Tom Johnston, journalist, socialist and statesman, was the man who

without question did more for Scotland than any other politician this

century. He was described by Churchill as the 'King of Scotland'.

The apogee of his remarkable career came during the Second World War,

when he was a visionary and highly effective Secretary of State for

Scotland. In this, the first of our exclusive prepublication extracts

from Russell Galbraith's important new biography of Johnston, we look at

Johnston's outstanding achievements during these dark years.

CHURCHILL wanted Johnston in the Government -- and he wasn't prepared

to take no for an answer. His first offer was the Ministry of Health.

Johnston baulked at the idea of a London job. Nor, according to his

version of events, was he keen to accept the Scottish Office.

Summoned to London to face the Prime Minister, he was asked finally to

state his reasons for refusing to join the National Government. Johnston

explained he wanted to stay in Scotland, abandon politics, and write

books. History books.

Churchill could hardly believe his ears. ''Good heavens, man,'' he

growled. ''Join me and you can help make history!''

Johnston, who was rarely complimentary, never mind kind, to Churchill

in print over many years, likened the experience to a rabbit cornered by

a boa constrictor.

Before he agreed to join the Government as Secretary of State for

Scotland, he obtained the Prime Minister's support for a cherished idea

-- a Council of State composed of everyone who had been Secretary of

State for Scotland, regardless of party, to advise him. If the Council

was unanimous on a Scottish issue, he expected Churchill to add his

considerable support to whatever action they proposed.

To the Prime Minister, it seemed he was simply suggesting ''a sort of

National Government of all parties idea, just like our Government


Whatever he told the Prime Minister, and continued to claim long

afterwards, Johnston was clearly delighted with his appointment.

''Coming down to Whitehall I ticked off in my mind several of the

things I was certain I could do, even during a war,'' he recalled. His

priorities included ''an industrial parliament to begin attracting

industries north, face up to the Whitehall departments and stem the

drift south of our Scots population. And I could have a jolly good try

at a public corporation on a non-profit basis to harness Highland water

power for electricity.''

But there was also a frivolous side to his appointment from the Prime

Minister's point of view. According to his private secretary, John

Colville, it amused Churchill to know that Johnston and the premier duke

of England were both serving in his administration: the Duke of Norfolk,

Earl Marshall of England, had been appointed Under-Secretary of State

for Agriculture.

Colville, in his book The Fringes of Power, judged Johnston both

dynamic and excellent.

Johnston's friend Emrys Hughes took a jaundiced view of his departure

to join the wartime Coalition. ''Who would have dreamt that Tom Johnston

of Forward, who had so scornfully derided the Lloyd George coalition in

the First World War, would become Secretary of State for Scotland in a

coalition Government headed by Winston Churchill?''

On 8 February 1941 Tom Johnston arrived in the First Division

Courtroom of the Court of Session in Edinburgh and handed his letter of

appointment, as Secretary of State for Scotland, to the country's most

senior judge, the Lord President, Lord Normand.

Having satisfied himself that the paperwork was in order, the Lord

President administered the oath of office. A bench of Scottish judges

was in attendance to witness the proceedings as Johnston solemnly swore

that he would ''well and truly serve His Majesty in the office of the

Lord Keeper of the Great Seal''. He then signed the parchments of

office, bowed to the watching judges, and left the Court of Session to

begin the most important job of his life.

Hitler and his murderous crew probably hadn't heard of Tom Johnston.

But they would have been right to assume that anyone chosen by Churchill

to take charge of Scotland during the war would be an implacable foe.

Johnston, who took no salary for his work as Secretary of State, moved

speedily, and with considerable determination, to recruit his surviving

predecessors to the high-sounding Council of State. His old boss,

William Adamson, the only previous Labour politician appointed Secretary

of State for Scotland, had been dead since 1936: for as long as it

lasted Johnston would be presiding over a Tory-dominated committee.

The guidelines he provided for the six-man Council were simple and to

the point. ''Individuals among us were free to take their own line upon

disputed issues,'' Johnston explained. ''As a Council we would

concentrate on securing results upon issues where we were agreed about

Scotland's interests.'' The final result was ''a surprisingly large

field of agreement. And none can say but we acted promptly,'' Johnston


The five who served on the Council of State for the duration of the

war, in addition to Johnston himself, were Lord Alness (formerly Robert

Munro), Archibald Sinclair, Walter Elliot, John Colville and Ernest

Brown who was unable to attend the first meeting of the new Council,

held at Fielden House, 10 Great College Street, London, on 29 September

1941. With four civil servants, Sir A P Hamilton, P J Rose, David Milne

and A J Aglen also present, Johnston opened the meeting by outlining his

plans for the group.

