The great Scottish nationalist Wendy Wood once famously remarked that ‘Nothing in the world has ever been gained without fanaticism’ certainly she was no stranger to controversy.
Wood was an unlikely convert to the fight for Home rule in Scotland having been born in England. However she seemed to have been imbued with a passion for the cause in the early 1920s after touring the Highlands when she was mortified by the sight of so many crofts in ruins. Many years later she said, “ I knew then that something was terribly wrong and I felt great bitterness that so much should go by without any recognition.” Not believing in doing things by halves, she decided to become a full-time patriot.
She first made the headlines in June 1932 when, addressing a rally in Kings Park, Stirling that marked the anniversary of Bannockburn. Observing that the Union Jack was flying from the ramparts of Stirling Castle she told followers. “Are we going to allow that flag to fly there on such a day? Who will volunteer to take it down?” She and 100 other young men and women then marched on the castle, hauled down the Union flag and replaced it with the Scottish standard. It was suggested later that the Union flag was flushed down a lavatory but this was disputed.
In August 1946, while standing as an independent Scottish Nationalist candidate in the Bridgeton by-election, she caused a stir by bringing to one meeting a 4 lb block of fresh butter, which came from the Highland croft that she ran with her husband. Her point was that the Home Rule she was advocating would bring practical benefits, such as plenty to Scots larders.It may seem a small thing in these days when the provenance of Cornish, welsh, Manx and Scottish products are promoted but back then it was innovative.
Her life and fight continued with the same stamina and flair for publicity thereafter, It’s said that the Stone of Scone recovery in the 1950s had been suggested by wood over a decade earlier although the students involved in the removal of the stone from Westminster say they were not aware of this. She was however jailed briefly in 1951 (for obstruction and refusing to pay a fine) after addressing a meeting in London about the stone,committed to Holloway she was released when a well wisher paid the fine. It was not her only brush with the law Wood often took up causes other than Scottish independence. She supported Indian independence in the 1930s and 40s, and in the 1970s she sided with Iceland in the Cod Wars. Three times she went to prison for her beliefs – once for battling fascists in Edinburgh in which she reportedly gave as good as she got. On one occasion was beaten up by an English policeman before being fined and eventually sent home.
Wood was on the Special Branch radar from the 1930 when as Vice Chair of the Democratic Scottish Self-Government Organisation (DSSO) she invited Irish Republican movement representatives to a meeting at the Ivanhoe Hotel, Glasgow
In the 1970s involved in the campaign for a Scottish assembly she announced she would go on hunger strike The Conservative government countered saying it would bring forward a Green Paper prompting Michael Hirst, national vice-chairman of the Scottish Young Conservatives, to complain that the government had yielded to another of Wood’s “publicity-seeking stunts”.
Woods died in 1981 and while she undoubtedly would have been heartened by the gains made by the Nationalist movement and the advent of the Scottish Parliament she would no doubt have been disappointed at the divisions of recent years and the slow progress towards full independence.
Image 1: Wendy Woods (right) campaigning as an independent nationalist in the Bridgeton parliamentary election 1946
AGS Celtic League (14th January 2024)