- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 6 Jan 1955, p. 124-138
- Thomson, Roy Herbert, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- A telling of the story of the removal of the Coronation Stone in the chapel of Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey in 1950. The history of the Stone. Reactions to this removal in England. A different response in Scotland. What the participants hoped to gain by their deed; why they did it and what that serves to illustrate. The Scottish National Covenant which stands for a Scottish Parliament but "within the framework of the United Kingdom" and the Scottish National Party which wants independence. Differences between these two bodies. Scottish claims for Home Rule and how they are deeply rooted in history. The gradual extension of the control of Scottish affairs by Scots by the Government at Westminster. Scotland's financial contribution to the United Kingdom; some figures. Control over taxes wanted by the Scottish Covenant Association. One of the standard arguments against a Scottish Parliament and a response to it. Scottish law. The rating system in Scotland outmoded and a positive hindrance to the whole property-owning system; the need for change here. The position of English politicians. The crucial question of Home Rule. The speaker's belief that those who want Scotland to have complete independence are very few; that the more extreme Nationalists are not representative of Scottish opinion; but that it is clear that many men of moderate views feel that Scotland should have greater control over her affairs. Recommendations of the Report of the Royal Commission on Scottish affairs. The argument in connection with a Scottish Parliament is that it would be continuously dominated by Labour and the Covenant's response to this argument. Claims that the aims of the Covenanters have general public acceptance in Scotland. A look at possibilities for the Covenanters to put up their own candidates and contest seats in Parliament. The lack of a clear-cut answer to the whole matter. The national newspaper of Scotland, "The Scotsman." The good relationship between England and Scotland. England's attempts to placate Scottish feelings. Administrative devolution on a reasonable basis taking place over the future years.
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- 6 Jan 1955
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- Full Text
- "SCOTTISH HOME RULE"
An Address by ROY HERBERT THOMSON Chairman, The Scotsman Publications Limited
Thursday, January 6th, 1955
CHAIRMAN: The President Mr. James H. Joyce.
MR. JOYCE: Our speaker today--Roy Herbert Thomson--is one of Canada's leading newspaper publishers. Born in Toronto sixty years ago, Roy Thomson left school at 14 to take a job worth less than a dollar a day. In the early 1930's Mr. Thomson entered the radio field with the acquisition of the radio station in North Bay. Later he established stations at Timmins and at Kirkland Lake. This broadcasting expansion brought him into contact with his first newspaper enterprise, the Timmins Press, then a weekly, but which he turned into a daily a few years after its acquisition. From then on his expansion in the newspaper field was rapid.
Today he owns twenty daily newspapers and six weekly newspapers. In addition to the three radio stations in the north country, he operates, in partnership with Senator Rupert Davies, others at Kingston and at Peterborough and a new television station at Kingston. They also have a new T.V. station at Peterborough under construction.
A recent big step forward in his career has been the acquisition of the Scotsman Publications in Edinburgh, Scotland which included the Scotsman of Edinburgh, the Weekly Scotsman and the Evening Dispatch.
Mr. Thomson has been spending most of his time over in Edinburgh directing these papers, making occasional trips back to Canada to supervise his enterprises here.
He will speak to us on the contentious subject of "Scottish Home Rule".
MR. THOMSON: Shortly after six o'clock on Christmas morning in the year 1950, a night watchman going his rounds in Westminster Abbey was astonished to discover that someone had tampered with the Coronation Chair in the chapel of Edward the Confessor. The bar of wood which kept the Coronation Stone in place beneath the seat, had been removed and the Stone itself gone. The watchman promptly phoned the police and thus began a mystery which was not fully solved until April 11th, 1951, when the Stone reappeared in the ancient Abbey of Arbroath in Scotland.
It can be said for the authorities that there was little enough reason to imagine that anyone would attempt to remove the Stone. It is a block of Scottish sandstone measuring 26 1/2 inches by 16 1/2 inches, and weighing about 300 lbs. Those who removed it say it weighted 400 lbs. No doubt it felt like that.
You remember the hue and cry. Police officers dragged the Serpentine in Hyde Park and announced that they had got something that seemed to be about the right size. It was found to be a piece of concrete. Towards the end of January, a diviner declared that the Stone was buried somewhere along the River Thames, and that it had never left London.
