Fascism, Union and Empire
On 8 February 1935, William Joyce, later to be known as ‘Lord Haw-Haw’, addressed a meeting of the British Union of Fascists in the small town of Kirkcudbright in south-west Scotland. What drew Joyce to such an obscure location?
This may seem a purely historical question, but the image below was used on 7 April 2013 to illustrate an article in the Scotland on Sunday newspaper which concluded ‘The electorate in Scotland now appears more receptive to radical nationalism than Mosley’s blackshirts could ever dream of.’ The article was written by Gavin Bowd, author of ‘Fascist Scotland’. In June 2012 Dowd gave a talk ‘Fortify the Cheviots! The Nazis and the Nats’ in which he claimed that in Scotland ‘Hatred of the English led to the downplaying of the Fascist threat to freedom and peace, while more radical nationalists could be attracted to the authoritarian and xenophobic solutions offered by the Fuhrer and the Duce.’
Dowd’s remarks need to be understood in the context of the Scottish independence referendum to be held on 18 September 2014. If a Yes vote is a vote for a radical nationalism which = fascism, the outcome will be a No vote. But if Dowd’s suggestion is valid, then the region of Scotland which had the largest number of fascists in the 1930s should now be a Scottish nationalist heartland. It is not. As the map below of the 2011 Scottish election results shows [Orange Lib Dem, Yellow SNP, Red Labour, Blue Tory] the SNP made no gains in the south of Scotland.
From 1931 until 1997, when the SNP won in Galloway and Labour in Dumfriesshire, the region was solidly Conservative -apart from a narrow SNP win in Galloway in October 1974 (regained by the Tories in 1979). Labour are also a Unionist party, and with SNP support at around 20%, unless significant numbers of Labour supporters can be persuaded to vote Yes, the No vote in 2014 is likely to be overwhelming.
Fascism is closely related to nationalism, but in the UK in the 1930s the nationalism of the fascists was British. In the south of Scotland, as I explain below, the success of the British Union of Fascists was also bound up with Imperialism and a form of cultural regionalism closely related to Ulster Unionism.
The Cradle of Fascism in Scotland
In 1934, the largest Scottish branch of the British Union of Fascists was located in the small town of Dalbeattie in Galloway. Here, under the leadership of town clerk James Little (1901-1967) the Blackshirts had attracted 400 members drawn from town and surrounding areas. A further 120 belonged to the Dumfries branch, similar in numbers to the BUF branches in the far larger cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. This led the BUF’s newspaper ‘The Blackshirt’ to describe the region as ‘the cradle of fascism in Scotland’.
But why did this rural region of Scotland provide such fertile soil for fascism? Although Stephen Cullen [The Fasces and the Saltire: The Failure of the British Union of Fascists in Scotland, 1932–1940, The Scottish Historical Review, Volume LXXXVII, 2: No. 224: October 2008, 306–331] and Liam Turbett [Blackshirts in Red Scotland: an analysis of fascism and its opponents in inter-war Scotland, Glasgow University 2012] both mention James Little and Dumfries and Galloway, neither discuss this question in detail.
A starting point is the failure of improving landowners in the late eighteenth century to create an industrial revolution in the region. Although water powered cotton mills were built, for example in Gatehouse of Fleet, lack of easy access to supplies of coal prevented the crucial shift to steam power. By the 1840s, when coal from Ayrshire and Upper Nithsdale became available via the railways, the region’s economy was firmly based on farming. As a result, with exception of the regional capital of Dumfries and the ferry port of Stranraer, there are no significant urban centres in the region. Nor, unlike neighbouring Ayrshire, was the extent of mining, quarrying and manufacturing sufficient to create anymore than scattered enclaves of an industrialised working class in the region. The region did produce a revolutionary ‘direct force’ Chartist - Peter McDouall (1814-1854)- his main centre of activity was in north-west England.
While the population of Dumfries and Galloway doubled between 1755 when 77 459 lived in the region and 1851 when the figure was 164 633 it then began to decline, dropping to 144 612 by 1901. [In 2001 it was 147 765]. A significant factor in the decline was emigration. In 1851 10 000 people sailed from the port of Dumfries (Carsethorn) to North America, 7000 to Australia and 4000 to new Zealand. [Alfred Truckell in 1986 edition of William McDowell ’History of Dumfries’]. This outflow continued through the twentieth century so that most families in the region still have family connections with former colonies of the British Empire. In contrast, although there was some nineteenth Irish settlement in Wigtownshire, this was minor in scale compared to Irish settlement west central Scotland in the same period.
