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This page, which gives a timeline of the History of the Scottish Nationalism in Bo’ness, was researched and built by our vice-convener and Communications Officer, David Mitchell. The idea behind this timeline is to give an introduction to national and international events which lead to the rise of nationalism in Scotland and the creation of the Scottish Parliament, through the local lens of events in Bo’ness. If you have any further information, please contact us via the ‘contact’ page on this website.
This timeline is partially limited by virtue of the fact that online archives of the local newspapers only go up until 1952. While all editions are available at local libraries, searching through these is far more Laborious, and has been limited by COVID.
On the 24th of November 1944, a long, anonymous letter appears in the Bo’ness Journal and Linlithgow Advertiser. The letter urges those living in Bo’ness to support the SNP and ‘home-rule’ – the popular term used to describe some amount of self-government coming back to Scotland at that time. The letter regularly cites Scottish poetry, which is an indicator of things to come.
While there is no exact founding date for ‘Bo’ness Branch SNP’, the first mention of it can be found in the Bo’ness Journal and Linlithgow Advertiser on Friday 22 November 1946. A letter from a Mr Chas J. Auld of Dean Road, then the Secretary of Bo’ness SNP, welcomes “the winter session” on behalf of the Scottish National Party, and states that during this time, “besides the weekly committee meetings, we intend on running a new year dance and burns supper.”
This “new year dance and burns supper” would turn into the first event of the ‘Bo’ness Rebels Literary Society’, – a ceilidh in the Coffeehouse restaurant in Bo’ness, held on Burns nicht, 1948.
While we can’t know for certain, it’s likely that the aim of the Rebels was to create a distinctly Scottish cultural consciousness. At this time, both in Bo’ness and elsewhere, it is clear that cultural nationalism is on the ascendency.
These groups lay the groundwork for the more political nationalism which comes later, as is shown in this timeline.
Researcher on the social impact of music Simon McKerrell argues that Bo’ness was “one of the key musical sites of radical protest in Scotland.” arguing that the most important legacy of these politically motivated revivalists was mainly educational, though it could be argued that the radicalism of the 1950’s and 60’s led directly to the upsurge in Scottish nationalism in the decades that followed.
Simon McKerrell, Focus: Scottish traditional music, Chapter 1 : Protest song, (2016)
On May 3rd 1949 Bo’ness SNP celebrates its first election win.
This is the first time an SNP candidate stood in Bo’ness, and also the first SNP victory in Bo’ness. Mr William Horn, then ‘Branch Chairman’ of Bo’ness SNP, had won the South Ward in the Bo’ness Municipal election of 1949. His election agent was Charles Auld, mentioned earlier, who would later go on to be an SNP councillor himself.
Horn won through hard work – on top of the now regular Rebel’s Ceilidhs, Bo’ness had also had a debate on “Should Scotland have its own government?” held at Bo’ness town hall on the 29th of March 1949. This debate was cleverly organised by Bo’ness SNP, but with representatives from all parties to attract a wide audience. It’s likely this was organised to draw attention to Horn’s campaign.
“Previous to Tuesday, the Scottish Nationalists in the town had worked really hard for their candidate, Mr W. Horn, Main Street. Indoor and open-air meetings had been held every other evening on a scale never before attempted in the town. Nationalists from far and near had travelled to lend assistance. On Monday, Councillor Curran of Alva was busy in South Street – a bundle of election literature in his hand, although he himself was a candidate (and incidentally, a successful one) for Alva Council. The Nationalists had also gone all out for visual propaganda, a small flood of literature having descended upon South Ward – and other electors, during the campaign. In contrast, Mr W. Mair, the retiring independent member, was apparently content to rely upon his record of 38 years in the Council, and did no canvassing, or otherwise further his candidature. The public generally took a great interest in the two absolutely different styles of campaign – the negative and the positive, and the fight between the young aspirant and the father of the council. (Mair was the oldest member of the town council at that time) Mr Mair was the only candidate absent when the votes were counted, and it was announced that the Scottish Nationalist had carried the day. Result: – Horn.”Bo’ness Journal and Linlithgowshire advertiser – 6th May 1949
Bo’ness’ first nationalist candidate for Parliament
W. Maxwell Hynd contested the West Lothian parliamentary seat in the 1950 General election as an independent candidate who stood for ‘Scottish self-government’. He ran his campaign out of a caravan on the foreshore in Bo’ness.
