Over the past few weeks I have started digging out books from my shelves on the First World War. You know the one – it has its centenary in 2014, and the BBC have promised us four years of topical programmes across its genres to commemorate the whole brutal episode.
The First World War can be said to be the catalyst which set me on my current course in life. As a schoolboy less interested in studying and more interested in getting out of class, one teacher and one topic made me work – an inspiring history tutor and the ‘Great War.’ If ever a more potent misnomer exists in the branding of a conflict, I struggle to think of it. Great it was not.
The subject caught my attention however, injecting the academic adrenalin required to get me to university and into a job.
This is not the only reason why the First World War still holds my curiosity. The conflict was hellish. And it also brought the extended Victorian era to a crashing finale. The Second World War, whilst no less devastating on morale at home and for those on the front line, came as less of a shock – people knew exactly what they were fighting for.
The First World War was entered into by a public whose innocence was to be obliterated over four long years. You could argue the conflict propelled the world into the twentieth century, but I would disagree. Instead, it created a hiatus stretching right through the Great Depression and World War Two, before the twentieth century could be resuscitated in the 1950s.
My home county of Angus is famous for its association with the Black Watch. A force created by a Government to preserve order post-Union, yes – but also the mark by which families across the county laid claim to solidarity with each other when their sons and husbands were shot to pieces on the front.
This is where my family tree comes to mind. I share this solidarity, with my grandparents generation and beyond that to 1914-19. We still have the stirrups, postcards, and medals from the ‘Great War’ at the family home. It is these last physical and written reminders of the boys and men from a hundred years ago which serve to join the dots to the present day.
In the years 1889-1914, the issue of Scottish Home Rule was debated 15 times in the House of Commons, four Bills were introduced to Parliament to try and get it on the statute books, and right before war broke out a bill passed its second reading at Westminster. Home Rule even had the reluctant support of the Conservatives, who saw the alteration of the constitutional settlement within these islands as an inevitability and a means of preserving the union in the longer term. In the 1910 General Election the then Liberal Party won 80% of Scotland’s 72 seats, effectively a mandate to deliver Home Rule for Scotland.
The subsequent decades not only cost the lives of tens of millions of civilians in Europe, and some 100,000 Scots, but they snuffed out the question of Home Rule almost entirely.
Except of course it did no such thing. How apt that it will be under the watch of a Conservative-Liberal alliance that Scotland takes its final steps towards full autonomy. The dots of the independence movement have continued to join up.
Later this year and for a great deal of the next five, much will be made by unionists of the solidarity expressed by the British people in fighting off the German Empire.
You can bet your bottom dollar however they will not be clamouring to recall just how close we came to Scottish Home Rule in the spring of 1914.
The sense of community and common purpose which we know so well in Scotland was inherent before the First World War and continued for decades with the memory of collective loss in regiments which inhabited so much of the character of the areas they used as recruiting grounds. We fought to disarm our enemies in two world wars, yes, but we also retained the common desire for control over our own destiny.
Why don’t we then, in a suitable fashion, commemorate both occasions to mark these intervening one hundred years.
Let us all bow our heads to remember those family members who as part of their communities and regiments represented a freeze-frame of Scottish life and commonality of spirit in 1914, before being sent to their almost certain death in the trenches.
But let us also remember that in the late Victorian ‘boom’ period, when Scottish industry, its literature, and culture were all reaching their respective zeniths, the clamour for Home Rule continued into a new century to the extent that a bill was finally laid before Westminster in 1914 which would have delivered just that.
One hundred years on, two very different reasons to give a nod to those lost generations, but both centenaries are set to mark 2014 as the year history comes full circle.
Jimmy Halliday’s contributions to the Cause
Jimmy Halliday – lifetime Nationalist
To put matters into context, in 1955 the SNP contested only two Parliamentary seats in Scotland. Dr Robert McIntyre fought Perth and East Perthshire and Jimmy Halliday fought Stirling and Falkirk Burghs. Jimmy then became the youngest ever SNP Chairman and served 1956-70; in 1956 the entire SNP Conference delegates were photographed on the steps of the Allan Water Hotel, Bridge of Allan.
There will be a Referendum for Scottish Independence this year, which was unthinkable in the dark days of 1955. Jimmy died on 3rd January 2013 at the age of 85, and we will be publishing all his articles in the Scots Independent, all those we have electronic input for. It is anticipated we will publish a book with all his contributions over many years but this will have to wait until after the Referendum.