By the later nineteenth century then, the region, especially Galloway could be portrayed in the paintings of the Kirkcudbright school of artists (also know as the Glasgow Boys) as an unspoilt and timeless natural ‘paradise’. In popular literature, the works of local author S. R. Crockett (1859-1914) convey a similar impression, emphasised in his novel ‘Cleg Kelly’ (1896) by a contrast drawn with urban poverty in Edinburgh. The novel was dedicated to J. M. Barrie, another member of the ‘kailyard’ school of popular fiction who had lived in Dumfries as a boy.
On 28 September 1906, at the height of his popularity, a banquet in Crockett’s honour was held in Dalbeattie. Amongst those attending was ‘Councillor Jack’ of Dalbeattie whose son was later to become a BUF member and James Little, whose son was to become leader of the local fascists. Following the first toast to ’The King’, Andrew Jameson, lord Ardwall then toasted ’The Imperial Forces’ to which Major Gilbert McMicking (Scottish Liberal MP for Kirkcudbrightshire and then Galloway 1906 -1922).replied at length.
After noting that ‘there has been a torrent of criticism directed against the Imperial Forces in the last six years [I.e. following the second Boer war] McMicking concluded with the following remarks.
Going further into the Army Problem, he said that what some people called this "insoluble problem" was really bound up in the fact that so many recruits now-a-days were rejected as medically unfit, and that unfitness he attributed to physical deterioration of the class from which recruits are drawn, due in large measure to the conditions of life in large centres of population. As time goes on, and generation succeeds
generation, the problem will become accentuated unless a larger proportion of our population can be induced to live in country districts, where they can obtain pure air, and live amid healthy surroundings. (Applause.) That, to his mind, was the real and vital question which underlies the Army Problem. (Applause.)
This conclusion very directly connects the strength of the ‘Imperial Forces’ with Crockett’s Galloway as a ‘country district’. The implication is that the health and vitality of the Empire would increasingly rely on the health and vitality of Britain’s rural rather than urban population.
To develop this theme, in 1913 John Buchan wrote a biography of Andrew Jameson, lord Ardwall. Buchan had met Jameson at Oxford in 1898 and later often stayed with him at Ardwall (near Gatehouse of Fleet) to hunt, shoot and fish. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography’s description of Jameson as a Gladstonian Liberal who ‘severed all links with the party in 1885 over Irish home rule, becoming a staunch unionist and chairman of the West Edinburgh Unionist Association’ before becoming an ‘admirer of Joseph Chamberlain and his gospel of imperial unity and advocate of a Bismarckian ‘blood and iron’ approach to foreign affairs’ is based on Buchan’s biography.
Thanks to Jameson, Buchan was able to draw on a familiarity with Galloway in his 1915 novel ‘The 39 Steps’, but more significant is this extract from Buchan’s first (1910) novel ‘Prester John’
Before me was the shallow vale with its bracken and sweet grass, and farther on the shining links of the stream, and the loch still grey in the shadow of the beleaguering hills. Here was a fresh, clean land, a land for homesteads and orchards and children. All of a sudden I realized that at last I had come out of savagery. The burden of the past days slipped from my shoulders. I felt young again, and cheerful and brave. Behind me was the black night, and the horrid secrets of darkness. Before me was my own country, for that loch and that bracken might have been on a Scotch moor. The fresh scent of the air and the whole morning mystery put song into my blood.
However, the landscape so glowing described was in South Africa, not Galloway. Buchan was familiar with the South African landscape after becoming private secretary to Arthur Milner who was High Commissioner to Southern Africa during the second Boer war. It was during this war that the first concentration camps were set up where 27 000 Boer women and children and more than 14 000 black South Africans died. Although such extreme measures defeated the Boers, despite Milner and Buchan’s efforts this ‘fresh, clean land’ did not become home to a population of Scottish settlers.
