Negotiating Identities in Britain During the Second World War
‘Fortify the Cheviots!’: The Nazis and the Scottish Nationalists
In January 1939, Douglas Young, future leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), wrote to his fellow poet, George Campbell Hay: ‘If Hitler could neatly remove our imperial breeks somehow and thus dissipate the mirage of Imperial partnership with England etc he would do a great service to Scottish Nationalism.’1 Young thus showed the ambivalent attitude of Scottish nationalists towards Fascism. If their movement was overwhelmingly attached to democracy, its visceral hostility to England, the ‘Auld Enemy’ south of the Cheviot hills, led to the downplaying of the continental Fascist threat to freedom and peace, while some extreme nationalists could be attracted to the authoritarian and xenophobic solutions offered by the Fuhrer and the Duce in the years leading up to the Second World War. The idea of ‘fighting for Britain’ sowed considerable disruption in nationalist ranks, who found it difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile ancestral grievances with a growing awareness of Hitler’s ‘big power’ expansionism. At the same time, as archival documents show, the British authorities were concerned about a potential Celtic nationalist ‘Fifth Column’ disrupting the war effort. The Allied victory over Fascism, then the electoral triumph of Labour, may be viewed as a triumph for ‘Britishness’, with the creation of a pan-UK social-democratic settlement that was the fruit of what Angus Calder called the People’s War.2 However, the war years were also a catalyst for the re-organisation and eventual strengthening of the SNP, while the expansion of the Scottish Office within the framework of...
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