Tributes to Jimmy Halliday – SI Feb 2013
Ian Bell, Oona Ozga, daughter of Oliver Brown, and Jimmy at the
Oliver Brown Lunch, Perth, June 2012, with Pete Wishart MP listening intently
Photo Tony Grahame
First Minister Alex Salmond today led tributes to former party Chairman Jimmy Halliday who died this morning, 3rd January 2013.
Jimmy Halliday led the SNP from 1956 to 1960 and was chair of the Scots Independent.
Paying tribute to Jimmy Halliday and offering his condolences to his family Mr Salmond said;
“Jimmy Halliday became leader of the SNP whilst still in his 20s in 1956 and guided the party through four crucial years preparing for the expansion of the 1960s.
“When he became chairman in 1956 the SNP had had only two candidates in the 1955 election of which he was one. A few years later the party was contesting every seat in Scotland and winning by-elections.
“He has played a crucial role as the guiding hand of the Scots Independent newspaper which has been the only journal advocating the cause of independence for Scotland.
“Jimmy’s wit and wisdom will be much missed across the ranks of the wider national movement. My thoughts are with his wife Olive, his sons and family.”
Dundee City East MSP Shona Robison said today: “I was sad to hear of Jimmy’s death. He was a veteran of the party and an inspiration to many. He had a wry sense of humour and was well-grounded. Our condolences go to Olive and to his sons Gavin and David.
“His humanitarian outlook and his wide range of interests made him a pleasant companion and an able speaker. We will all miss him at our gatherings but reflect on what he has given our party and his decades of service to the cause of independence.”
Stewart Hosie MP for Dundee East said: “Jimmy was a positive influence on Scottish politics both through his early leadership of the SNP and his significant role with the SI newspaper and through his own personal life as a teacher, author and elder-statesman.
“He continued to give key-note speeches to gatherings such as the Alexander III Commemoration at Kinghorn and the 1820 Martyrs Society Rallies at Strathaven.
‘Locally, his ‘Address to the Haggis’ recited entirely from memory, was a feature at our annual Dundee SNP Burns’ Suppers. Jimmy’s legacy to the party in terms of his vision and his commitment is incalculable.”
Dundee City West MSP Joe FitzPatrick said: “Jimmy was a marvellous man of good humour and common sense. He was always interesting to talk to and had keen insight.
“His interests covered many subjects including American politics and he was warm, witty and companionable. He seemed ageless and we are all saddened at his death.
‘He will be greatly missed by all in the party nationally and by all of us in Dundee SNP and we send our condolences to Olive and his family.”
Sorry to hear that our friend Jim has passed away- a light has gone out in the Scottish sky. We mourn but also celebrate the life of the great man.
Graeme & Linda Clark, Banchory.
Jimmy’s death is especially poignant since he and my father were two of five SNP candidates at the 1959 General Election. My father’s death in 2006 and now Jimmy’s passing means that all five are no longer with us.
I have many happy memories of meeting Jimmy ranging from a Burns Supper in Kirkintilloch circa 1957,where he informed me that he supported Largs Thistle, to Student Nationalist meetings at Queen’s College Dundee in the 1960s and American Studies Conferences. We had many shared interests and I will miss his enlightening and humorous comments on all of them.
David Rollo, Kirkintilloch
Just to say how sad I was to learn of Jimmy’s death. He was a remarkable man, erudite, modest, witty, and always a delight to meet. I only really got to know him after 2005 at a do in Dunfermline but we would meet at Conference, the last time in Inverness in 2010 just before I retired. Owen Dudley Edwards revered him as an American historian, and I will always remember the review he did of my FLOATING COMMONWEALTH in SI, actually the ‘best-quality’ piece I saw about the book, in showing the range and critical power of his mind.
Chris Harvie, Melrose
I wish to offer my sincere condolences to you and your team on the recent death of Jim Halliday.
Since my first day at Dunfermline High School, where Jim was my Form master and history teacher, I have held him in high regard as a friend and mentor, whom I was able to contact for help and guidance on many occasions throughout my life and latterly my political career.
As you may know he regularly came back to Dunfermline to give lectures to the History Society, always to a packed house of former pupils in the City Chambers. One of my fondest memories is when shortly after I was elected as SNP Depute Provost of Fife, I invited Jim in to see my grand office in the building.
He stared around for some time, and then exclaimed, “The City Fathers would be whirlin’ aroond in their graves if they could see you here!”
We all will miss him so much. He was one of the greatest of the giants on whose shoulders we stand as we go forwards to 2014 and an independent Scotland!
Lizz Mogg (Former D.P.Fife)