A PLAY about a forgotten giant of Scottish politics is currently touring the country. Many of the venues on the 22-date tour are in areas hooked up to the power grid thanks to the hydroelectricity scheme of Tom Johnston, the secretary of state for Scotland in Winston Churchill’s war cabinet.

Born in Kirkintilloch in 1881, Johnston went on to head precursors to Scottish Enterprise and VisitScotland; lead the country’s friendly society movement; and organise the evacuation of St Kilda in 1930.

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Playwright Robert Dawson Scott (pictured) first came across the subject of The Electrifying Mr Johnston through a comment piece by National columnist Lesley Riddoch. “She quoted from a book he wrote called Our Scots Noble Families,” says Dawson Scott, speaking from on board the ferry to Mull, home to the play’s commissioners at arts organisation Comar.

Johnston’s 1909 book is a forerunner of sorts to Andy Wightman’s The Poor Had No Lawyers and details how the gentry acquired their land.

The National:

“The introduction to the book, which I use a little of in the play, is incredibly rude, extraordinarily vicious against the gentry,” Dawson Scott says. “He was a very good writer. Through that I quickly found out more.”

Dawson Scott knew of Thomson’s connection with the hydroelectric scheme in the Highlands through climbing the Munros. Like Dawson Scott, a former theatre critic for The Times, Johnston was also a journalist. He founded weekly broadsheet Forward in 1906 and edited the left-wing publication until 1931,

two years after being appointed under-secretary of state for Scotland by prime minister Ramsay MacDonald. A supporter of home rule, Johnston was elected to the Commons in 1922 as part of the Red Clydeside surge alongside James Maxton, John Wheatley and Davey Kirkwood.

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The Electrifying Mr Johnston centres on his years in the war cabinet, a time when historian Tom Devine describes the Scot as having been “promised the powers of a benign dictator” by Churchill.

Played by Stephen Clyde – a star of Dawson Scott’s previous play Assessment – Johnston is forced to make compromises to see his policies become reality.

“There are various suggestions in Churchill biographies that he thought Johnston was a good person to have as a candidate for Scotland to keep Red Clydeside

on board,” says Dawson Scott. “He kind of did a deal with Churchill. He basically said: ‘If I put together a committee of all surviving secretaries of state for Scotland, and we all agree about something, will you, Mr Churchill, wave it through cabinet?’ And Churchill said: ‘Well, yes, I’m a bit busy actually, so on you go.’ Johnston had an extraordinarily free hand to get on with things he thought would be useful for Scotland.”

A modest man who refused to sit in the Lords after retiring as the MP for West Stirlingshire in 1945, Johnston died 20 years later at his Milngavie bungalow.

Though the hydro project’s aim of stemming emigration from the Highlands and bringing more industry and jobs to rural communities failed, Johnston’s legacy to Scotland remains impressive.

“We leave it for the audience to decide whether his compromises were pragmatism, whether he sacrificed any principles, and if he did, was it worth it, and so on,” says Dawson Scott. “But it’s extraordinary what he achieved. He was a public servant of the sort that, goodness knows, we could do with right now.”

Tonight, Corran Halls, Oban, 7pm, £12. Tel: 01631 567333; Feb 11, Arisaig Astley Hall, Tel: 01687 450263; Feb 12, Appin Village Hall,Tel: 01631 720498; Feb 13, Victory Hall, Benderloch, Tel: 01631 720498; Feb 15, The Studio, Edinburgh, Tel: 0131 5296000; Feb 16, Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock, Tel: 0141 723723; Feb 19, Bowmore Hall, Islay, tickets on the door; Feb 20, Tarbert Village Hall, tickets on the door; Feb 21, Dunoon Burgh Hall, www.dunoonburghhall.org.uk; Feb 22, Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling, Tel: 01786 466666; Feb 23, The Brunton, Musselburgh Tel: 0131 6652240; Feb 25, Strontian Sunart Centre, tickets on the door; Feb 26, Plockton Village Hall, Tel:01599 577296; Feb 27, The Aros Centre, Skye, Tel: 01478 613750; Feb 28, Dingwall Resolis Memorial Hall, Tel: 01381 610204; Mar 1, Lyth Arts Centre, Wick, Tel: 01955 641434; Mar 2, Portgordon Village Hall, Tel: 01542 831116; Mar 4, Eastwood Park Theatre, Tel: 0141 5774956; Mar 6, Dalbeattie Birchvale Theatre, Tel: 07717 676254; Mar 7, Glencairn Memorial Inst. Moniaive, www.craigdarrocharmshotel.co.uk; Mar 8, Paisley Arts Centre, Tel: 0300 3001210; Mar 9, Peebles Eastgate Theatre, Tel: 01721 725777. www.comar.co.uk