Speech at a Public Demonstration in the McLellan Galleries, Glasgow,
on the 12th September, 1919.
MRS. ANNIE BESANT, who was introduced as the “grand old mother of the Spirit of Freedom,” had a cordial reception on rising.
“Many years have passed,” she said, “since I first entered upon public platform life. 1874 was my first year of such work, and ever since I have been in favour of Home Rule for the various parts of the United Kingdom. Naturally, I was strongly in favour of Home Rule for Ireland, but I ventured then to argue that an arrangement that gave Ireland a Parliament of her own on Stephen’s Green, and sent Irish members to the Parliament in the adjacent island, where English, and Scots, and Welsh and Irish were to sit together, was not a rational arrangement, and that they ought to have a Parliament in each division representing a nationality.
You will find on looking back into the past that the smaller States have had certain great advantages. They had attained to high forms of culture, had developed art and literature, and had a local Government which was able to cherish and to encourage every form characteristic of the life of the State, and do it far better than was done in larger nationalities. I have often thought in looking at these two tendencies how they could be reconciled.
GREECE AS EXAMPLE
If you take such a historical example as Greece, for instance, you find a State in which every citizen felt his duty and felt himself to be a part of the larger organism of the State. Pondering over these things one seemed to see that the ideal was that each definite nation should have its own Government: that the nations should gather together where affinity, geographical area, and other similar conditions existed, and without losing fraternity become a confederation of different nationalities, a larger unity forming a Commonwealth of the peoples. Then it seemed as though it would be easier when such a composite State existed to bind together many outside States in some such form as the League of Nations – when that achieved reality and grew into a really beneficial organisation. When one thought of those larger and larger nationalities one did not wish that they should lose individuality. We can have larger and larger unity without losing the benefit of the individuality of the past, and the reason I believe this, is because I believe with Mazzini that over the cradle of every nation God has written a sentence, and that sentence is that nation’s mission to the world. Put in another form, I believe the soul of every nation is its own personality. That there is such a thing as a soul of a nation is unspeakably valuable to the whole of humanity. We cannot afford to lose one living nation out of that mighty humanity which is spreading over the surface of the globe. Looking, then, at the question in that broad light, you will see how necessarily I must press for Home Rule whenever I find a nation, in order that the nation may have liberty to develop to the utmost everything it has to give the world. We cannot get the best from a nation any more than from an individual, unless that nation is free to develop the possibilities within itself. The Scottish nation is a peculiarly individual nation with strongly-marked characteristics. If you meet a Scotsman in any part of the world you cannot think he is an Englishman or an Irishman.
THE SCOTS AND DEMOCRACY
“The Scots character is a fine character, a blending of qualities that are not often found in the same human being – great strength with hidden tenderness – and I think it is true as a speaker has said, that the Scots form one of the most democratic nations of the world. (Applause). Looking, then, at the individuality of the Scots, the United Kingdom would surely be the richer if the Scottish nation were allowed to develop along its own lines. I have had it said to me, not that Scotland is an appanage of England, but the other way – that it was Scotland that annexed England, that it was the Scottish Royal House who succeeded to the United Crown. Scotland’s national individuality has nevertheless been preserved, and that individuality should find its expression in a national Parliament. (Applause). Nothing less will give a sense of real unity and fraternity to the nation. To be ruled from Westminster is very different from being ruled from Edinburgh or Glasgow – certainly from some city of your own. (Applause). In looking at the Scots – and I have seen a great many nations – you will scarcely find another people in whom patriotism is so interwoven with intellectual and moral life. It is in the blood of the people. I have travelled about in Scotland with Scots people, and have found that the Scotsman seems to know more of his own history, and the geography of his country, than the native of almost any other land. That love of the soil, that yearning for the land, is surely a justifiable argument for Home Rule. For Scotland is the home of the Scotchman, and he only wishes to be ruler in his own house. Your history is the history of a nation, not a fragment ruled from somewhere else. You have your own literature, your own laws, your own heroes. I can remember as a child reading with passionate interest of the heroes Wallace and Bruce, and those other fighters for the liberties of the land.
STANDARD-BEARERS OF LIBERTY
“So each section may be proud of its part in the whole, while idealising its own individuality and intellect, and unchanged despite its union with its fellows. To have been so long the standard-bearers of liberty is no small heritage, and if you intensify that national spirit, it will grow only stronger when the four nations are linked by the tie of love unbreakable. It is true that with regard to Scotland’s history there is much that should be best forgotten, but while the great Commonwealth expands and remains, and one nation after another takes its place in it, Devolution must occur, because of the distances of some parts, the wide expanses which separate the parts of the Empire.
“Westminster has no time to look after the individual wants of the sections of the Empire. Westminster cannot give the time to do all that is needed for Scotland. It is too over-burdened with Imperial matters to concern itself very much over the details of the working of a single nation. Knowing this, and feeling convinced of the justice and equity of your claims, not for separation, but for the principle of Self-Determination, you should go forward with confidence in a successful issue. As a striver for liberty I have accepted your invitation to speak – that liberty for which Scotland has played so mighty a part. My wish is for Scottish Home Rule so that Scotland may grow to her full stature – and it will be a mighty statue – among the nations of the world.” (Applause).