Guide to Scotland
   Gateway to the British Isles since 1996
A Brief History of Scotland

Presented by Peter N. Williams, Ph.D.

Chapter 14: Scotland between the Wars

The War was over, and one thing seemed inevitable in the midst of all the patriotic fervor: the continued success of Scottish schools, colleges and universities had been slowly strengthening latent feelings of nationalism. These went hand in hand with the reemergence of those cultural activities viewed as particularly Scottish. We have mentioned the revival of the "Mod" and the activities of "An Comunn Gaidhealach." To these, we can add the works published by the Scottish History Society and the "Scottish Historical Review." National pride was continually reinforced by the activities of the world-class Glasgow Orpheus Choir (founded in 1905) and the Scottish National Players (founded in 1921). Another great impetus came in 1936 when the Saltire Society was established, with branches in all the main towns to preserve the distinctive Scottish tradition in literature and the arts.

Not all artists painted rosy or romantic pictures. In 1901, George Douglas Brown published a savage counter blast against the pretty sentiments of the so-called "Kailyard School" in which he emphasized all that was so unlovely in Scottish life and character (he predated by a few years, the savage attack on the unsavory aspects of Welsh nonconformity presented by Caradoc Evans). A.J. Cronin also explored the grittiness of much of Scottish urban life in his "Hatter's Castle" (1931); a theme matched by "No Mean City: a Story of the Glasgow Slums " (1935) an unrelenting tale of squalor that so shocked this author when he first read it as a young boy living in the green and relatively unspoiled countryside of Clwyd.

The Scots vernacular was explored by Lewis Grassic Gibbons in three novels, "Sunset Song, Cloud House and Grey Granite", all written between 1932 and 1934. All the world has heard of, loved and identified with the story of "Peter Pan", written by Scots writer J. M. Barrie in 1904. He was also responsible for "The Admirable Crichton " (1902), "What Every Woman Knows " (1908), "Dear Brutus " (1917) and other well-received and constantly revived plays. Barrie's plays were matched in dramatic quality by those of James Bridie ("The Anatomist, Tobias and the Angel, Jonah and the Whale" and "A Sleeping Clergyman", all written between 1931 and 1933.

The same period also saw the collection of surviving Gaelic folk songs "Songs of the Hebrides," lovingly preserved by Marjorie Kennedy Fraser. It was high time. Mendelssohn's overture, "The Hebrides", inspired by the awe-inspiring Fingal's Cave, written after the composer's visit to Scotland in 1829, had certainly put the country on the map. From the mid-19th century on, Scotland's majestic scenery had become a magnet for hordes of tourists that would arrive in the vogue for travel to "romantic, wild places."

All these efforts were certainly promoting Scots literature and music (as well as its Highland and island scenery) in Europe. Indeed, Scotland was enjoying a cultural revival that closely matched events in the political and economic spheres of the time. Writings in the Scots dialect continued with the works of Charles Murray ("Hamewith", 1900); Violet Jacob ("Songs of Angus," 1915 and later); John Buchan ("Poems in Scots and English," 1917) and Sir Alexander Gray (in his collection of ballads compiled and translated from 1920 on).

Of particular interest is the creation, in the 1920's, of a new "language" derived from a mixture of archaic words and Scots vernacular that is called "Lallans." Writings in this new medium were considered the hallmark of the "Scottish Renaissance" of the first half of the century. It became especially known in the works of Hugh McDiarmid.

McDiarmid and others were very concerned with the integrity of Scottish culture, with the revival of an authentic Scottish language both Lowland Scots and Gaelic, in short, with the rediscovery of a genuine national identity. For these writers, it wasn't economics or politics that concerned them, but culture and ideology. However, economic hardship was more instrumental in the formation of The Scottish Nationalist Party in 1928. Perhaps Scotland was paying too much into the national Exchequer and receiving too little back. The argument continued up to September 1939. In any case, Westminster had too much say in the allocation of the money.

At the end of the War, so much loss of life made many question just what Scotland's role was to be in the preservation of an empire in which they had done so much to build. An urgent need for parliamentary reform created the Representation of the People Act (the Fourth Reform Act) that greatly enlarged the electorate. Women from the age of 30 could now add their votes to those of men of 21. Ten years later, the voting age for both genders was set at the earlier figure. Thirty-eight seats were added to the Scottish counties and the number for Glasgow and Edinburgh was greatly extended by virtue of their large populations.

Chapter 14: Scotland between Wars Continued