In contrast, writing in 1888, John Harrison ‘discerned an essentially Scottish character’ in a part of the Empire much closer to Dumfries and Galloway, found
in the whitewashed cottages, carefully tended farms and hedgerows , the well-ordered little towns and well built churches adorned with handsome spires, their busy weekly markets, and that surest sign of a high class population, their well-washed , clean-pinafored children.’ [quoted in ‘Scottish Unionists and the Ulster Question’ in ‘Unionist Scotland 1800-1997’ editor Catriona McDonald 1998 page 15]
While echoing both Crockett and Buchan’s descriptions of Galloway, as well as scenes depicted by the Kirkcudbright artists, Harrison is describing County Down in Ulster. Significantly, for Harrison there was ‘racial’ basis to the distinction between the Irish and the Ulster-Scots settlers of this landscape. Such racism however was less important in the development of Ulster Unionism than the religious division between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, or more particularly, the Calvinist Presbyterianism of the Scottish Covenanters. The Ulster Covenant of 1912 drew on this heritage. The first to sign the Covenant was leading Ulster Unionist Edward Carson, whose grandfather had left Dumfries for Dublin in 1815. In the Revered J.M. Woodburn’s ‘The Ulster Scot’, published in 1914, the complexities of Ulster’s protestant history were skimmed-over to create a coherent and powerful narrative in which the Presbyterian Ulster-Scots were ‘presented as a people who were the very stuff of the British Empire’s civilising mission- the ‘cutting edge’ or ‘advanced guard’ of Empire’ [ Also from ‘The Scottish Unionists and the Ulster Question’]
For those attending Crockett’s banquet in Dalbeattie town hall in 1906, however, it was the people of Galloway who were ‘the very stuff of the British Empire’s civilising mission’. Did anything of the spirit of this gathering survive to influence support for the British Union of Fascists 30 years later? Alternatively, was the enthusiasm for fascism an attempt to revive the certainties and securities of the past?
In 1906, the experience of war was confined to very few of those in Dalbeattie town hall. This changed in 1914. An indication of the impact of the Great War on the local community is contained in ‘The Stewartry Roll of Honour in the Great War 1914-1918. This was compiled and published by castle Dougals newspaper owner J.H. Maxwell in 1927. Over 6000 men and women are named, with brief details of war service given for about 4000. According to the 1911 census for the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, there were 11 584 males over the age of ten ‘with some form of remunerative occupation’ in the county. Assuming that most of the 6000 named in the roll of honour were men, then close to 50% of the adult male population of the Stewartry fought in the 1914-18 war.
Cullen [2008, p. 312] quotes a Special Branch Report from September 1934 on the ‘Dumfriesshire’ [Dalbeattie/ Stewartry] BUF branch which states that ‘A fairly large percentage of the members are described as ‘passive’ members, mostly ‘business men, mostly in a small way’.’ Given the numbers who were involved in the 1914-18 war, some of these members would have been former soldiers, but by 1934 they would have settled down to civilian life again. Rather than the BUF, such small businessmen might have been expected to support the Conservative (or Unionist as it then was) party.
Looking at the outcome of general elections in Galloway in the first half of the twentieth century, the Liberal party won in 1918, 1922 and 1929. The Unionists won in 1924 (and a bye-election in 1925), 1931 and 1945. Cecil Dudgeon was the winning Liberal in these elections, but in 1931 he resigned and joined Oswald Mosley’s New Party. Unionist John Mackie won with 18 993 votes, Liberal’s got 9176, Labour 3418 and Dudgeon 986. Amongst these New Party voters in 1931 would have been the 400 BUF members of 1934.
[Note- in The Blackshirt No 58 1 June 1934, J. M. Little is described as having done ‘yeoman‘ work in the days of the New Party - so there may be a connection with Cecil Dudgeon.]
John Mackie, the Unionist who won in 1931, went on to hold the seat until his death in 1958. In the 1945 general election, Mackie had to stand as an Independent Unionist after he was deselected by the Unionist party. This was probably due to Mackie‘s association with Archibald Ramsay. Ramsay was the Unionist MP for Peebles and had strong anti-semitic beliefs. He was the only member of parliament to be detained during World War 2 for his pro-Nazi sympathies. In 1939 Mackie joined Ramsay‘s Right Club, which also included William Joyce and the 12th earl of Galloway. [There are numerous sources on Ramsay and his activities including Thomas Lineham ‘British Fascism, 1918-39: Parties, Ideology and Culture’, 2000 pp.142-4] In February 1939, Mackie spoke at a meeting in Kirkcudbright. Mackie’s speech was reported in the Galloway News, including several challenges from ’hecklers’ who objected to Mackie’s willingness to accept that Herr Hitler’s sincerely wanted peace. [Richard Griffiths ‘Patriotism perverted Captain Ramsay, the Right club and British Anti-Semetism 1939-40’ , 1998, p.150-4]
Turning to the local appeal of fascism, on 14 April 1934, the Galloway News reported at length on a speech given by Sir Oswald Mosley in Dumfries, which was sub-headed ‘Attitude to Agriculture‘.
