Thursday, December 27, 2007

Hamish Henderson and Walter Elliot

I'm currently reading the first volume of an excellent new biography of the late Hamish Henderson by Timothy Neat. It recounts Hamish's visit to Paris to see Picasso's Guernica, the centrepiece at the Spanish Pavilion at the World Exhibition in 1937. At the British Pavilion, says Neat, he met a man with whom he was to strike up an important short-term relationship:

'This man was Sir Walter Elliot, Secretary of State for Scotland. Sir Walter was in Paris to get ideas for the British Empire Exhibition being planned for Glasgow the following year, and for which he was responsible. Hamish got himself invited to lunch, and the conversation soon turned from smoked salmon to Scottish literature, the politics of MacDiarmid and Yeats, to fascism, communism - and 'next year, in Glasgow!'. Before they parted, Hamish tried to persuade Elliot to view Picasso's masterpiece in the Spanish Pavilion but the Minister declined. All the same, Hamish had been greatly impressed by the old Tory's courtesy and was never to forget his insistence that 'whatever is done in Scotland's name should be done well'.

The following year Hamish visited the British Empire Exhibition in Glasgow. A small quibble, Elliot was never knighted so was never 'Sir Walter'. Nevertheless, an interesting account of a previously unknown encounter between two great Scots.

Volume I of Timothy Neat's biography, The Making of the Poet (1919-1953), is available from the Birlinn website.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Lord Pentland archive

Ebay throws up some unexpected treasures, including this small archive of letters, photographs, watercolour sketches and ephemera from Lord and Lady Pentland's time at Government House in Madras (now Chennai).

Lord Pentland, formerly John Sinclair, was Secretary for Scotland under the Liberal governments of Campbell-Bannerman and Asquith, but was sacked by the latter (who thought his Scottish Secretary had the ‘the brain of a rabbit...and the temper of a pig’) and banished to India as governor of the Madras presidency.

Lord Pentland's son, Henry John Sinclair, settled in the US and had a daughter, who seems to have been selling off parts of the family effects. Earlier this year I bought his top hat.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ian MacArthur

The former Conservative MP for Perth and East Perthshire, Ian MacArthur, has died at the age of 82. A former advertising executive, MacArthur challanged the former Scottish Secretary Hector McNeil in Greenock at the 1955 general election (and the same seat in December 1955 after McNeil died), and finally entered Parliament in 1959. He was a government whip towards the end of the Macmillan/Douglas-Home government, and again in opposition before joining Michael Noble's shadow Scottish front bench when Ted Heath became leader in 1965. He lost his seat to the SNP in the October 1974 general election. The Times carried a short obituary recently, as did the Scotsman, while today's Herald has one by me. Untypically belatedly, today's Telegraph also carries a well-researched piece.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Arthur J Balfour

R. J. Q. Adams, whose first book was an excellent biography of Andrew Bonar Law, has just published a biography of another Scot who became prime minister. Balfour: The Last Grandee looks like a fine book and is the first biography of AJB since Max Egremont's in 1980. Adams' tome, of course, includes a substantial account of Balfour's year as Secretary for Scotland from 1886-87.

There's a good review of Balfour: The Last Grandee by (Sir) David Gilmour in The Times, and another by George Rosie in the most recent Sunday Herald. Last week's Spectator also has a review by Philip Ziegler.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Des Browne's dual role

Last night's Today in Parliament included coverage of an entertaining House of Lords debate on Des Browne's dual status as Secretary of State for Defence and Scotland. Lord Tebbit was particularly sarcastic, while one Labour peer suggested (accurately, I suspect) that most of those serving in the Armed Forces do not give a stuff who the defence secretary is.

David Cameron

The Conservative Leader David Cameron made an interesting speech on the Union at Edinburgh's Dynamic Earth this afternoon. His phrase about the "ugly stain of separtism" is sure to upset the SNP but I think it signalled a shift in Conservative tactics in terms of handling the minority SNP Scottish Government, especially if Cameron ends up as PM. He also trotted out all the usual lines to demonstrate the Conservatives' commitment to Scotland. He said:

"Consider all our Party’s history, not just the recent past. It was a Conservative Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, who set up the Scottish Office. It was a Conservative Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, who elevated the Scottish Secretary to full Cabinet rank. And it was the Conservative Party after the war that stood up for Scotland’s identity, and the life of Scottish businesses, against the attempts at nationalisation and centralisation by Labour."

All true, although Lord Salisbury was simply seeing through a Liberal measure (the 1885 Secretary for Scotland Bill) and Baldwin, interestingly, elevated the Secretary for Scotland to Secretary of State status at a point in the 1920s when the Scottish Nationalists were beginning to attract greater support.

Cameron's speech also tied in with an interview which appears in today's Daily Telegraph and the launch of that paper's 'Call Yourself British' campaign. The pro-Union stance is a little ironic considering the Telegraph's vehement, and often innacurate, attacks on the West Lothian Question and Barnett Formula over the last few months.