It would be their job, he explained, to consider Scotland's post-war

problems, set up inquiries, decide on their priority and survey the

results. The responsibility for any action which might be taken as a

result of their recommendations would remain with the appropriate

Ministers, Johnston added; meaning himself, mostly, for as long as he

remained at the Scottish Office.

A preliminary list of subjects for consideration by the new Council

included hydro-electric development, the hard-pressed herring industry

and the unification of hospital services; all proposed by Johnston. Sir

Archibald Sinclair considered dairy farming worth the Council's

attention. John Colville was concerned about industrial development. The

business of housing and food production was raised by Walter Elliot.

Johnston used the authority of the Council of State to resist key

building workers from Scotland being conscripted to the armed forces.

Their influence, Johnston claimed, helped local authorities, the Special

Housing Association and private builders to complete 36,200 houses, in

addition to carrying out repairs on 75,000 houses damaged by bombing.

''It enabled us also,'' Johnston went on, ''to secure the erection of

Civil Defence hostels in such a manner as would enable their rapid

conversion after the war to separate dwelling houses: it gave us labour

too for the restoration and rehabilitation in suitable cases of

dwellings previously condemned, and for the conversion of empty shops

and offices into dwelling houses.''

It was estimated, at the height of the conflict, that more than

400,000 houses in Scotland were without sanitation of any kind. Miles of

traditional tenement buildings in Glasgow, in particular, provided an

obvious target for improvement. Many were beyond saving. Others were in

a state of terminal decline. But there was a community spirit in many of

the affected areas which was worth preserving.

A sub-committee of the Scottish Housing Advisory Council, established

by Johnston, recommended full modernisation of all properties with a

life expectancy of at least 20 years and improvement grants for

properties which offered decent accommodation for at least five years.

But this committee didn't report until 1947. By then Tom Johnston was

no longer in charge at the Scottish Office. And his successors, well

meaning but grievously shortsighted, were committed to a policy which

failed to discourage the wholesale destruction of Glasgow's tenement

townships; and the creation of vast, bleak housing schemes on its


Scotland hadn't recovered from the depression of the inter-war years

when the Second World War started, Johnston argued, in a paper prepared

during his years as Secretary of State. For reasons arising out of

social and economic trends in the past few decades, the country's

contribution to war industry was not quite fully commensurate with her

natural resources and human capacity.

''But it is of a vitally essential kind, Johnston insisted, ''and it

is astonishingly large, for a country that by the time of James Watt has

barely recovered from the devastation of prolonged civil war, and whose

subsequent prodigious advance was largely frustrated by calamitous

all-round depression in the period between the great wars of our day.''

Many industries were bound to benefit from the war. Unfortunately for

people living in Britain's northern territory the main beneficiaries

were in England; as Tom Johnston soon discovered when, on 8 February

1941, he arrived at the Scottish Office as Secretary of State. There was

no Board of Trade in St Andrew's House and no machinery of any kind for

industrial contacts. Most war-related work had been located in England.

Scotland was used to provide storage space and as a source of labour for

factories in the south.

According to Johnston's own records, in the course of the war, some

13,000 women were transferred to England because of the shortage of

factories in Scotland. This figure included 500 women directed south in

a single week in 1942, a year after Johnston was appointed Secretary of


''Unless drastic and immediate steps had been taken to correct these

drifts to the land beyond the Cheviots, the outlook for Scottish

industry and the Scottish nation post-war had been bleak indeed,''

Johnston noted later.

Johnston ackowledged the need for planning. But he was suspicious of

planners who operated from a distance. During his time at the Scottish

Office he insisted on drawing an imaginary line in chalk at the

Cheviots, to separate Whitehall planners from the people he believed

should decide Scotland's future: Scots living in Scotland! ''Every now

and again some ingenious gentleman in London would exude a plan for a

centralised planning of our industries, our housing, our roads, rails,

canals, airports, our shops, our churches -- yes, the location of our

churches! -- and our beer shops,'' Johnston recalled. ''And you never

knew in what rapturous moment some persuasive hierarchy at a Ministry

might have been authorised to so plan and blueprint for us.''

His answer was to establish, at Government expense, two regional

planning authorities for Scotland, covering east and west of the

country. ''Thereafter, when central planning boiled up in London, I

would always point to the prior existence of my regional associations

and say that centralisation must stop south of the Cheviots,'' Johnston


One senior colleague, Herbert Morrison, revealed that whenever

Johnston looked in danger of losing an argument in Cabinet he didn't

hesitate to remind those present that ''there was a strong nationalist

movement in Scotland and that it could be a potential danger if it grew

through lack of attention to Scottish interests.''