Great interest was taken in the visit to Dumfries last Friday night of Sir Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists and a brilliant orator. The demonstration held in the Drill Hall was attended by over three thousand people and although efforts were made by Communists to hold up the meeting by organised interruptions they were effectively dealt with by the large body of Blackshirts who attended as stewards. There were several lively melees when interrupters were forcibly ejected and two of the stewards received injuries.
Sir Oswald held the complete attention of the large audience throughout and his mastery of speech and invective was very impressive. One of the keynotes of the Fascist policy he said was agricultural re-organisation and not only was that going to benefit agriculture but would put thousands of men back on the land and it was going also to maintain the stability of the State, which was being affected to-day by being dependent on foreign markets, over which we had no control. British agriculture was a subject the Fascists had very much at heart indeed.
Clearly this was a speech carefully targeted at an audience drawn from (as discussed above) a predominantly rural region with farming as its major industry. However, in Dumfries itself, where there were 120 members of the local BUF branch (equal to the numbers in the far larger cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh) the Communist Party responded by establishing a branch which was successful enough to get one of its members elected to the Burgh Council. [Liam Turbett, 2012]. In contrast, the Galloway Constituency branch of the BUF, based at 40 High Street Dalbeattie, claimed 400 members, making it the largest in Scotland.
The leader of this branch was James McLaurin Little (1901-1967). Little’s father James (1852-1932) was manager of Dalbeattie’s Commercial Bank and had been Dalbeattie town clerk for 53 years at his death. Little, who was a solicitor, then became town clerk himself. Another member of the BUF was E. A. Jack whose brother [??]William Jack was provost [= mayor] of Dalbeattie 1933-36. Their father had been a member of Dalbeattie town council in 1906 when, along with James Little’s father, he had attended the banquet in honour of S R Crockett The involvement of such well known members of the community would have given the fascist message a local accent and made an otherwise revolutionary movement appear familiar and almost ‘respectable’. The extracts from ’The Blackshirt’ newspaper below tend to confirm this - whist drives, jumble sales, tug-of-war matches, football teams, dances, badminton and a ‘life saving team’ - are not very revolutionary activities.
Extracts from The Blackshirt
The Blackshirt No 9 16 June 1933
Notes that a non- BUF fascist group has been set up in Scotland.
15 January 1934 Daily Mail ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts’
The Backshirt No.38 12 January 1934
Edinburgh branch established
The Blackshirt No.40 26 January 1934
The activities of Capt. Vincent Collier in Dumfriesshire are rapidly bearing fruit in the creation of B.U.F. branches at Dalbeattie, Gatehouse, Dumfries and Ayr. Meetings have been held in all the above mentioned towns, and the agricultural community have taken a keen interest. Several influential persons have enrolled in our ranks, and are giving their unqualified support to the Cause. New branch premises have been opened in Dalbeattie, and accommodation for the seating of at least 150 people is now available. Already several well attended indoor meetings have been held, Capt. Collier and D/A/O Little being the speakers. Ayrshire is giving its support in the shape of many farmers who know that our remedy for their ills will be a permanent cure, and not merely the drugging process of the alleged NATIONAL Government.
The Blackshirt No 41. 2- 8 Feb 1934
D/A/O Little, and D/B/O Gibson of Dalbeattie paid a visit to the Edinburgh branch last week end.
The Blackshirt No 43. 23 Feb 1 March 1934
Dalbeattie- This branch progresses well and is the centre of Fascist activity in this part of Scotland. Two
football teams have been formed by the members, who do not forget the importance of social activities. D/B/O Little is the Organiser, and Dalbeattie enjoys the frequent visits of Captain Collier.
The Blackshirt No 47 16 March 1934
Dumfries D/B/O Duff is Doing good work in the agricultural areas in the South of Scotland and is rendering good service to the D/A/O Scotland Area, Mr. Little. Great interest is being shown in
the new pamphlet issued recently. Fascism and Scotland.
The Blackshirt No.53 27 April 1934
The Chief of Staff, accompanied by D/A/O Little recently paid a visit to ' Auld Reekie ' the result of which was renewed enthusiasm among members.
The Blackshirt No 56 18 May 1934
Gatehouse A very successful dance was held by the branch on Friday. D/A/O Little travelling from his Thornhill meeting (nearly 60 miles away) was present later in the evening and addressed the crowd assembled. Bus loads from Dalbeattie and Castle Douglas greatly contributed towards the success of the evening. A Badminton court is being furnished with the proceeds.