Authority, however, reached firmer conclusions when it asked itself who might be interested in this Stone. It had been brought to England from Scone in 1296 as part of the war loot of Edward I, the Hammer of the Scots, and had reposed in Westminster Abbey since then, though it was removed temporarily once or twice.
There was a prophecy attached to it which said that the Scots would reign in whatever country the Stone was found. It was not a very good prophecy, for no Scot reigned in England from 1296 till 1603, when James the Sixth of Scotland became the First of England. But there is no doubt that for a long time before 1286, when Alexander III died, Scottish Kings had sat on the Stone of Scone at their inauguration. It seemed clear, therefore, that some Scots might have a motive to remove the Stone. The story of the removal of the Stone has been told by the chief participant in the enterprise, Ian Hamilton, now a young Edinburgh advocate, in his book " No Stone Unturned". It is an exciting story--as good as any thriller. Three men and a girl went down from Glasgow to London. Two days before Christmas, Ian Hamilton hid in the Abbey just before it was closed for the night. He was, however, discovered and shown the door. It looked like failure. But on Christmas Eve the party decided to try again. About midnight they noticed a wooden boarding with a door and on forcing the door, they found they had reached the door leading to Poets' Corner. This they also forced and reached the Confessor's Chapel. As they were moving the Stone, it fell apart in two pieces, apparently an old fracture. Hamilton took the smaller part of the Stone outside to the girl who was waiting with the car. At this point a policeman appeared and became quite chatty. He told them they would have to move on to a car park a little away. While they were chatting, there was a noise behind the boarding, and the policeman humorously remarked that it was the old watchman falling downstairs. Hamilton saw the door open and one of his friends peering out. Fortunately for the enterprise, his friend saw the policeman and gently closed the door.
That was by no means the end of the adventure, but it is unnecessary to go into details. Suffice to say that the Stone was successfully removed just before the watchman made his early morning round. It was taken out of London and deposited in a hollow 2 1/2 miles from Rochester. The smaller part meanwhile went north to Scotland.
Those who effected the removal returned to Scotland. After that the problem was to get the larger part of the Stone from Rochester across the Border. This was accomplished before New Year came in. The Stone was deposited somewhere near Stirling and was solemnly produced at Arbroath Abbey in April, after which the police took it to Westminster.
The reactions to this enterprise were interesting. The "Law Journal"-an English production-wrote heavily, "To break out of a place of divine worship after a commission of felony therein is sacrilege, a crime punishable by imprisonment for life." The papers in the case were sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions in April, but Sir Hartley Shawcross, as Attorney General, decided not to prosecute. He relieved English feelings by speaking of "vulgar acts of vandalism."
In Scotland there was not the same sense of indignation and outrage. There was a tinge of amusement at the thought that what Edward I had sacrilegiously removed from Scotland had disappeared from under the nose of authority and that the police had been so long at a loss although they had imposed a watch on the roads across the Border. There was also a desire in Scotland that the perpretrators of this deed should not suffer the utmost rigour of the law. It was clearly intended as a political demonstration.
But what did the participants hope to gain by their deed, Why did they do it, Mr. Hamilton supplied the answer. "I had great hopes", he writes "that as a stroke in a war of propaganda, the removal of the Stone would be a great success. I hoped also that it might go beyond propaganda, and help to restore Scotland's faith in herself." Undoubtedly this episode attracted a great deal of public attention but it contributed little to the cause of Scottish Home Rule. Indeed, when I spoke to Ian Hamilton the other day, he did not disagree with my statement to that effect. The measure of its failure in this respect is shown by the attitude of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in May 1951. The Assembly was not unsympathetic to the idea of increasing the amount of self-government which Scotland enjoyed. It had passed resolutions in that sense for a number of years, but when it was asked by its own Church and Nation Committee to advocate the retention of the Stone in Scotland, it declined to make any pronouncement. Whatever it might have felt if this proposal had been put forward in other circumstances, the Assembly was clearly averse to being associated with an act of this kind. In this the Assembly probably reflected moderate opinion in Scotland. Naturally extreme Nationalists were delighted at the way the English lion's tail had been twisted, though they probably regretted that they had no hand in the business.