It was a useful tactic, as Johnston proved frequently, during his

occupancy of St Andrew's House.

His long-cherished idea for an industrial parliament in Scotland was

persued, but never properly achieved, by merging two existing bodies,

the Scottish Development Council and the Scottish Economic Committee,

into a new, and powerful, pressure group with a cumbersome title, the

Scottish Council (Development and Industry).

Its membership and funds were drawn from local authorities, the

Chambers of Commerce, the Scottish Trades Union Congress, the

Development Council and the Scottish banks. ''Its functions,'' Johnston

explained, ''were the safeguarding, the stimulation, and the

encouragement of Scottish industrial development, both during and after

the war.''

In three months Government production space in Scottish factories and

workshops doubled to 1,000,000 square feet. A month later another

500,000 square feet was added; with another 350,000 square feet

confirmed a few weeks later. During the next three years the Council

managed to persuade three Government supply departments to spend #12m on

factories and plant in Scotland. In total, between 1942 and the General

Election of 1945, they were able to secure over 700 new enterprises, or

substantial extensions to existing companies, involving 90,000 jobs.

But there was no sign, as the war neared its end, of the Scottish

Council (Development and Industry) resting on its record. In its view

the wartime central Government didn't direct enough high-priority

production work to Scotland. It even proposed sending home mobile

workers from England and replacing them with unemployed Scots.

One former senior civil servant, George Pottinger, thought Tom

Johnston was probably overstating its importance when he likened the

Scottish Council (Development and Industry) to an industrial Cabinet.

Pottinger also noted that the Council ''rapidly became the most

effective pressure group in Great Britain and its success is still

envied by English regions''.

Whitehall departments often complained that in one respect the

Scottish industrialist had a positive advantage compared with his

competitors in the south, Pottinger added. ''The English firm could

approach the appropriate Ministry through the local MP. The Scottish

industrialist could also enlist the aid of the Secretary of State, if

necessary in Cabinet, and he in turn could cite an impressive consensus

of support from the Scottish Council.''

Due to major expansion in a number of key industries unemployment in

Scotland totalled about 20,000 during the war. This figure probably

represented an irreducible minimum, Johnston sensed.

In the national interest, as it affected ordinary people especially,

Johnston usually demonstrated uncommon good sense. When he was Secretary

of State for Scotland, he anticipated the National Health Service by

using hospital beds earmarked for Civil Defence casualties to

accommodate ordinary patients who could not afford specialist services.

Everyone knew voluntary hospitals couldn't cope with the demands on

their time and facilities at the start of the war. It could take a year

for a troublesome appendix to be removed. People with minor complaints,

including ear, nose and throat ailments, usually waited months before

being treated. Johnston learned of one elderly man who had been waiting

seven years for a hernia operation. When he discovered there were fewer

Civil Defence casualties than expected Johnston decided, as an

experiment, to make the hospitals, which had been equipped to cope with

a rush of casualties, available for free specialist examination and

treatment of civilian war workers.

''It was obviously foolish to have well-equipped hospitals often

standing empty and their staffs awaiting Civil Defence casualties --

which, thank God, never came -- while war workers could not afford

specialist diagnosis and treatment,'' Johnston explained.

The experiment started on Clydeside and was a huge success.

Eventually, on Johnston's authority, it covered the whole of Scotland.

Waiting lists for treatment at the voluntary hospitals, totalling 34,000

patients, simply disappeared. And, as Johnston testified after the war,

there was no friction or antagonism from the voluntary hospitals over

any of the lost patients. ''Indeed,'' wrote Johnston, ''they made a

small monetary payment for every patient taken off their hands, and a

vast amount of preventable suffering and pain was simply obliterated.''

Family doctors also contributed to this minor revolution in patient

care. They were encouraged, with difficult cases of diagnosis, to seek

assistance from specialists paid by the Scottish Office, or refer

patients to the Civil Defence hospitals for treatment.

Together with Ernest Brown, Minister of Health in the wartime

Government, Johnston was largely responsible for the original White

Paper outlining a National Health Service, which was approved by the War

Cabinet on 9 February 1944.

The original blueprint document had been submitted to the

Reconstruction Priorities Committee the previous month. By February

1944, when the White Paper outlining the coalition Government's plans

for a National Health Service available to all reached the House of

Commons, Ernest Brown had been replaced as Minister of Health by Henry


In an introduction to the most far-reaching leglislation ever

attempted in Britain, Willink and Johnston explained that it was the

Government's intention that ''in future every man and woman and child

can rely on getting all the advice and treatment and care which they may

need in matters of personal health; that what they get shall be the best

medical and other facilities available; that their getting these shall

not depend on whether they can pay for them, or on any other factor

irrelevant to the real need -- the real need being to bring the

country's full resources to bear upon reducing ill-health and promoting

good health in all its citizens''.

