Arthur Donaldson

Arthur Donaldson

Arthur Donaldson (13 December 1901 – 18 January 1993) was a Scottish politician, and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) from 1960 to 1969.

Born in Dundee, he initially became journalist in his hometown but later decided to try his hand at the same profession in the United States, to where he emigrated at the age of 21. He did not find work as a journalist and instead found employment in the automotive industry in Detroit. He then attended the Detroit Technical College, to study engineering.

Although he was now beginning to be established in the United States he took a keen interest in the developing political movement for Scottish independence back home. To that end he joined the newly formed National Party of Scotland in 1928, as an overseas member, and Scotland's political and economic plight was never far from his thoughts.

In 1932, Donaldson married Vi Bruce, another expatriate Scot (from Forfar) and set up home in Washington D.C., where he worked for the Chrysler Corporation. In 1936 Donaldson returned to his native Scotland with his family, moving to Ayrshire to work in farming.

Donaldson came into contact with Robert McIntyre, one of the leading members of the SNP and his involvement with the party deepened.

In May 1941, during World War II, Donaldson's home was raided by police who allegedly suspected him and a number of other SNP figures, of "subversive activities", due to their support for the Scottish Neutrality League. An informant of MI5 told desk officer Richard Brooman-White that Donaldson intended to set up a puppet government akin to that of Vidkun Quisling in the event of a Nazi invasion. As a result of this information, Donaldson was arrested and interned under Defence Regulation 18B, at first to Kilmarnock Prison and then in Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow. He was held for six weeks.

According to papers released by MI5, which led raids against many Scottish nationalists, "subversive literature" and a "large cache of weapons" was found in the house. [Vaughan, Margaret, MI5 led anti-nationalist raids, "The Herald", August 25, 1994] The allegations in the MI5 files, which were initially released in 1994 after Donaldson's death, were absolutely denied by his widow, Violet Donaldson, and by the leadership of the SNP at the time. [Vaughan, Margaret, SNP attack decision to open MI5 war files, "The Herald", August 27, 1994] [Robertson, Wendy. Widow hits out at official 'lies' on jailed Nationalist, "The Scotsman", September 15, 1994] Donaldson was never charged, and no evidence for the MI5 allegations has ever been produced.

At the time, Donaldson's arrest was explained by his protests against the conscription of Scottish women for work in factories in England, and he has thus been described as a political prisoner by at least one former colleague. [Wilson, Gordon. Scots and free: Arthur Donaldson, "The Guardian", January 23, 1993.] According to an MI5 file on Donaldson released in November 2005, however, he was arrested because the MI5 believed him to be a "Nazi sympathiser", and that he hoped to become part of a "puppet government" set up by the Nazis after they occupied Britain. [SNP boss planned Nazi Scotland, "Sunday Times", November 6, 2005.]

Donaldson's arrest and detention did not dissuade him of the value of his political activities. He remained a member of the SNP throughout the 1940s and 1950s, when they were particularly weak, and much of the focus of nationalist efforts was being invested in the Scottish Covenant of John MacCormick. MacCormick had left the SNP in 1942, as he had been unable to persuade the party to adopt a position of supporting devolution rather than independence, a split which Donaldson himself had put down more to personality clash than ideological difference.

After the split of 1942 Donaldson became a leading SNP figure along with McIntyre (who became SNP leader in 1948, serving until 1956). Donaldson became SNP leader in 1960, replacing James Halliday, and it was during his term as SNP leader that the party began to grow and impose itself on the Scottish political landscape. He was the SNP candidate opposing Sir Alec Douglas-Home in the Kinross and West Perthshire by-election in November 1963, although he lost his deposit there.

During his term of office the SNP began to perform credibly in elections, winning the 1967 Hamilton by-election, and polling more votes than any other party in the 1968 Scottish local authority elections.

This success, however, did not leave Donaldson without his critics, and at the 1967 SNP Annual Conference he faced a leadership challenge from Douglas Drysdale, which he comfortably defeated, though in 1969 he was replaced as SNP leader by Billy Wolfe.


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