One of the joys of archival research is the many opportunities it offers to get seriously distracted. I was browsing the Stirling Journal and Advertiser for the interwar years in the hope of finding reports relating to work camps. Stirling and Clackmannanshire were both mining areas facing high unemployment; and the Kirk ran a labour colony at Cornton Vale.
The paper was a rich source of material, only some of which ended up in the book. But as usual, I found myself fascinated by reports that had no direct connection to my own study. One was a report of a speech by a Presbyterian minister, the Reverend Duncan Cameron of Kilsyth, addressing the weekly luncheon of the City Business Club in Glasgow. According to the edition for 15 April 1926, Cameron told his audience that “unless drastic measures were taken to safeguard the Scottish race in their native land, within the next thirty years the Irish population would be predominant in the industrial areas of Scotland, and that they would be in a position to dictate the lines of policy”.
Cameron had form in this area. He had contributed to the Kirk’s 1923 report on Irish immigration, telling the Kirk’s general assembly that “Scottish nationality would be imperilled and Scottish civilisation subverted” unless Irish immigration were controlled. And the year before he had warned the assembly of the risk of violent warfare. So this was no isolated act, and clearly he was far from alone in the interwar nationalist movement in fomenting alarm over Irish immigration, which he contrasted with the emigration of what he saw as superior Scots.
This is where I can see a link of sorts with my own research focus on work camps, as the Scottish nationalists occasionally claimed that work camps were themselves contributing to the dilution of the Scottish race, by helping prepare men for emigration. And while it isn’t news that interwar nationalist movements were often deeply racist, it’s helpful to remind ourselves occasionally that ideas based on imagined communities can have real consequences.
If you want more on the work camps, check out my book on Brirish work camps before 1940.