It was an inspiring endeavour and one Tom Johnston was pleased to


The Council of State met for the last time at St Andrew's House on 16

February 1945, four years, a week and a day after Johnston became

Secretary of State.

It was the 16th occasion on which the Council of State had been

convened and the depleted group settled down to consider the usual mixed

agenda. Before them were many of the chairman's pet projects, developed

over his years in power.

These included the future role of Prestwick Airport as an

international airport, complete with feeder services to the rest of the

United Kingdom, the need for an aircraft industry in Scotland -- a dream

notion which hadn't been discounted totally by Sir Stafford Cripps, the

Minister for Aircraft Production, in a speech delivered in Edinburgh the

previous week -- local rating, the requirements of a Bill covering hill

sheep farming and a review of the latest National Health Service


The minutes show that, on the controversial subject of the NHS, ''Lord

Alness and Mr Ernest Brown congratulated the chairman on the measure of

agreement resulting from discussions in Scotland. They felt, however,

that progress in England, where the fears of the voluntary hospitals had

not been allayed, and where medical politics would play a considerable

part, would be more difficult, and that it would be doubtful whether

legislation could be introduced in the present session.''

Johnston credited the Council of State with encouraging a new spirit

of independence and hope in our national life.

''You could sense it everywhere, and not least in the civil service.

We met England now without any inferiority complex. We were a nation

once again.'' (Herald italics).

Unfinished business included the 1945 Education (Scotland) Bill. Tom

Johnston maintained a declared interest in education throughout the

whole of his political career. ''If a secondary schooling is good for

the children of the middle class and the children of the rich,'' he once

told the House of Commons, ''it ought to be good enough for the children

of the working class.''

Similarly, when he received the freedom of Kirkintilloch, his

acceptance speech included a heartfelt reminder: ''The justification of

all educational expenditure is the interests and well-being of our

children -- the sound mind in the sound body.''

He was vehement in his criticism of a curriculum which sustained

historical falsehoods and relied heavily on subjects which were of

little practical value except for examination purposes.

Some of his views would find little support among feminists. By his

own admission Johnston was ''indifferent if the girl students knew

nothing about the height of Mount Popocatepetl, provided they could cook

a vegetable stew, and could beautify a home, and had been taught the

rudiments of health and first-aid and citizenship, and some of the arts

and handicrafts.''

His attempts to introduce what he considered the first necessity of

all education, a culture of good citizenship, into schools, failed. At a

Convention on Juvenile Delinquency which he arranged as Secretary of

State, Johnston suggested that any headmaster who succeeded in keeping

his school clear of delinquency convictions should be invited to appear

before the local authority and publicly thanked by the provost.

''We thank and reward a man who jumps off a bridge to save a child

from drowning,'' Johnston argued. ''How much more should we congratulate

and reward a schoolmaster who, by forethought, exhortation, and

organisation of a public school spirit, succeeds in saving perhaps

hundreds of pupils from acquiring criminal records and habits and our

whole social organism from grave perils.''

Johnston enjoyed an uneasy relationship with the mandarins of the

Scottish Education Department. He considered them over-cautious and set

in their ways: they disliked his impetuous approach and his affection

for ad hoc committees outside the established order.

He was actually out of office, and about to retire from the House of

Commons, when Winston Churchill agreed to help him obtain a third

reading for the 1945 Education (Scotland) Bill which many people

believed should carry his name.

Churchill, who was now Prime Minister in the Conservative caretaker

Government which followed the end of the war in Europe, offered to

support Johnston's Bill on one condition: it must first obtain general

agreement in the Scottish Grand Committee.

Johnston worked hard to achieve the necessary accord. At its third

reading on 3 June 1945 the Education (Scotland) Bill, complete with 92

clauses and six schedules, required only two hours in the House of

Commons before it was sent to receive the Royal Assent.

A week later, just days before the 1945 Education (Scotland) Act

arrived on the King's desk for signature, the country's teachers showed

their appreciation by making Johnston an Honorary Fellow of the

Educational Institute of Scotland. His political career was ending where

it began.

The first political speech he ever made was about education when he

was a member of the local School Board in Kirkintilloch. And the last

time he addressed the House of Commons the subject was education. It was

a kind of symmetry that was bound to please him.

* Extracted from Without Quarter -- A biography of Tom Johnston by

Russell Galbraith, to be published by Mainstream on Thursday 26 October

at #20.