Collection of material relating to the Scottish National Party

Scope and Content

The material is composed of: original manuscripts of articles about Scotland and the Scottish National Party (SNP) by C. M. Grieve under the pseudonyms of 'Special Correspondent' and 'Mountboy', 1927 to 1929, including indexes of manuscripts; and, articles about the SNP by Grieve. The latter written under pseudonym are entitled The Scottish Nationalist Manifesto, The case for Scottish independence, National Party's inauguration, and The National Party of Scotland.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Scottish National Party came into being in 1932 on the merging of the National Party of Scotland (NPS, 1928-1932) and the moderate-rightist Scottish Party (1930-1932).

The NPS had been founded in Stirling by members of the Scottish National League, including the Gaelic nationalist and writer R. S. Erskine Mar and poet C. M. Grieve (Hugh MacDiarmid). The NPS had soon attracted left-wingers from the Scottish Home Rule Association (SHRA, 1886-1929) which had emerged during the period of Gladstone's adoption of the Irish cause and when Liberals had taken up the idea of home rule for Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. In 1918 the SHRA had seen something of a revival and had shown a socialist trend under William Gallacher, Thomas Johnston, and Roland Muirhead but after long rounds of activity and support from some Labour Party leaders, negotiations were eventually opened with other nationalist groups and this had led to the establishment of the NPS in 1928. The new party did badly in the 1929 elections, but in 1931 the writer and nationalist Compton Mackenzie was elected Rector of Glasgow University. During the economic crisis of the 1930s, conservatives from the Scottish Party merged with the NPS - purged of its extremists including C. M. Grieve - and the SNP was born. The root cause for its foundation had been the failure of attempts to bring about the reform of government in Scotland, in spite of commitments towards this by the interested established parties of the day - Liberals, the Labour party, and the Independent Labour Party.

In 1942, during the Second World War, a split emerged in the SNP over party policy towards the war, but in 1945 Robert McIntyre won Motherwell for the party - a constituency now in the modern Labour heartlands. This seat was soon lost however, and until the 1960s few seats were fought as the party established itself under the leaders McIntyre, James Halliday, and then Arthur Donaldson. By the 1960s, a new generation of leaders and membership - among them William Wolfe - began to achieve improved ballots particularly in by-elections, and by 1967 a huge advance was shown in the constituency of Pollock (Glasgow), almost won by George Leslie. Then, also in 1967, Winifred Ewing captured Hamilton for the SNP from the Labour Party and on the back of that success, the party made many advances in the 1968 local elections.

In an effort to halt the nationalist advance, Harold Wilson established a Royal Commission on the Constitution and in his 'Declaration of Perth' Edward Heath proposed a Scottish Assembly to undertake scrutiny of Scottish legislation. Meanwhile the nationalist advance was slowed somewhat by internal party problems and inexperience. However, when the Royal Commission reported in 1973 with its recommendations for devolved Scottish and Welsh assemblies, and when these received muted response from Westminster, new advances were made. In 1973, Margo MacDonald won the Govan (Glasgow) constituency for the SNP from Labour, and in 1974 the party won first seven and then eleven seats. For the remainder of the 1970s, British domestic politics became pre-occupied with the devolution debate which culminated in the 1978 Scotland Act and Wales Act. A referendum held in 1979 showed a small majority in favour of a devolved assembly in Scotland but the 'yes' result failed to reach the target of 40 per cent of the whole electorate.

In spite of this disaster, the SNP under the leadership of Gordon Wilson pressed for implementation anyway but with failure to obtain a clear commitment towards an assembly, the SNP Parliamentary Group took part in the vote on the motion of no confidence which finally brought down the government of Prime Minister James Callaghan in 1979. In the election which followed, Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Party took power in the UK, and the nationalist vote in Scotland collapsed.

In the early-1980s both the SNP and the Labour Party went through a period of turmoil. For the SNP, battle was drawn between the leftist 1979-group and the traditionalist-independence-nothing-less group, and while this was underway the newly formed all-UK Social Democratic Party was beginning to make headlines. When the new party created by disaffected Labour leaders then formed an alliance with the Liberals, the SNP vote began to suffer again. Redefinition of SNP aims was required, and in 1988 there came the commitment to Independence in Europe and to a role for the country in the EC, later EU. Electoral successes for Jim Sillars, Margaret Ewing, Andrew Welsh, and Alex Salmond in the late 1980s marked a new revival for the party. Indeed, when Alex Salmond took over the party leadership from Gordon Wilson in 1989, the SNP had become a leftist social democratic party, and by 1991 it was running second place in opinion polls behind the Labour Party in Scotland.

The general election in 1997 brought a Labour Party victory and with it the acceptance at last that the 'settled will' of the Scottish people was to see the establishment of a Scottish Parliament, and a willingness to see devolved government brought to many parts of the UK. A Scotland Bill was indeed enacted, a referendum called for 11 September 1997, and subsequently won by the 'yes' campaign. An election was held on Thursday 6 May 1999 and the Scottish Parliament was formally opened on 1 July 1999, although it first sat on Wednesday 12 May 1999 when Winifred Ewing was the first MSP (Member of the Scottish Parliament) to take her oath. This was the first time that a Scottish Parliament had sat since 1707. The SNP became the first ever party of opposition in the modern Scottish Parliament. The current party leader is John Swinney.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.

Acquisition Information

Material purchased February 1967, Accession no. E67.9.


Of interest too may be the Archives Hub descriptions relating to C. M. Grieve, and Compton Mackenzie and entitled Letters to Christopher Murray Grieve (1892-1978) and Collection of Papers relating to Sir Compton Mackenzie (1883-1972). There is also the Records of the Scottish Constitutional Committee.

The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Keay, John. and Keay, Julia (eds.). Collins encyclopaedia of Scotland. London: Harper Collins Publishers, 1994.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.


Check the local Indexes for details of any additions.

Related Material

The local Indexes show other references to Scottish National Party related material (check the Indexes for more details): letters about C. M. Grieve's and Compton Mackenzie's stand as SNP candidates, from Grieve to R. E. Muirhead, 1928, at Gen. 889, ff.53-61; mention of the SNP in a letter of Grieve to H. B. Cruickshank, 1930, Gen. 886, f.8; mention in a letter from Grieve to H. McCreath, 1927, at Gen. 1730-1732 Grieve; and, note on the formation of the SNP by Grieve, at Gen. 2001*/52.

In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes: papers, Glasgow City Archives, The Mitchell Library, Ref. NRA 16655 Baillie's L; records, 1929-1989, National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division, Ref. 6038 6649 7295 10754 NRA 29195 SNP, and committee, council and conference minutes and head office correspondence, 1964-1995, Ref. Acc 11987, and Congress files, 1938-1962, Ref. 3721 NRA 29272 Muirhead, and minutes, 1926-1931, Ref. 5542 5927 8371 NRA 29260 Dott, and also papers of R. D. McIntyre as chairman and president, circa 1930-1989, Ref. 10090 NRA 39938 McIntyre.