Daniel Gray examines the significance of the popular response to the publication of his well-received study of Scots volunteers in the Spanish Civil War:
From the Glasgow Communist Party to the St Margaret’s boarding school, for some reason they all wanted to hear about Scotland’s role in the Spanish Civil War.
In all, twenty eight disparate groups invited me to speak in person on the subject in 2009 following the publication of my study of Scots volunteers in the Spanish Civil War called Homage to Caledonia: Scotland and the Spanish Civil War. Group sizes ranged from two to 400, ages nine to 99. Despite my own fascination with all things International Brigades, this popular level of interest staggered me.
It gave me hope, too; people were engaging, locking horns with ideas and embracing history, their history. Indeed, they were choosing to make this their history by their willing identification with it. At no time was the end of my speaking greeted with stony silence; questions and opinions were plentiful and varied, from ‘could British intervention in Spain have prevented World War Two?’ to ‘would Rabbie Burns have gone?’ and ‘did the Brigaders smoke cigars while they were there?’ … //
… At every juncture, I have learned more about the conflict, more about Scotland’s role and more about Scotland now. I’ve heard inspiring stories of a generation of Grannies boycotting Spanish fruit ‘fae the Republic’ once Franco won. In Aberdeen, a dapper man in his eighties rose slowly to announce that he had been one of the anti-fascist boy scouts of the 1930s I had spoken of earlier in the evening.
I’ve encountered (and hopefully encouraged) a feeling that this history must not be seen as a static entity that ended in 1939, something to be closed shut in a book and put up on a dusty shelf. Rather, it can be and must be a galvanising, continuous and inspiring thing. Just as Scots wholeheartedly banded together to oppose the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s, so must they do so to attack the British National Party in 2010. Brigaders that saw and continue to see the emergence of the BNP repeatedly rammed home this message. I heard one Brigader even go so far as to say ‘never mind Spain, let’s fight these bastards today’.
As they slowly and sadly die out, there is a feeling that the baton is being passed to a new generation. The very greatest tribute modern Scots can pay is to continue the fight against fascism. Scotland must take the unity of the 1930s and let it inspire a unity of purpose today. That is a heavy legacy, but one collective action can bear the weight of. (full text /page 17).
(A paperback version of Homage to Caledonia: Scotland and the Spanish Civil War is now available (price £9.99) in bookshops and on-line. Daniel Gray is its author).