Nationalists quoting Hugh MacDiarmid should read his thoughts on the Nazis – Brian Wilson

Nationalist MSPs were again on a three-line floral whip at Holyrood’s festivities. They love four lines about the “little, white rose of Scotland” by Christopher Grieve (aka Hugh MacDiarmid).

In 1941, Hugh MacDiarmid wrote the Axis powers were less dangerous than our own government (Picture: Hamish Campbell)
In 1941, Hugh MacDiarmid wrote the Axis powers were less dangerous than our own government (Picture: Hamish Campbell)

The problem is that politicians cannot legitimately separate poem from poet, as others arguably can. Grieve spent decades playing footsie with Fascism, dotting in and out of Nationalist and Communist Parties.

When Londoners clawed their infant dead from the rubble of the Blitz, Grieve gloated: “Now when London is threatened/ With devastation from the air/ I realise, horror atrophying me/ That I hardly care.”

At this point, even the dimmest MSPs might examine their button-holes. Any slither of doubt went bang to rights in 2010 when correspondence emerged in the National Library of Scotland between Grieve and the great Sorley MacLean.

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

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In 1941, as young men from Whalsay to Langholm gasped their last in oceans and trenches, Grieve mused: “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.”

Sorley replied magisterially: “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.”

I doubt if many 21st century European Parliamentarians would celebrate a poet who, at the moment it mattered, regarded as Hitler and Mussolini as “indistinguishable in purpose” from Britain’s war leadership. And “less dangerous”? To what?

For the next Holyrood shindig, Nationalists MSPs should by-pass the florist in favour of a bookshop and learn a little history, warts and all.