Hynd was born in Fife and raised in Armadale, then moved to Australia to work in farming, gold mining and industry. He had worked in industry across the Americas, and Australia.
One of the greatest influences on Hynd’s politics was events in his international life which led him to believe in self-government for Scotland.
“His experience has convinced him that home rule is the solution of Scotland’s problems. Australia, he says, has Home Rule and is a free country, and to that he attributes his financial position which allows him to bear the cost of his candidature.” [On his coming to Scotland] He returned to Scotland in 1948 in order to ‘dedicate himself to the attainment of this object.’Linlithgowshire Gazette, 17 February 1950
Hynd finished up with 1,039 votes or 2.31% of the vote. Third – only narrowly beating the Communist Party.
The Scottish Covenant was a petition from the late 40’s through to mid-50’s which advocated for ‘home-rule’. The BBC states that the petition received two million signatures in total.
There is strong evidence that this was popular in Bo’ness. On 16th December 1949, the Bo’ness Journal writes that town councillors had decided that a copy be held in readiness in the town clerks office, so Bo’nessians could go in and sign it. There is also anecdotal evidence that it was posted in shop windows in the town, such as G & A Aikman’s furniture store.
As the picture shows, there was also covenant meetings in the town. The Bo’ness Journal writes that “The majority of seats in the town hall were taken on Monday evening by a large company of townspeople.” The meeting was chaired by William Kellock of the Bo’ness Rebels, the feature reveals. “It was generally agreed that the evening was an outstanding success.”
There was also evidence of letters, meetings and other activities being held regarding the Scottish Covenant Association, as well as there being a Bo’ness covenant committee, which was populated by names familiar elsewhere on this history page.
The Stone of Scone returns to Scotland.
The Bo’ness Rebels held their Hogmanay Ceilidh just four days after the stone went missing. The Bo’ness journal states that “it was known that there was at least one detective present” – in order to find out any information about the Stane. Many nationalists who had advocated for the return of the stone, including Wendy Wood and Oliver Brown, among others, were present at this event.
The return of the stone was a great catalyst for Scottish nationalists – a new songbook called ‘Songs o’ the Stane’ was released, and made available in Bo’ness from “Messrs H. and M. Oliver newsagents, South Street”.
“The booklet has a special significance to Bo’ness folks who attend Rebels Ceilidhs as most of the authors are honorary members of that club and at one time or another have appeared in Bo’ness”. “Poet Norman McCaig” [wrote a song called] “‘The stane’s awa’ which immortalises Bo’ness in a song to the tune of ‘The Deil’s awa wi the Exciseman”.”Bo’ness Journal, and Linlithgow Advertiser – 13th April 1951
The Young Scots National League
In September 1951, the YSNL organised an ‘open-air meeting’ at 6pm, at the foot of the Wynd in Bo’ness.
Like the Bo’ness Rebels, the YSNL was evidently pro-independence, but is is also clear that a large part of their role was educational.
“Delegates of the newly formed Young Scots National League will be present at a week-end long school to be run at Bridgeness Welfare Hall.” “a full programme of lectures and discussions has been mapped out for the delegates, including one on ‘freedom’ by Miss Mary P. Ramsay, M.A, Docteur de L’Universitie de Paris and another on ‘present day problems’ by Dean of Guild John L. Kinloch, MA, FEIS, of Kilcreggan.” “Between lectures on Sunday the delegates intend on visiting Kinneil House, the Kirkyard and James Watt’s Workshop.” [On the rally at the Wynd] “protests will be made against railway closures taking place all over Scotland.”Bo’ness Journal and Linlithgowshire advertiser, various dates, 1951.
The Lea-rig bar – 1953
In 1953, the Lea-rig bar was opened. The term Lea-rig is a Scots language term meaning a ridge of unploughed land. The naming of the pub is presumably inspired by the Burns Poem. The landlord was Charlie Auld (referred to as Chairlie P), who also owned a neighbouring grocers. This is the same Charles/Chaz/Chairlie Auld that is mentioned elsewhere on this page.