Dalbeattie There has been much activity in the South of Scotland during the past fortnight. This branch supplied a bus load of stewards for D/A/O Little's meeting at Annan. The ' Reds' have miserably fizzled out in their threat to drive the Blackshirts out of Dalbeattie. D/B/O Gibson had reluctantly to resign his position
as Officer-in-Charge owing to pressure of business, and that duty is at present being carried on by E. A. Jack.
Dumfries The branch premises now looking ship-shape after hard work on the part of a number of willing members. Members are proud to possess their own Branch colours, and marched with them to steward D/A/O Little's meeting at Thornhill for the first time. One of our members had all the tyres of his car lashed when left outside branch premises. The Women's branch start their physical culture classes on Friday
under the direction of Mrs. Hone.
The Blackshirt No 58 1 June 1934
The Blackshirt Movement in Scotland is indeed fortunate in having such a champion as Mr. Little in charge of affairs. Mr. J. M. Little did yeoman work in the days of the New Party, and can well be called the first Scots fascist. Dalbeattie, a small town in the extreme south of Scotland has been dubbed the "cradle of Fascism in Scotland" by the Scottish Press: the reason is not far to seek as Mr. Little resides there. T he rapid growth of the Movement in in the South of Scotland is well illustrated by the Dumfries Branch - only two months old yet already numbering its membership in hundreds. The average attendance at the speakers' class alone is, twenty-five.
The Blackshirt No 61 22 June 1934
Lady Maud, Oswald Mosley’s mother, visits Dumfries branch.
The Blackshirt No 64 13 July 1934
To provide propagandists in Scotland with Scottish speakers' classes are being held regularly in Edinburgh, Dumfries and Motherwell. Branch Officer H. E. Duff plays a prominent part in the organisation of these classes and lectures to large audiences at each of the three centres.
Scottish Blackshirts are well to the fore in sports, and inter-branch tug of-war contests are being arranged. It
is hoped also that there will be a contest between an English and a Scottish team. Next winter there will be at least six Blackshirt football teams in South of Scotland, and negotiations for a Blackshirt Football League are being made. The Dumfries Life-Saving Team have been greatly augmented, and now patrols a 80-mile stretch along the Solway coast.
Mr. J. M. Little, Officer in Charge. Scotland, is absent on account of ill health, and Branch officer H. E. Duff is acting as his deputy.
The Blackshirt No 66 27 July 1934
So great was the attendance at a Whist Drive and Dance held in the Queensberry Hotel, Dumfries that a
larger hall is being taken for the next one. D.A.O. J. M. Little, the O.C. Scotland and Mrs. Little were amongst those present. Blackshirts Life-Saving patrols upon the shores of the Soway Firth are much appreciated and their ambulance men have already handled twelve minor cases.
'The activities of Fascism in the South of Scotland have led to the establishment of two more sub-branches one at Lockerbie, under Mr. G. Woolford. And another at Thornbill, where Mr. John D. Ridley is in charge.
An audience of 300 gathered at Lockerbie last week, to listen to D.B.O. Hone, of Dumfries, and Mr. J. D. Ridley, whose efforts were rewarded by the enrolment of several new members.
The Blackshirt No 86 14 Dec 1934
The Dalbeattie Branch held another highly successful smoking concert last week (as a profit-making concern it can heartily be recommended to other branches). The Ladies' Night was also successful, and saw the recruiting of the first women members of the Movement in Dalbeattie. Members are now busy garnering
material for their Jumble Sale, early next year. A.O. Little will be taking the chair for the Christmas Dinner, which will be held in the Crown Hotel
The capital of the Stewartry, Kirkcudbright, was the scene by a well attended meeting held in the Town
Hall, where A.O. Little addressed a very well represented audience. Kirkcubright might be described us the cultural centre of Galloway, and has a remarkable artists' colony established there. The Fascist attitude towards India was outlined, and the Foreign Secretary's recent statement at the Dumfries Drill Hall was challenged. Dalbeattie Branch furnished stewards who were all conveyed from Dalbeattie in members'
On 8 February 1935 William Joyce [‘Lord Haw Haw’, executed 1945] spoke in Kirkcudbright after speaking in Dumfries the day before. [Source Hitler’s Englishman-The Crime of Lord Haw Haw Francis Selwyn 1987 page 66]
On 1 March 1935 J M Little addressed a meeting Castle Douglas Town Hall on ‘Fascism’.
If further research reveals more local fascist material, there will be a follow up post.