Nasty Letters and Dangerous Critics Even Though I Built the SPBA to Over 200 Bands

Part three of our intriguing insight into the thoughts of the Scottish Pipe Band Association’s Secretary Mr RC Whitelaw back in 1948 as he battled with Cowal, the Glasgow local authority and contrarian forces within the movement…..

What was I expected to do after issuing the circular? Would I resign from the office of Association Secretary? A few critics hoped I would do so. Can anyone imagine me running away from a fight which I had pursued relentlessly for over a year, just because a few weak-minded individuals could not agree with my actions?

Does anyone think that I would back out of a struggle which, by doing so, would have meant the complete disintegration of the Association? Does anyone think that I was prepared to allow the Association – which I had built up from a mere handful of bands to a total strength of 215 bands – to fall into the hands of a few unscrupulous people who would use it to further their own selfishness?


Finally, does anyone feel to-day that we mishandled the affairs of the Association? True to say that I did receive many nasty letters containing both ignorant and dishonest statements.

Some of my correspondents were even afraid to give their names and sent the letters anonymously. In the hope that my anonymous critics will read this article, I can tell them now that their letters were relegated to the proper place – the fire – but not until l had carefully noted the handwriting and the postmark.

Everybody is free to condemn and criticise, and you can continue to do so if you wish. Nevertheless I am prepared to prove that the policy we pursued was a correct policy, and every move we made was a necessary and correct move. Let us, therefore, examine the net results of our policy.

Is it not now an established fact that the control and sponsoring of the World’s Championship contest is the exclusive property of the Association? Is it not the case that Cowal Committee fully endorses this decision?

Massed bands at Cowal 1950 in the same era about which Mr Whitelaw writes

Is it not a fact that the pipe band contests to be held at Cowal will, on all future occasions, be held exclusively under the Constitution and Rules of the Association?

Can anyone deny that Cowal Highland Gathering Committee is justly entitled to be considered as one of the best – if not the best – contest promoters working harmoniously with and for the Association?

Can it be denied that a dispute which has lasted for the past sixteen years (and not eighteen months) is now happily ended’?

Can anyone deny that the complete and successful ending of that lamentable dispute is due entirely to the policy which we pursued? I recognised, early in 1947, that the dispute would never be settled so long as the main points in it were given such primary importance.

Glasgow Police in the circle at Cowal 1950

I realised that to settle the dispute, on the issues which then existed, it must be tackled from a different angle – hence, the ‘second front’.

I am fully aware of the fact that even since the end of the 1948 contest season I still have a few bitter and, to a degree. dangerous critics. But before we start the next contest season, might I respectfully suggest to them that if their criticism is clean and constructive I’ll gladly welcome it.

If, on the other hand, it is vile and destructive I shall handle it much more vigorously than I have done in the past. Who are my critics? Who are my self-appointed judges?



They are that small group or clique of people who sit back and do nothing except condemn every effort I have made for the advancement of Pipes and Drums.

Yes, they are the people who compete with each other in an effort to determine which one can talk the loudest and the longest. They meet periodically to discuss me. Seldom have I found them meeting to discuss the furtherance of pipe band culture.

That subject is too serious for them, and in order to justify their miserable authority they devote their time and attention to criticising. ridiculing, and condemning one who has done more for the advancement of pipe bands than anyone in the past or present.

Can anyone identify these Glasgow Police pipers or those in the picture at the top of this article?

Thal small clique of super-intellectuals, whose net effort on behalf of Pipes and Drums is nil, forget that during the past two years I have sacrificed and devoted my entire annual holidays to the work of the Association.

Yes, while they were away enjoying their holidays and sending me postcards telling me of the wonderful time they were having, I was sitting up to all hours in the morning working for them.

Perhaps their holidays gave them renewed energy to come back home and attack their already overworked Association Secretary.


The above pictures are stills taken from this Pathé newsreel from the 1950 Cowal Highland Gathering featuring the attendance of the then Prime Minister Clement Attlee:


  • To be concluded. Read the final instalment here.

1 thought on “Nasty Letters and Dangerous Critics Even Though I Built the SPBA to Over 200 Bands

  1. Time and people move on. Yet reading part 3 of Mr RC Whitelaw’s, former Association SPBA Secretary, lone battle on behalf of the Association in the late 1940’s one can sense that empathy appeared to be in very short supply, Yet as a result of ‘his’ policy/’his’ struggle the SPBA/RSPBA gained the exclusive rights to the World Championships and Cowal remained a beacon for the SPBA/RSPBA as a Major Championship for many decades though sadly now has the status of a ‘has – been’ as far as the Association is concerned.
    Yes, time and people move on, but who will ‘Stand In The Gap’ this time. It is interesting to note that 215 bands were in membership in 1948, and I’m sure band members, as well as Mr Whitelaw, had something to do with that. Out of genuine concern one asks how many bands will remain in membership post the Covid Pandemic? In the past few years a lot of disharmony has been evident within the various levels of RSPBA Management along with a heightened sense of distrust among the membership. Unfortunately the sense of togetherness which is necessary for any organisation to function smoothly and thrive has been seriously weakened. Borrowing a little from the RC Whitelaw’s article I doubt very much that a rescue will come from “the weak minded individuals” who cannot agree on anything or “the unscrupulous people” who pursue their “selfish aims” unchecked it would seem.
    In my opinion it will be up to the membership to ‘Stand In The Gap’. Continuing to teach, fostering the pipe band culture and as a priority serving their local community. This is the activity which helps to develop team spirit as well as good performance skills and when time permits can be presented successfully in the competition arena. Together we will go forward and be a vibrant organisation again if all in membership play their part constructively.
    Step forward those who are willing to ‘Stand In The Gap’ for the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association’ today.

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