As a result of this, the Lea-rig became known as the main haunt for the Bo’ness Rebels, and nationalists in general, but sources show that people of other political traditions made regular appearances there at these events too.
The Lea-rig bar features in the Rebels publications. ‘The ballad o the lea-rig bar’, pictured, has many iterations across the different songbooks.
In Ewan McVicars book, ‘The Eskimo Republic’, (Gallus Publishing: Linlithgow, 2010) which looks at political protest song in Scotland, it’s mentioned that many of those involved with the Rebels portraits were immortalised in the Lea-rig bar, although it states these were taken down in the late 70’s when the pub changed hands. I was recently contacted by a member of Auld’s family, who kindly provided me with pictures of the framed portraits, which had been sitting in his loft for 40 years. Please see slideshow.
The first ‘Bo’ness Rebels Ceilidh Song Book’ was published. The book features feature 35 songs in English, Scottish Gaelic, and what is referred to as ‘Lallans’ (Lowlands), which is today more commonly referred to as Scots language. There are also songs in Irish and Welsh.
There are multiple editions of this book – which all feature the same songs, but in a different order. Later editions were reprinted by the SNP itself, so there is a lot more political adverts in these books.
The Rebels Guests
Testimonials in the local newspaper show that the Bo’ness Rebels attracted hundreds of guests at their Ceilidhs from all across Scotland. The adverts in the slideshow also show that not all of these were political.
Many of the people associated with the so called ‘Scottish Literary Renaissance’ of the 20th century attended the Rebels Ceilidhs. Hugh MacDiarmid, Norman MacCaig, Sorley Maclean, Morris Blythman (Thurso Berwick) among many others were known to frequent the Rebels Ceilidhs.
Many people associated with the national movement also visited the ceilidhs. Wendy Wood, Dr. Robert Mcintyre, Oliver Brown of the Scottish Secretariat, SNP leader Billy Wolfe all attended on multiple occassions.
In “The Eskimo Republic” by Ewan McVicar, it is made clear that chairperson Willie Kellock used his existing connections in the national movement to draw such a wide audience to Bo’ness. Prominent SNP activist Hugh MacDonald recalls “Bus loads went from Glasgow to the Ceilidhs. Bo‘ness was the most important place in Scotland re: culture at the time. There were Burns Suppers run by the Burns Society as well as Ceilidhs by the Rebels”.
While it is clear that the Bo’ness Rebels came from the Bo’ness SNP, I do wonder as to why these were not branded as ‘SNP’ ceilidhs. I suspect this was done to broaden their audience, get people under their roof and, following a night of great Scottish poetry and song, often-but-not-always of a political nature, seal the deal with various rousing speeches in favour of independence etc. The testimonials from the journal would certainly reflect that this is what took place.
As the above examples show, while nationalism had a foothold in Bo’ness, the SNP was still trying to find its feet during this time.
Long-time Bo’ness SNP member Jack Marshall states that the inaugural meeting of the SNP in the area took place ‘around 1959’, in the Douglas hotel in the town – where the town clock is today. He states that around five people in attendance, including Bill (Willie) Kellock who was behind the Bo’ness rebels, and Charlie Auld of the Lea-rig bar.
Jack, and others of significance to the Bo’ness branch are mentioned on page 10 of Wolfe’s book, “Scotland Lives”. I understand that this meeting was the first of the ‘SNP’ in Bo’ness for quite some time, as Jack had returned from the forces and decided to join the SNP, finding out that his nearest branch was in Edinburgh, and as a result of this organised this meeting.
The conclusion of this meeting was to form a West Lothian branch.
Bo’ness soon became the centre point of this branch. According to Jack, and Wolfe’s book, within a year the West Lothian branch had around 300-400 members. It was not long after this point that those involved agreed to set up branches in their respective towns as is the present arrangement today within the SNP.
The Scots Independent newspaper has a rough outline of branch foundation dates. They state that ‘Bo’ness Branch SNP’ was founded in February 1963. Given the evidence from these various sources, it would be logical to assume that the “Bo’ness Branch SNP” of the mid 40’s had been a formality for standing in elections, while most of the efforts of those in the town went into other groups like the Rebels or the Scottish Covenant. In the late 50’s, a West Lothian wide branch was formed and in February 1963 Bo’ness seceded from it to become its own branch formally.