Mr. Hamilton belongs to the Scottish National Covenant movement and not to the Scottish National Party. "Our fight," he says "is not for separation, but for a better Union." The covenant movement stands for a Scottish Parliament but "within the framework of the United Kingdom". Devolution not independence is the goal. All things considered, the Stone episode was something of an irrelevance.
To us, perhaps, in Canada, the recital of ancient wrongs going back to Edward I and beyond may seem to have little enough to do with the present time, but it is important to realize that Scottish claims for Home Rule, in whatever form, are deeply rooted in history. If Irish people have not forgotten Cromwell, Scots have not forgotten Edward I. After all, the Scottish nation was forged in the struggle with England and maintained itself down to 1707 against its powerful neighbour. The Stone was produced at Arbroath Abbey in 1951 because it was from there in 1320 that one of the finest expressions of Scottish national feeling was addressed to the Pope of the day, who was leaning to England's side and threatening to excommunicate Bruce. In this letter, which was written for them in all probability, by Bernard, Abbot of Arbroath, the Barons of Scotland said, "So long as one hundred men remain alive, we shall never under any conditions submit to the domination of the English. It is not for glory or riches or honours that we fight, but only for liberty, which no good man will consent to lose but with his life".
I have mentioned the two main bodies at present advocating some form of Scottish Home Rule. The difference between them is this. The Scottish National Party want "the restoration of Scottish National Sovereignty by the establishment of a democratic Scottish Government, freely elected by the Scottish people, and whose authority will be limited only by such agreements as will be freely entered into with other nations or states for the purpose of furthering international co-operation and world peace". This claim would extend to complete independence. It might be compatible with the status of a member of the Commonwealth. But it is incompatible with the maintenance of the United Kingdom. The Covenant movement, on the other hand, proposes to keep the framework of the United Kingdom but to give Scotland a Parliament which would legislate for Scottish affairs. The scheme which they have put forward is on lines not wholly unfamiliar to Canadians. Certain matters would be reserved for the United Kingdom Parliament, such as questions intimately affecting the Crown, questions of peace and war, defence, foreign affairs, most taxes, currency and so forth, while in purely Scottish affairs the Scottish Parliament would be supreme. That is the general idea without going into particulars about cases where concurrent powers might be desirable.
The Covenant, and the blue-print which the Covenant summarises, sets out in considerable detail just what type of Parliament is proposed for Scotland. What is envisaged is not unlike the Provincial Parliaments in Canada. In many respects, it would possess less powers than are vested in Canadian Provincial Governments. At the present time, there are 71 Scottish Members of Parliament at Westminster. The plan is that there should be double this number, 142, in the Scottish Parliament. Initially, it is proposed that the same number of Scottish Members will sit in Westminster, although it is likely that this representation would be decreased eventually in view of the fact that purely Scottish affairs would be handled by the Scottish Parliament. This is the basis which now exists in Ulster.
It is a fact, and the Covenanters freely admit and approve of it, that the Government at Westminster has gradually extended the control of Scottish affairs by Scots, and transferred this control in many departments of government from Westminster to St. Andrews House in Edinburgh. This has been steadily progressing over recent years.
The years of Socialist rule after the war made devolution seem more attractive to modern minds. Bureauracy tends to become centralised, at least it certainly did under the Labour Government in England. The control of nationalised industry gravitated to London. Britain is, of course, much more a Socialist state than is Canada, and again these operations are largely centred in London. The whole trend of control and direction seems to have departed from Scotland, and this causes Scots to think that Scotland's interests are being neglected.
It is considered that Death Duties in Britain are a fair indication of the relative contributions of various sections of the country to the National Treasury. On this basis, a recent Government White Paper states that Scotland contributes £410,000,000, about 9 1/2%, of the total United Kingdom revenue. Figures indicate that slightly more than half the national income goes for purposes of defence and other integrated services of Britain as a whole. From its total contribution of X-410,000,000, Scotland has been allocated about £230,000,00 for Scottish domestic services. This amount represents about 12% of the total amount allocated for all the United Kingdom domestic services. Therefore, while they are contributing 91/2 %, they are getting back 12%. On the face of it this would look to be over-generous treatment, and so it is. But to offset this, it is claimed that an undue portion of Government spending takes place in England. Over the years industries tended to amalgamate and their headquarters became located in England. Amalgamation of the railways had transferred the management south, and a large part of their construction and repair work went to England. The great naval base of Rosyth had been put by the Government on a care and maintenance basis. It was, in fact, widely suspected in Scotland and hotly denied in England, that English officers preferred the delights of Picadilly to exile on the shores of the Firth of Forth. This was reversed during the war when Rosyth had to be opened to meet the German menace. Many of the leading Scottish banks have amalgamated with English institutions, and altogether, the control of industry and commerce tended to become concentrated in England.
