochial", it is surely Cunninghame Graham . Before being a founding father of the National Party, the forerunner of the SNP he was a gaucho in Argentina, a socialist in the British Parliament and a founder of the Scottish Labour Party with his close friend James Keir Hardie back in 1888.

Throughout the series too, we hear echoes from Scottish history in contemporary politics. In a discussion on the 18th century e.g. the distinguished Professor of History at Strathclyde University, Allan MacInnes points out that support for the SNP in the 2007 Election was very similar in its geographical spread to the Scottish support for the Jacobite Rising in 1715! He concludes that since that election "...clearly Salmond has led his troops to greater success than [The Earl of] Mar did at Sherrifmuir".

Yes, despite one veteran nationalist saying that depression is a constant theme in the fluctating fortunes of his movement, there is room for humour too. The First Minister is in good form describing withering banter between Harold Wilson and Nye Bevan, before going on to explain why he himself was expelled then re-admitted to the SNP in the early 1980's. Meanwhile the rich Doric of Peterheid's Ron Ferrari is brilliant describing the role of his famous Italian sports cars in promoting nationalism in the North East. I hope you are now suitably intrigued enough to join me in The Cause to find out more.


  • Comment number 1.

    Interesting and I concur about the history or lack of it being taught.I remember ,back in the fifties being given a map(1958) and the map had England written from Cape Wrath all the way to Brighton,no Wales or Scotland,and oddly enough Northern Ireland was there but just a blank space for Eire,and I have noticed the changes in the Oxbridge historians changing history,to suit their politics.I also recall when my daughter was about 8 her teacher telling her that there was no such king as James the eighth.

  • Comment number 2.

    Absolutely brilliant. Thanks Billy for a comprehensive history of the SNP. I just wish the BBC had produced it as a TV series, but I suppose that would be asking too much.


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