A Trip to the National Library of Scotland

A Trip to the National Library of Scotland

Edinburgh Castle

One of our bursary winners, Naomi Lloyd Jones (King’s College London) discusses how her BAIS funding helped her complete her archival research on Scottish reactions to Irish Home Rule.

The funding I received from BAIS helped me to undertake the final research trip of my PhD. I spent a week in the National Library of Scotland (NLS) researching Scottish reactions to Irish Home Rule and the emergence of a parallel Scottish Home Rule movement. My PhD is a four nations history of grassroots responses to proposals for the restoration of an Irish parliament, in which I argue for a shift away from Anglo-centric, high political studies of the crisis, toward a more holistic approach that takes account of regional and national differences.

I had previously spent two weeks living in the NLS and this trip was geared toward completing the archival research I need for my chapters on Scotland. In a bid to save precious research time when in the library, I had compiled a (terrifyingly) long list of sources and ordered the most crucial in advance. I travelled up the day before, so that I could head straight to the library on Monday morning and be the nerd standing outside for it to open. When I arrived, I unfortunately found that waiting for me was not a Scottish Liberal Unionist minute book but a series of letters to ‘dearest daddy’ from a woman who, although I’m sure was perfectly delightful, was not remotely related to my research. That hiccup and the need to navigate a new ordering system aside, I managed to get into the swing of things and soon established a rhythm of working largely structured around the ordering and delivery times for material. Thankfully, the NLS staff were very accommodating in letting me fudge the hourly and daily ordering limits, most probably in response to the panicked look I wore every day as 4pm last call approached.

The main focus of my work in the NLS was the minute books left by the Scottish Liberal Unionist and Conservative parties. What makes the NLS’ collection so special – and so vital to my thesis – is the rarity of such materials. Accessing and assessing historical ‘public opinion’ is notoriously tricky, and a contested issue that historians have poured much ink over. Studying the activities of local and national political organisations is one means of determining the reception of a given issue. I have found that the response to Irish Home Rule was bound up with, manipulated and facilitated by these associations. However, very few of their primary records have survived, and my research has overwhelmingly concentrated on newspaper reports of party and public meetings where Home Rule was discussed. The NLS, on the other hand, holds the minute books compiled by the Scottish Liberal Association (SLA) and the Scottish Liberal Unionist and Scottish Conservative party organisations. These are admittedly more centralised bodies than those I typically deal with but their relationship to local branches, and to one another, are important nonetheless, especially in establishing the differences in and tensions between ‘official’ and local party attitudes.

I had already consulted the SLA’s papers, and so focused on the Unionist party materials. I found that they demonstrate not only how ‘dissentient’ Liberals coped with the impact of Gladstone’s Home Rule proposals, but how they tried to forge a relationship with their former foes in an attempt to defeat the policy and carve out an identity of their own. It is also interesting that the Liberal Unionists’ activities were far more extensive in the west than the east of Scotland and that the party was not above engaging in the ‘caucus’ style behaviour it strove to portray itself as separate from. In addition, it appears that Scottish Liberal Unionists were, to an extent unseen elsewhere in Britain, interested in the clash between ‘local’ and ‘national’ forms of self-government. Between 1887 and 1892, they placed sustained pressure on Salisbury’s Conservative government to grant ‘local self-government’ to Ireland and were unafraid to appropriate the term ‘Home Rule’.

I was also glad to be able to take advantage of the NLS’ trial of self-service photography. The minute books were not covered by the trial but a range of sources relating to the first Scottish Home Rule Association (SHRA) were. Although I have previously taken extensive notes from these sources, these photos will come in enormously handy when it comes to cross-referencing and double checking things when I get to the finicky final stages of my PhD. On a less mundane note, I was, having powered through my list with copious amounts of caffeine, happily able to consult material on the second incarnation of the SHRA. Founded in 1918, it is outside the immediate scope of my thesis but I will be able to reflect on its relationship to the activities of earlier nationalists and its expressly federalist interpretation of Home Rule. This research will also allow me to make observations on the continuity of Home Rulism in Scotland in the 19th and 20th centuries and to consider the relationship my thesis has to current debates on the future of the United Kingdom.

I would like to thank BAIS for providing me with funding for this trip. I am also grateful to the Chalke Valley History Festival for the funding I received from them. It was, with the exception of 2 hours on my final day, a very productive week. Never listen to the Ashes when England conspire to collapse spectacularly at Lords: you can’t type when your head is in your hands.

The author owns this photograph.

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