Dr. McCormick, who is the Chairman of the Scottish Covenant Association, recently told me that the Covenanters are entirely satisfied with the present allocation of revenue for Scottish domestic services and that their plans for a Scottish parliament do not envisage a demand for any larger percentage of the total United Kingdom revenue. They are also not dissatisfied with the various controls over Scottish domestic affairs which have been transferred from Westminster to St. Andrews House. What they want is for a Scottish Parliament, sitting in Edinburgh, to have control of the spending of this money and have them do the things which are now being done by the Westminster Government through the permanent staff at St. Andrews House. This would give the Scottish Parliament control of how they would spend the money, and what projects would get priority.
While they are satisfied with the allocation to Scotland of their share of the total United Kingdom revenue on the present basis, and they ask for no taxing powers with respect to indirect taxes, they want some control over the rates of some direct taxes, notably Corporation Taxes and Death Duties. They point out the fact that the Scottish economy differs materially from that of England. In Scotland, the Companies, generally speaking, are small, and there is a much higher percentage of private limited Companies as compared to public limited companies, as in England. The present Corporation Tax set-up, which is applicable to Britain as a whole, is not, in their view, on the best basis for Scotland. Also, they believe that the present taxation is not in the best interest of the very much larger number of self-employed persons in Scotland, as compared with England. These, and other differences in the general business set-up between the two countries are such that they believe Scottish prosperity could be materially assisted if, in these respects, taxes could have different aims and objects in Scotland to those now existing which are no doubt entirely applicable to Britain as a whole. They do not seek to change the general level of taxation with respect to the total amount of taxes to be collected.
One of the standard arguments against a Scottish Parliament is the general statement that Scotland is a poor country and is, in effect, subsidised by England. Scotsmen resolutely refute this argument. They point out that statistics conclusively prove that Scotland, with 10% of the population of Great Britain, produces 15% of the steel, 12% of the coal, and 40% of the shipbuilding and allied heavy industries.
It is a fact that Scotland in many respects is quite different to England. For instance, there is not nearly so much class distinction in Scotland, and this results to a considerable extent from the Clan system. Many Scots claim membership in one of other of the Clans, and the Head of the Clan, however high-placed he may be, is regarded by the most lowly member as just a member of the family. This tends greatly to break down the barriers between classes and is reflected all through Scottish life.
Those who support the Covenant point out the fact that there is much in Scottish law and practices which is outmoded, and should be modernised. They claim that everyone is agreed that this should be the case, but it is relatively unimportant in London, and no action is taken. Scottish law is almost completely different in practically every respect to English law, and this applies to both Civil and Criminal Law. For instance, in Scottish Criminal law, there is not just "Guilty" or "Not Guilty" as a verdict, but there is also a third alternative "Not Proven". This is a most peculiar device, whereby if not enough evidence can be produced against an accused to warrant his being found "Guilty", and sentenced, he is discharged under a verdict of "Not Proven", which, of course, indicates that there is grave suspicion that he is "Guilty", but not enough evidence is available to make a finding accordingly. To those of us, and the English people as well, who are used to a man being "Innocent" until he is found "Guilty", this is a very peculiar device indeed.
Then, Scottish law is most peculiar with respect to the fact that no chattel mortgage or charge of any kind may be placed against movable property, unless such property is actually delivered and kept in the custody of the person holding the mortgage. This results in a very strange method of selling motor cars on a time payment basis. The individual who purchases a car does not in effect make the purchase at all. He has a Finance Company do this and they, in turn, rent him the car until such time as he has completed all his payments, and then they deliver over to him the title. It would seem obvious that such a subterfuge should not be necessary and that the law should be changed accordingly.
