One Britain, One Europe, One World: The Socialist Internationalism of Arthur Woodburn, Part Five

You can find Part One of this series on Arthur Woodburn here, Part Two here, Part Three here, and Part Four here.

One Britain, One Europe, One World: The Socialist Internationalism of Arthur Woodburn, 1960-1970

Part Five: Woodburn, Scottish Nationalism, and European Integration

I am proud that Scotland, a small country, has made a great contribution to the civilisation, not only of England, but of the world. It is said that there are 20 million Scots abroad. We do not want to cut ourselves off and shut ourselves up in a part of Great Britain and call ourselves little Scotlanders.

Despite his enthusiasm, Woodburn’s European activism in the 1960s suffered from a major failing: his limited ability to articulate or integrate Scottish interests into the debate. In speaking about European integration, Woodburn retained a British national frame of reference, speaking of the benefits and acknowledging the negatives of the case vis-à-vis Britain. Rarely did such statements include comments on how membership would impact Scotland specifically. When he did reference Scotland in his speeches and writings, it was usually to draw parallels between the European Common Market and England’s “common market” with Scotland enshrined in the Act of Union of 1707. For instance, during a 1962 Commons debate on EEC membership, Woodburn stated:

Terrifying pictures are painted of what will happen to the ordinary people when we go in. It is said that many disasters will overtake us. But I am willing to guarantee that, if we go into the Common Market, many people in this country will not notice the slightest difference in their lives ten years’ hence. Scotland has had a common market with England for 250 years.1

Writing in his 1962 BCEM pamphlet, Woodburn used Scotland to dismiss concerns about European integration subsuming local, region, and national cultures and identities. He wrote:

It is 250 years since the merging of the Scottish and English Parliaments – the greatest voluntary common market and community merger so far in history. The combined nations of the United Kingdom have helped to shape the world. Yet the English are still English, Scots Scots, Welsh Welsh and Irish Irish and few think it was anything but a step backward for Southern Ireland to leave the Union.2

But rarely did he relate this issue to Scottish interests in a manner Scots could or would respond to.

This blind spot was notably curious coming from a senior Scottish politician, but in fact it reflected a wider ambivalence about European integration that afflicted Scottish politics generally in the early 1960s. Most Scottish political elites were generally disinterested in the EEC issue, perceiving it primarily as a national foreign policy debate. Few Scottish MPs participated in the debates in the House of Commons. Those that did, including Woodburn himself, treated the matter as an issue of British high politics and rarely referenced any potential Scottish interests in the debate. This propensity led some in Scottish Labour to characterize the EEC issue as a “red herring” designed to deflect attention away from more important social and economic debates taking place in Scotland.3

But as the decade went on, circumstances changed. The emergence of political Scottish nationalism, in the form of the Scottish National Party (SNP), and the renewed emphasis on devolution as a strategy to contain the nationalist surge began to alter the contours of Scottish politics. Issues largely perceived as British issues began to develop Scottish contexts due to the vituperative critiques of the SNP, and the prominence of constitutional issues brought analysis of the Union to the media forefront. European integration was one such issue affected by this dynamic, as, after the stunning Hamilton by-election in November 1967, when the charismatic solicitor Winnie Ewing overturned a majority of 16,000 in one of Labour’s safest seats, the SNP used an anti-EEC position as a fundamental component of their independence campaign. Together, political Scottish nationalism and the devolution issue widened the sphere of public debate on the EEC in Scotland by asking new questions concerning Scotland’s relationship with Britain and Europe. And these circumstances forced other Scottish political elites to respond by engaging these issues within a domestic Scottish context.

So, where does Woodburn fit into this dynamic? Ultimately, Woodburn proved either unwilling or unable to frame his support for European integration in a way that explained to Scots how this mattered to and impacted Scotland and its people. His rhetoric, his choice of examples, and his responses to particular concerns remained the same. The one alteration for Woodburn in his tactics was that, as a strong supporter of the Union, he harshly attacked the nationalist position on Europe. For example, writing in an editorial letter to the Scotsman in early 1968, Woodburn wrote:

It seems tragic that just when Europe is trying to get rid of its political, economic, and Customs barriers to trade and travel, Scotland is threatening to withdraw behind a wall of Customs and military frontiers and perhaps bring ruin to the prosperity of all our countries while renouncing the influence the Scots can exercise in world development as partners in a great combined enterprise.4

Speaking in the Commons in late 1968, Woodburn starkly characterized the consequences of the nationalist position on Europe:

I am proud that Scotland, a small country, has made a great contribution to the civilisation, not only of England, but of the world. It is said that there are 20 million Scots abroad. We do not want to cut ourselves off and shut ourselves up in a part of Great Britain and call ourselves little Scotlanders.5

One can conclude from some of his later statements that he perhaps did feel like he was addressing Scottish concerns, but when compared to the rhetoric and statements of others during the period, specific analysis of the cost-benefit ratio to Scotland of British membership in the EEC was largely missing. And he was also at odds with majority opinion within Scottish Labour regarding European integration, which was increasingly against British participation in Europe on what one could describe as nationalist grounds.

For next week: Part Six – Moving On, “Socialists of an Older School”

  1. Parliamentary Debates, Commons, Fifth Series, no. 666 (1962-1963), col. 1034.
  2. Arthur Woodburn, A Commonsense View of the Common Market (London: UK Council of the European Movement, 1962{?}), 18.
  3. Glasgow Herald, 10 November 1962 and 12 November 1962.
  4. Scotsman, 28 February 1968.
  5. Parliamentary Debates, no. 772, 532.

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