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We’re only a few weeks into the New Year and we’ve already received a number of interesting new additions to our collections. One of these accessions is a box of papers which was transferred to us by our library colleagues which contains fascinating material relating to the campaign for greater Scottish self-government in the 1950s. The focus of this campaign was the Scottish Covenant, a petition demanding a Scottish parliament, which was signed by over two million Scots in 1949-50.
The papers were included with a large donation of books on mining and geology given to the library by the geologist Robert Robinson and detail his involvement in the campaign. They include minutes and reports of the National Covenant Committee (1950-51) and the Scottish Covenant Association (1952-53). Robinson was an active member of these groups and many of the papers are annotated, providing further details of the discussions that took place at the meetings he attended. Leaflets and newsletters produced by these groups are also present, along with pamphlets on Scottish nationalism. There is also a file of correspondence which includes a letter from December 1949 which highlights some of the difficulties that were faced in collecting the signatures for the Scottish Covenant. Writing to a fellow committee member Robinson noted that:
“I did not have time to look at the Scottish Covenant form which was signed up last night at the ceilidh at the McKillop Hall, but I see this morning that none of the penciled names would be accepted by the Scottish National Assembly Committee as they are obviously written by only one or two hands. I also know that several of the people given on the form were not there and that their signatures are therefore forged! I have rubbed out all the penciled names and would be very grateful to you if you would collect the names of the people living in the glen who will sign. Actual signatures of everyone in the household wanted!”
This small collection of personal papers will make a great addition to our Scottish Political Archive. Established in 2010 the SPA is collecting material relating to Scottish politicians and political organisations through oral history interviews and the donation of personal papers and memorabilia and has already amassed an impressive range of material recording the last 60 years of Scottish politics.
Last Friday evening a packed Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum celebrated the opening of a new exhibition of material from the University of Stirling’s Scottish Political Archive. Democracy for Scotland: the referendum experience focuses on the campaign for a Scottish Parliament in the second half of the twentieth century. In particular it chronicles the history behind the two devolution referendums of 1979 and 1997 and explores the nature of the Yes and No campaigns for both referendums, their results and the re-establishment of a Scottish Parliament.
In conjunction with the exhibition the Scottish Political Archive is hosting a series of lectures at the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum on Thursday lunchtimes at 12pm. The full lecture programme is as follows:
3rd May: ‘Scottish literary magazines and devolution’, Linda Gunn
Linda will examine the editorial processes of Cencrastus and The (New) Edinburgh Review.
10th May: ‘Let the People Decide’, Dennis Canavan
Dennis will give some personal recollections of the Referendum campaigns, the intervening period of 1979-1997 and ask what lessons can be learned from the past to help shape Scotland’s future.
17th May: ‘From 1979 to 2014: Referendum Campaigning and the Future of Scotland’, Peter Lynch
24th May: ‘Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham (1852-1936), Stan Bell, John McIntyre and Willie Thom
A celebration on the 160th birthday of Cunninghame Graham, who first proposed the establishment of a Scottish Parliament in 1888.
31st May: ‘Political Fictions’, James Robertson
James discusses the fictionalising of 20th-century Scottish political history in his novel And the Land Lay Still, and asks why there has been relatively little ‘political’ fiction in Scottish literature.
7th June: ‘The Radical Scotland Project: the making of a magazine’, Kevin Dunion
Tickets for the lectures are £3 and are available at the Stirling Smith (Tel : 01786 471917). The exhibition runs from 27th April – 10 June 2012.
Giving seminars to students which introduce them to the wide range of materials held in our collections allows us to open up the boxes and display some of the items we hold. When putting together a selection of material for a seminar this week I came across this wonderful pamphlet in our Tait and Watson collection. Written in 1938 it lays out the ambitious plans put forward by the Communist Party for the improvement of Edinburgh. Buoyed by a huge increase in the Labour and Communist vote in Edinburgh municipal elections the pamphlet proposed “ten years of construction for the capital.” The improvements suggested included an extension of Princes Street and the creation of boulevards, gardens and floodlit fountains like those in Brussels; the removal of the slums found in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat and the construction of 3,000 new municipal houses every year; and the development of Portobello’s seaside attractions with the addition of a new pier and a tower to rival those in Blackpool and Paris.
The Tait and Watson collection consists of material relating to the history of left wing politics in Scotland collected by William Tait, son of the Scottish Socialist pioneer Thomas Tait, and William Watson, a politically-active Clydeside welder and collector. It includes books, newspapers, pamphlets and the archives of a number of small Edinburgh-based left wing parties who were active in the first half of the twentieth century. The pamphlet collection includes over 3,000 titles on a variety of national and international topics and provides a first-hand illustration of the political debate that was generated by such major events as the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War. Full details of the pamphlets can be found on our library catalogue – do a classmark search for ‘Watson pamphlet’ or ‘Tait pamphlet’ to get an idea of the range of title and topics included.