The rating system in Scotland is outmoded and a positive hindrancee to the whole property-owning system. Civic taxes are levied not, as in Canada, on the basis of an assessment of the worth of the property, but instead on a basis of the rent which the property will bring. Part of this rating is levied against the tenant, and part of it against the owner. It exists only in Scotland and should be changed.
Those who support the Covenant say that there is substantial agreement on all such matters among all parties and all peoples in Scotland, and that the reason these things are not done is just because of the fact that Westminster is too busy with other and more important matters to divert their energies to do so. However, this statement is resolutely denied by the permanent officials at St. Andrews House. They affirm that these, and other matters, are very controversial and the reason that changes are not made is because of the fact that opinion is so divided not only among Scottish members of Parliament but among all the people of Scotland as well.
Neither the Conservative nor the Labour Parties want anything to do with Parliamentary devolution. The Conservatives believe that everything necessary can be done by transferring more and more control of Scottish affairs from London to St. Andrews House in Edinburgh. The Labour Party, if their past performance, and their present disinterest, is any indication, are even more opposed. Labour policy is clearly centralised control from London and during their term of office they did little to give the Scost more control over their own affairs.
As there is more pressure exerted, the Conservatives over the years have carried on one step of devolution after another. In 1926 they raised the Secretaryship for Scotland to the rank of Secretaryship of State. In 1937, they transferred the main Scottish administrative centre from Dover House in Whitehall to St. Andrews House in Edinburgh. In 1948, the Socialist Government which was then in power arranged that the second reading of a Scottish bill could be taken in the Scottish Standing Committee was also permitted o discuss Scottish estimates for six days in each session. The next year the Conservatives, where were then in opposition, promised that if they were returned they would appoint a Minister of State and an additional Under-Secretary. This promise was carried out when they were elected. This is a kind of internal devolution in connection with Scottish affairs by the House of Commons.
In 1952, the Conservative Government appointed a Royal Commission on Scottish affairs but Ministerial statements at the time of their appointment made it clear that they were not intended to include consideration of Parliamentary devolution. This Royal Commission brought In their report recently. They felt that there was a lack of knowledge of the extent to which devolution of Scottish affairs had already taken place. They were clearly concerned with administrative devolution and not, as those subscribing to the Covenant want, political devolution. Their report referred briefly to the Provincial type of Parliament that exists in Northern Ireland, but just as briefly they stated that it was their opinion that while this worked in Northern Ireland, it would not further the special needs and interests of Scotland. In Scotland, they say, devolution has taken an indigenous but different form.
A crucial question is whether Scotland wants Home Rule. I am quite convinced that those who want Scotland to have complete independence are very few indeed. The more extreme Nationalists are not representative of Scottish opinion, but there does seem to be no doubt that many men of moderate views feel that Scotland should have greater control of her own affairs. This view has undoubtedly been strengthened by the increased intervention on the part of Government in everyday life and business, by the complexity of administration and by the irritations that arise from remote control. Businessmen, who in the thirties saw little amiss with arrangements which assumed that the centre of gravity of Britain was on the Thames, are less confident today that all is well. Indeed, it could be said that the case for devolution, though fortified by appeals to Scottish patriotism, is largely based today on dissatisfaction with remote control from Whitehall and Westminster and on discontent with planning, which from the very point of its origination, inevitably takes too little account of Scottish conditions and needs.
The most important recommendation in the Commission's Report, is that Scottish roads, bridges and ferries should be under the control of the Secretary of State for Scotland, which means that these services would be administered from St. Andrews House and not from London. The Government quickly accepted this recommendation and this transfer will take place in 1956. This will undoubtedly remove an important point of dissatisfaction.
One of the most prevalent arguments in connection with a Scottish Parliament is that it would be continuously dominated by Labour. However, the Covenant claim that this is not the case. They point out that in he last election in the United Kingdom as a whole, Labour polled more votes than Conservatives and National Liberals, combined, whereas in Scotland the situation was reversed by some 80,000 votes.
