Hugh MacDiarmid: Scots would have been better off under the Nazis

ONE of Scotland's most esteemed poets believed that a Nazi invasion of Britain would benefit Scotland, it was revealed yesterday.

• Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid held some strong political views

Hugh MacDiarmid – widely regarded as Scotland's greatest poet of the 20th century – was often questioned on his attitude to fascism as many believed he offered inconsistent and often conflicting views.

Hide Ad

However, newly published correspondence between MacDiarmid and Sorley MacLean – his close friend and fellow poet – suggests that, as late as 1941, the author of A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle believed Hitler's Germany would be a more benign ruler than the UK government at Westminster.

MacLean, a fellow Marxist who trained as a signaller at Catterick barracks, disagreed. He wrote: "I cannot see what the Nazis would give Scotland when they give Vichy to France, Franco to Spain and Quisling to Norway. Everywhere their victory has meant the erection to power of the most hateful and reactionary of capitalist thugs."

It is known that MacDiarmid flirted with fascism in his early thirties, when he believed it was a doctrine of the left. In two articles written in 1923, Plea for a Scottish Fascism and Programme for a Scottish Fascism, he appeared to support Mussolini's regime. By the 1930s, however, following Mussolini's lurch to the right, his position had changed and he castigated Neville Chamberlain over his appeasement of Hitler's expansionism.

The poet's biographer, Dr Margery Palmer McCulloch of Glasgow University's department of Scottish literature, said she was surprised he had views that appeared ambivalent to Nazism so late in life, when he was almost 50 years old

She said: "MacDiarmid seemed to just fire off ideas and antagonisms without thinking them through. I think a combination of isolation, poverty and ill health threw him off a bit, but it doesn't excuse his views."

Deirdre Grieve, MacDiarmid's daughter-in-law and literary executor, was unaware of the letters but said they were typical of his desire to shock.

Hide Ad

She said: "I think he entertained almost every ideal it was possible to entertain at one point or another. He was, in many ways, a delightful man, but he didn't feel he had to justify his beliefs in straightforward, logical terms."

Susan Wilson, a Canadian academic who unearthed the letters at the National Library of Scotland, said: "MacDiarmid's views on the Second World War will certainly strengthen the idea that he could be an immensely controversial figure."

Hide Ad

In the early 1940s, MacDiarmid was ordered to join the war effort and moved to Glasgow, where he worked in a munitions factory. He came to the attention of MI5 after George Orwell handed over a dossier suggesting that he was a potentially dangerous subversive. MacDiarmid died at his cottage – where he stayed with his wife Valda – in 1978. The cottage at Brownsbank, near Biggar, is now run as a museum and writers' centre.

• The Correspondence Between Hugh MacDiarmid and Sorley MacLean is out now, published by Edinburgh University Press.

Extracts from poet's letters…

IN A letter sent from Whalsay, Shetland, in April 1941, MacDiarmid wrote: "On balance I regard the Axis powers, tho' more violently evil for the time being, less dangerous than our own government in the long run and indistinguishable in purpose.

"In some vital respects the greater speed is being shown now by our own rulers."

A year earlier, in June 1940, he wrote: "Although the Germans are appalling enough, they cannot win, but the British and French bourgeoisie can and they are a far greater enemy.

"If the Germans win they could not hold their gain for long, but if the French and British win it will be infinitely more difficult to get rid of them."