Race and work camps: interwar Scottish nationalist perspectives

All nationalist movements view themselves as guardians of their country’s heritage, and woe betide those who point to anything that does not chime with the “true” history of the land. Scotland is no exception, as we can see from the storm over Gavin Bowd’s newspaper article about Scottish fascism. I’ve not yet seen his book on this subject, but Bowd is a professional historian, and I expect to see him set out his evidence and name his source material.

Some of that evidence is well known. Indeed, I have stumbled across some of it while looking at the various work camp systems that were scattered across these islands before the 1940s. Nationalist campaigners in Scotland tended to see the main ‘other’ as the Irish, and they found a broad audience for their views. This complicated their views on work camps, which could be seen as vehicles for emigration of fine Scots (bad) or as training schemes to prepare Scots for jobs at home or life on the land (good).

The Reverend Duncan Cameron, chief author of a report for the Kirk on The menace of the Irish race to our Scottish nationality, made himself available for speeches and lectures. Among other organisations who invited him was the City Business Club in Glasgow, who in 1926 heard him call for ‘drastic measures’ to ‘safeguard the Scottish race in their native land’ from the Irish.

A decade later, Charles Davidson spoke to the National Party in Elgin of the racial deterioration caused by government training policy: ‘The finest went overseas’, he said, and were replaced by immigrants ‘not of the same stock, class or quality’. Meanwhile, a National Party delegation to the Scottish Office complained that ‘the flower of the race’ was being encouraged to leave home in search of work, while the government’s work camps were filled with inferior migrant stock.

So it isn’t hard to find plenty of examples of nationalist movements in Scotland that were bigoted, racist and sympathetic to the radical right. We can also find similar movements in England (part of my book is devoted to the work camps associated with Rolf Gardiner, who was profoundly anti-Semitic and thought the people of Cleveland and North Yorkshire were to be admired for being of ‘robust Scandinavian stock’. And of course we can find such people across much of Europe – just as we can also find Scottish, English and indeed German and Italian anti-fascists.

Details of Gavin Bowd’s book are at: http://www.birlinn.co.uk/Fascist-Scotland.html

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