Bo’ness Rebels Literary Society publishes its second songbook, “Patriot Songs for Camp and Ceilidh”
This book features 35 different songs in Scottish Gaelic, Scots, and English. It mentions for the first time in the songbooks the wide variety of attendees of the societies ceilidhs, and contributors to their songbooks.
“Again the Bo’ness Rebels Literary Society wish to acknowledge the generous help given wherever their search led them among lovers of Scotland’s Songs. In particular, may we mention Norman McCaig, John McEvoy, Morris Blythman, Henry Shaw, Donald Campbell, David Cunningham, Margaret Kellock, Wendy Wood, Lena Frank and Ken McLaren. Lastly Hamish Henderson and the School of Scottish Studies of Edinburgh University, besides whom we are the merest amateurs. Their work in this field is of paramount importance and has international recognition. Scotland today is the vital connecting link between the Irish and Norse sections of Folk Studies in Western Europe. Is it too much to hope that soon this work may be fittingly appreciated by Governing Circles in Scotland and the songs widely known and sung throughout the Scottish schools?”Preface of “Patriot Songs for Camp and Ceilidh”
Billy Wolfe stands as the SNP candidate for West Lothian Constituency for the first time, coming second in a by-election with around 23% of the vote.
This is the first time an SNP candidate stood for Parliament in the seat which represents Bo’ness.
Jack Marshall, mentioned above and still a member of Bo’ness Branch, was his election agent.
The rebels international appeal
There have been a few examples of the Rebels songbooks finding favour with an international audience.
One case which is particularly interesting, is that of Russian Poet Samuil Marshak. Marshak is a celebrated poet from the USSR, who was honorary president of the Burns World Federation in 1960, and was responsible for some of the celebrated Russian translations of Burns work.
In Ewan McVicars book, “The Eskimo Republic”, it is stated that in April 1955 the Linlithgowshire Journal reported that the first ‘Rebels Ceilidh Song Book’ was not only popular in Scotland, but that it was beginning to be noticed by an international audience also. The account states that Marshak was presented with a copy of the book at an International Burns Festival, and was so enthralled with the book that he asked for copies to take home.
We know for certain that many of the anti-nuclear and anti-Nato protest songs from the Rebels Songbooks, which were popular in Scotland at the time, such as “Ding Dong Dollar”, were published by Marshak in Russian newspapers.
The “Ding Dong Dollar” songs, (mostly) written by Jim Mclean and Thurso Berwick, and published in various song books, including “The Rebels Ceilidh Song Book No.2”, found popularity at a folk festival in New York. During this time, the brand “Folkways” recorded and released an album called “Ding Dong Dollar”.
The preface to the “Rebels Song Book No.2” colludes with both of the above, stating “Some of the songs, e.g Ding Dong Dollar (Moscow, New York, London) have achieved world wide distribution and recordings and previous versions of others are so numerous they cannot now be listed, for not all are known.”
The Original Rebels Ceilidh Song Book and Rebels Ceilidh Song Book No.2 sit in the Library of Congress Washington DC. The first book is also available in the New York Public Library system. The song books are available in varying degrees at public libraries across Canada and the US.
The Rebels Ceilidh Song Book No. 2 is published. This is the last song book.
This book features 34 different songs, in Welsh, Irish and Scots. There is no Gaelic songs in this edition.
The above book is republished with this front cover, which shows Hugh MacDiarmid’s caricature emblazoned on the thistle.
This was published by the ‘Glasgow Song Guild’, 62 Woodlands road in Glasgow, of ‘Ding Dong Dollar’ fame.
Winnie Ewing wins the Hamilton by-election.
Winnie was the first SNP MP to be elected since 1945. The reason this is particularly important to the history of Scottish Nationalism in Bo’ness, is because this event caused discussion around the creation of a Scottish Parliament to move up the political agenda, and because the evidence shows that many of the aforementioned organisations that were prevalent in Bo’ness, such as the Bo’ness Rebels, or the Scottish Covenant Association, among many others which all advocated for either devolution or full independence, rallied behind the SNP as the political vehicle necessary to deliver this change. Therefore following this time, this history becomes more focussed on the SNP itself.
