The Referendum in Scotland and Canada's Model Governor General

The Referendum in Scotland and Canada's Model Governor General

Posted on October 4 by J. William Galbraith
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There is no doubt where Scottish-born John Buchan (our 15th Governor General, Lord Tweedsmuir, 1935-40) would have come down on the Scottish referendum: no to independence, yes to Great Britain.

Buchan was proud of his Scottish roots and loyal to them.  But he also had larger loyalties.  There was no contradiction in this.  Indeed, he told an audience in Winnipeg in 1936: "If it is essential to have the patriotism of the small unit, it is no less important to have the patriotism of the bigger unit."  "There is need of the wider loyalty ... [and we in Canada] need a closer unity where national interests are supreme above local interests."

As for Scottish history, he pointed out that, before union with England, Scotland had achieved another union and that was with each other; the peoples of the Highlands were distinct from, and warred against, those of the Lowlands.  "We learned from bitter experience in our history", he explained, "the evils of disunion. For hundreds of years we impoverished ourselves fighting the English, until we were fortunate enough to set a Scotsman on the English throne."  Rather like a reverse takeover!

Politically, he had been a Conservative Member of Parliament representing the unique constituency of the four Scottish universities, from 1927 to 1935.  But he was not a partisan politician, noting in his memoir that "a university member should sit a little loose to parties, and I was independent in fact if not in name." 

He is proudly claimed as a Scottish writer because of the success of his novels -- the most famous of which, The Thirty-Nine Steps, has never been out of print -- however, knowing his background, some of the "yes-to-independence" crowd chose to refer to him as a born Scot but who chose to live in England, as if he had abandoned Scotland.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

J. William Galbraith

Posted by Dundurn Guest on October 30, 2014
J. William Galbraith photo

J. William Galbraith

J. William Galbraith is a council member of the John Buchan Society. Following degrees from universities in Ottawa and Brussels, he worked for a private sector business research organization and has served in a number of Canadian federal government departments and agencies, involving investment review, intelligence, national security policy, and intelligence review. He lives in Ottawa.