Guide to Scotland
   Gateway to the British Isles since 1996
A Brief History of Scotland

Presented by Peter N. Williams, Ph.D.

Chapter 15: After the War, Steps towards Independence

In April 1945, at Motherwell, Scottish Nationalist Robert MacIntyre was elected to Parliament, and though he was defeated shortly after in the General Election, it was clear that a new spirit was afoot in Scotland. A reaction to the vast increase in the central power of the State that had accumulated during the war was inevitable now that peace had returned. By 1948, there was a resurgence of Scottish Nationalist feeling. A Scottish Covenant of that year containing hundreds of thousands of signatures called for a Scottish Parliament.

Two years later, in a daring midnight raid, the Stone of Scone, the ancient symbol of Scottish royalty (upon which the medieval kings of Scotland had been crowned) found itself kidnapped from under the Coronation Chair at Westminster Abbey, where it had rested uncomfortably since 1297. The daring deed, student prank or not, showed only too well that it was high time the Government at Westminster paid more attention to the needs of the Scottish people.

Following the interruption caused by World War II, in which all areas of Britain once again united in the face of a common, slow resentment at the strengthening of Westminster's grip on Scottish affairs continued to smolder. After the bloodletting and economic hardships of the war, it was taking too long for things to return to normal.

The loss of Empire that followed the heady victory celebrations, and the period of austerity and gloom that lasted for years in the so-called Welfare State created by the Socialist government did much to cancel the general euphoria created and sustained by the very idea of "Britishness." The Labour Government of Clement Attlee came into power mainly because of war weariness. All areas of the country, including Scotland (where the Liberals did not gain a single seat) supported it, at the expense of the Conservatives. During its tenure, in which thousands of Britons sought for a better life overseas, the nation was forced inwards, to re-examine both its own role in history and its role in the future. It had been the Empire, under its portraits of a benevolent monarch, as often as not weaning the tartan, that had welded Britain into a nation state. However, the Empire was disintegrating rapidly.

All over the globe, former colonies were seeking and gaining independence. Maps that showed almost one third of the world colored red for British now had to be redrawn and recolored and countries renamed. The birth of new nation states overseas now raised the question of nation states at home. At first this was subdued, even hidden, in the carrying out of the generally well-supported socialist revolution of the Labour Government in which "the Welfare State" replaced much that had been traditional in all areas of British life. In these times, socialist leaders from both Wales and Scotland abhorred the thought of separation.

Gradually, the struggles of the war years began to dim into distant memory, but the promised Utopia of the Labour Government did not come about. As a university student looking for hard-to-find lodgings, the author remembers having to produce his ration book in the mid-fifties and walking through rubble in towns such as Swansea and Liverpool which were so slow in rebuilding. There was much greater progress on the Continent, and though the rebuilding of Europe meant an initial boom for British, and particularly Scottish industries, "real" prosperity was an awfully long time in coming, especially when one compared progress in Britain with what was happening in West Germany. Yet in retrospect, the relatively affluent fifties were no time to push for devolution. Scotland was sharing in Britain's wealth and memories of the pre-war Depression were still strong.

Westminster's promises began to fade rapidly in the light of harsh economic competition from abroad; nationalist feelings and the accompanying demands for recognition began to emerge once more. In Parliament, some heed was taken of these demands when the powers of the Scottish Standing Committee, practically moribund since 1907, were greatly enhanced, giving Scotland something like a parliament within a parliament.

Chapter 15: After the War, Steps towards Independence continued