WITH numerous election wins and more than a decade in government, the SNP has become the dominant political force in Scotland. Just over a century ago, the idea of a party dedicated to gaining the right for Scotland govern itself had yet to be even born.

The absence of a voice for Scotland had not gone unnoticed. In 1884 a newspaper article entitled A Scottish Parliamentary Party stated it was a failing that Scottish Members of Parliament did not act together as a party.

“Every man fights for his own band, and pays very little attentions to the doings of his neighbour,” it said.

But it took more than four decades before the first Scottish political parties were formed.

The National Party of Scotland was founded in 1928 and the Scottish Party four years later.

When it comes to the question of why they emerged at this particular time, historian Professor Richard Finlay of Strathclyde University points to one factor as being the Versailles peace settlement which had been signed at the end of First World War.

“This stipulates that all nations have a right of self-determination, so it leads to the creation of a lot of new nations in Europe,” he says.

“You had all these nations that were created and a lot of people in Scotland were thinking – we are an older nation and a more established nation, and yet we are not represented.”

In the wake of the First World War, it also became increasingly difficult for Britain to hold on to the Empire, with countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa all gaining autonomy in 1926.

Finlay says these countries had also been included in the peace negotiations and the League of Nations, set up to resolve disputes following the war.

“Scotland was kind of left out, and a for a lot of people in Scotland this came as a bit of a shock as they had always assumed Scotland was a nation,” he says.

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“What happens after 1919 is the idea of nationhood and statehood are very much reinforced, and that unless you have statehood, you can’t really be a proper nation.

“That is one of the big psychological factors behind the modern independence movement – they saw that without statehood, nationhood was being questioned.”

He adds: “There were lots that happened at that time – for example the League of Nations would publish educational material for school kids and say here are the national dresses of the world, but Scotland, which has quite a lot of these visible markers, is not included.

“So even at that very elementary level, you had a lot of people saying, ‘well there is something wrong here’.”

It was also an issue which had been gathering momentum in the years before the First World War. In 1894, the Scottish Home Rule Association was established with the aim of setting up a devolved parliament in Edinburgh.

The Young Scots Society, an offshoot of the Liberal Party which also backed home rule, had gathered 10,000 members by 1914.

In 1913, Liberal MP Sir William Cowan presented a bill to Parliament on home rule for Scotland, which passed a second reading but did not proceed due to the outbreak of war.

When making his case, Cowan said one example of the lack of power in Scotland was over the issue of temperance reform, which Scottish people had been “clamouring” for.

“To my knowledge there has been a Scottish majority in this House in favour of Scottish temperance reform since 1885 – a majority which, being a minority of the House, has been always voted down by the English Members,” he said.

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“So the Scottish Members have found it impossible to make effective the mandate that they have been given.”

He added: “If this measure had been given to Scotland a generation ago, much might have been saved to Scotland – neglected children, ruined homes.”

While there was pressure to get a mandate for Home Rule at Westminster, Finlay says others believed it would be problematic as it would still be reliant on parties with an “in-built” English majority.

“So the only way you could guarantee or demonstrate that there was real support was to have a separate political party set-up with the express purpose of winning an electoral mandate in Scotland,” he says.

IN 1928, a number of groups came together to form the National Party of Scotland, a left-leaning organisation which attracted creatives and intellectuals – members included poet Hugh MacDiarmid and author Neil Gunn.

Four years later, the smaller Scottish Party was formed to advocate self-government for Scotland, a more right-wing and devolutionist party which included figures such as James Graham, 6th Duke of Montrose and Sir Alexander MacEwen, who went on to become the first leader of the SNP.

By 1934, it made sense to amalgamate the two parties to work together. The first annual conference was held in April in Glasgow, at which MacEwen was elected chair.

He told the meeting: “This is a historic day in the Scottish national movement. The fusion of the two parties was not brought about by pressure or by intrigue.

“It was a spontaneous movement resulting from the desire of people of different shades of opinion to work together for the cause of self- government.”

Finlay says the use of the term “self-government” was one that included those more in favour of devolution, as well as people who believed in independence.

“It was as much for strategic and pragmatic reasons as anything,” he says.

“But while the [British] Empire is a dim and distant memory now, that is the sort of context in which it evolved.

“It was the idea that from an imperial perspective, self-government was the route by which other places had become established as independent entities.

“The one exception of course was Ireland which embarked on revolution, and you had some people who wanted to follow the Irish model and others who thought, well actually the Irish model is a bad one.”

He adds: “The debate around nationalism up until about the 1990s was probably always framed within an imperial context, and then once the [Berlin] Wall comes down it then get framed in a much more European perspective.”

When it comes to how the fledgling SNP was perceived, Finlay says it tried to portray an “unbelievably dull” image.

“It was Presbyterian dourness personified because they wanted to be taken seriously.”

But there were a number of “larger than life” characters and famous names who often became the focus of attention.

Compton Mackenzie, the author of Whisky Galore, was a founding member of the SNP. He was one of many party members who attracted the interest of MI5 over the years – in his case it was triggered after he revealed embarrassing secrets about security and intelligence services in a memoir of his experiences as an MI6 officer in the First World War.

WENDY Wood, a member of the National Party of Scotland and the SNP in its early years, was known for stunts such at the Bannockburn rally of 1932 where she led a group of sympathisers to Stirling Castle to haul down the Union flag and replace it with a Lion Rampant.

Writing to a newspaper about the incident, she said: “I wish to emphasis the fact that, while I resent the flying of any flag other than a Scottish one over a Scottish garrison or building of national significance, myself and the large body of nationalists who were responsible for the action felt particularly keen resentment against a conglomerate flag over Stirling Castle on the occasion of Bannockburn Day.

“There was obvious demonstration that the people of Stirling approved the alteration.” However the National Party of Scotland made it clear its disapproval, with the vice-chairman Lewis Spence stating they had “no mandate” from the party to pull down the flag.

He said: “I also feel that all right-thinking Scotsmen and Scotswomen will repudiate such an act entirely. They have not the slightest desire to antagonise the English nation.”

Wood resigned from the SNP in 1949, going on to form her own organisation The Scottish Patriots.

In 1942, a major split in the SNP saw the departure of John MacCormick, who had been instrumental in the founding of the party, but left after failing to convince it to adopt a more devolutionist than independence stance.

He went on to form the Scottish Covenant Association – which had gathered two million signatures on a petition demanding Home Rule by the early 1950s, although it resulted in little political impact.

Three years later, the SNP won their first seat when Dr Robert McIntyre gained 50% of the vote in the Motherwell and Wishaw by-election in 1945. It proved to be a short-lived victory, however, as he held his seat for just 84 days before losing in the General Election of that year.

It took two more decades for the victory of Winnie Ewing in the Hamilton by-election in 1967 to finally bring national prominence to the SNP. She shook the political establishment after gaining what had previously been considered a safe Labour seat, famously saying after her victory: “Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on.”

Her words have rung true as since then, the SNP has always had representation in the House of Commons.

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