Also of note – the two men carrying Winnie in this photo were extremely active in the SNP locally. On the left is Angus MacGillveray, who was responsible for the SNP’s publishing department, and therefore publication of the Bo’ness Rebel Ceilidh Songbooks, and was based in Bathgate. On the right is Hugh Macdonald, who as mentioned was one of the lead contributors to the Bo’ness songbooks,
The 60’s through 70’s
This was a time when nationalism was on the ascendency in Scotland. The aforementioned Billy Wolfe continued to stand for Westminster in West Lothian, edging closer to unseating sitting Labour MP Tam Dalyell – coming closest in the 1974 GE, with Wolfe being within 3,000 votes of beating Dalyell.
Dalyell was the initial poser of the ‘West Lothian Question’ – and an ardent opponent of devolution.
This was also the time when brothers John and Harry Constable, and Beth Eaglesham become councillors in Bo’ness. All three have lasting legacies in the town, as will be shown.
The attached video clip, from Bo’ness SNP’s Youtube channel, is from a film celebrating the Bo’ness Fair day in 1977, in which John and Harry, and other SNP councillors are featured. There is also a clip from Tam Dalyell towards the end.
Preparing for the 1979 Devolution Referendum
Following the rise in support for the SNP, the situation arose where the party became responsible for supporting the Labour Party into government across the UK.
As the attached slideshow shows, towards the end of this time, a referendum was held on the creation of a Scottish Assembly.
The campaign began immediately at Cowdenhill Community Centre in Bo’ness.
The referendum returned 51.26% in favour of establishing a Scottish Assembly, which was the word used at the time to describe an organisation similar to that of todays Scottish Parliament.
The 1979 Referendum
As a result of a decision made by Labour MP’s, the result of this referendum was not acted upon. This is because Labour MP’s at the time voted in favour of a rule which meant that 40% of the total electorate, (those who could’ve voted) had to back the proposals. Most referendums rely on a simple majority.
This meant that those who didn’t vote, were unable to vote, or were in some cases dead and still on the electoral register, were counted as “Don’t Knows”,
Even though the Scottish People had voted in favour of devolution, as a result of the Labour Party’s decisions, there would be no Scottish Assembly. This meant that Scotland was powerless to protect itself against the unpopular Thatcher government which was to come in the following decade.
Following this, the SNP withdrew its support for the Labour Government, which caused it to collapse, and an election was held. Despite Scottish voters once again rejecting the Tories, as England had voted for them, the Tories governed Scotland for the following decade.
Some in the Labour Party would argue that this meant the SNP was responsible for Thatcher’s government. The attached video and information shows clearly that this isn’t the case.
The 1997 Devolution Referendum
In 1997, the SNP, the Scottish Labour Party and the Scottish Lib Dems all backed the creation of the Scottish Parliament.
This referendum returned almost 75% in favour of a Scottish Parliament.
Falkirk Council area, which Bo’ness is a part of, returned 80% in favour of a Scottish Parliament, with around 70% for tax-varying powers.
Research into the campaign in Bo’ness is on-going.
2011 Scottish Election
For the first time, Bo’ness was represented by an SNP parliamentarian, in the form of Angus MacDonald as the MSP for Falkirk East.
This was also the same election that the SNP won a majority in the Scottish Parliament, and held the 2014 Independence Referendum.
Preparation for the 2014 Independence Referendum
The 2014 Independence Referendum was a watershed moment in Scotlands history.
The campaign attracted people of all backgrounds onto both sides of the debate, and this is true in Bo’ness as well.
One of the more notable instances in Bo’ness was the ‘Yes Bo’ness’ shop, on 19 South Street opened in May 2014, where the campaign was run from in its latter months.
The 2014 independence referendum delivered a 45% result for the Yes campaign – falling short of the 50% required to make Scotland an independent country.
Although this event fell short of achieving independence for Scotland, the referendum experience itself is worth celebrating. This motivated many into politics and political activism for the first time, which is shown by the fact that Bo’ness SNP jumped from 32 members on referendum day to 265 members by the end of the same year.
This was an event that had seen support for independence rise to record highs, and was responsible for one of the highest turnouts in democratic history, at almost 85%.
Bo’ness SNPs campaign hub on 13 North Street was opened by then Deputy First Minister John Swinney MSP, on the 7th of April 2015.