What evidence is there that the aims of the Covenanters have general public acceptance in Scotland? Politicians in general claim that it is a narrow movement and does not command any wide public acceptance. However, the Covenanters point out that in 1949, they were able to get over two million signatures out of a total Scottish electorate at that time of 3,420,000 endorsing it. This is 40% of the people in Scotland, and would seem, on the face of it, to be quite impressive. However, most of us know that petitions are signed with very little consideration and much of this support is probably due partly at least to the generality of the Covenanters' aims. Though the movement has produced a blue-print of a constitution, its adherents are pledged only to securing "in all loyalty to the Crown and within the framework of the United Kingdom" a Parliament for Scotland "with adequate legislative authority in Scottish Affairs". A clearer definition might bring division among the supporters of this general purpose.
The Covenanters claim to have made private spot checks of the feeling on several occasions. They claim that in Scotstoun, a Glasgow industrial district, in 1950 postcards were sent out to all voters. They say 50% were returned and of all these 80% approved of the Covenant. They also claim that in Kirriemuir in Angus in a plebiscite in 1949, 90% of the voters cast their ballots and of these 80% were in favour of a measure of self-government in Scotland. They want a national plebiscite on the quesiton, but this has been refused by the Government on the basis that this procedure is not part of the constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom. Legislation is effected by Parliament and the Government said, in effect, that if Home Rule was wanted it was the business of those who wanted it to see that the Members of Parliament pledged to work for it were returned to Parliament. This is constutionally correct, but inasmuch as Members of Parliament just do not make an election issue of Scottish Home Rule, it is clear that other issues outrank it in importance. Conservative members are more concerned with preventing the return of a Socialist Government committed to further nationalisation and Labour candidates are more interested in advancing that cause.
It would seem that a possible step would be for the Covenanters to put up their own candidates and contest seats in Parliament. They say that if they were to do this it would result in defeat of many Conservative candidates and weigh the scales heavily in favor of Labour. They certainly do not want the return of a Labour Government because Labour has given no evidence of sympathy at all for political devolution and much less than the Conservatives for administrative devolution for Scotland.
If their cause has wide-spread support, it should be possible for them to arrange for town or city councils to take a plebiscite at the time of their regular election. However, they say that what stops this is the fact that the Government have control over all such spending by councils and they will not approve the appropriation of money for such a purpose. They say they have pretty well arranged for a plebiscite in Falkirk this year. It seems the Council there has a common good fund which does not come under the control of the Secretary of State and which they can use for such purposes as they desire. They believe that the Council there will approve of a plebiscite to be financed from that fund.
If so, while the result will be very interesting indeed it will be by no means conclusive. The wording would be all important. I think there is no doubt that any Scot who was asked if he favoured more control of Scottish affairs by Scotsmen in Scotland, would answer in the affirmative. But the trouble would start as soon as an attempt was made to spell out just what control would be exercised, on what basis of finance and all the details that would be necessary in order to carry the policy to a conclusion.
There is no clear-cut answer to the whole matter. There is no question that the more administrative devolution takes place the less pressure there will be for any form of political devolution. It is likewise certain that the more Scottish affairs are administered from St. Andrews House in Edinburgh, the closer the Government will be to the Scots people. This is most desirable from the standpoint of good Government and in the interest of peace and harmony between Scotland and England.
"The Scotsman", the national newspaper of Scotland, has always been considered to be sympathetic to those elements in Scotland which over the years have pressed for more control of Scottish affairs by Scotsmen in Scotland. This sympathy and editorial support has never quite extended to the point where "The Scotsman" has advocated a Parliament for Scotland. They do support continuing administrative devolution of Scottish affairs to Scotland and it would seem to me that this is a very sound policy to pursue and very much in the best interests of both Scotland and England.
I think anyone who intimated this whole problem has any imminence of becoming a serious factor in the good relationship between England and Scotland is considerably exaggerating its importance. However, this is the kind of problem which, if not given sympathetic and intelligent consideration, can grow in importance and be much more difficult to settle in the future.
I believe in recent years the British governments have by their transfer of administration from London to Edinburgh done much to placate Scottish feelings and while I would expect "The Scotsman", I am speaking of the newspaper, to continue to support those who want more and more control of Scottish affairs exercised in Scotland, I would not expect that it would feel that it had to advocate anything more drastic if administrative devolution continues to take place on a reasonable basis over the future years.
THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Dr. Clarence B. Crummey.