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Dr Robert D McIntyre
Chapter 12 - Motherwell and Wishaw By-Election


During the period of the Second World War, the UK Parties had observed an electoral truce and did not challenge in by-elections.

The Scottish National Party obviously did not agree with this stance but contested by-elections on a fairly intermittent basis, given the difficulties of finance and organisation.

Records of results show the Party’s electoral popularity was extremely volatile. William Power achieved 7,000 votes against the Conservative’s 12,000 in Argyll in April 1940, whereas the Party failed to contest Montrose in the same year.

Again, after considerable negotiations to obtain concessions from the Labour Party, the SNP did not put up a candidate for Dunbartonshire when a by-election occurred in 1941.

In the interim period, Robert McIntyre had been appointed Secretary of the Party and, despite his views on the importance of fighting elections, both local and parliamentary, his judgement was that the Party’s general state of preparedness was not of an order which would achieve a good result, and that it would be more beneficial to continue to strengthen the organisation and membership rather than fight at by-elections. Thus, it was decided not to contest Midlothian when a by-election chance occurred in 1943. However, after a successful conference later that year, the Party was in much better condition to make an advance, which it did in the Kirkcaldy By-election of December of that year. Douglas Young was the SNP candidate and polled 6,621 votes against a Labour total of 8,268.

By 1944, the Party was beginning to see itself under the guidance of Robert McIntyre and Arthur Donaldson, as much more than a pressure group but as the means by which the Scottish people could express themselves comprehensively and particularly by signifying their preference for independence from Westminster by means of the ballot box.

As the war in Europe was reaching its final stages, the Party had moved a considerable way in developing a distinctive range of policies which, while left of centre, were not doctrinaire but placed emphasis on a sense of community and concern for individual expression and initiative.

Robert had set out these policies in his pamphlet, "Some Principles for Scottish Reconstruction" written in 1944. McIntyre’s gifts of exposition were used to explain to the Scottish people an outline for policies, which were not a mid-ground between left and right, but a distinctive Scottish approach relying on decision-making which eschewed monolithic and cumbersome bureaucracies and relied on achieving a consensus arrived at on the basis of a "grass roots" approach.

For the price of 2d, McIntyre attempted, in straight and clear terms, to answer the question, "When Scotland is self-governing, what kind of country will we make it?". His answers were brief and to the point. Starting with a view of, "National freedom based on self-government for Scotland and the restoration of national sovereignty by the establishment of a democratic Scottish government, whose authority will be limited only by such agreements as will be freely entered into with other nations, in order to further international co-operation and world peace".

National freedom had not to impinge on individual rights. "The freedom of the Scottish people to use and enjoy the resources and wealth of the country to the full is our right and for that freedom the Scottish National Party is pledged to fight".

In terms of social matters, the approach was "not doctrinaire". "Practical measures must be undertaken to help to secure the independence, well being and happiness of the people of Scotland.

The pamphlet went on to deal with important current matters relating to housing and the need for the redistribution of industry.

With considerable foresight, the claim was made that, "After the war, we cannot expect continued development of the heavy and chief war industries of the Clyde area." The over-dependence on such heavy industries would prove disastrous in times of peace and, "New industries which will help to replace these and at the same time supply the Scottish home market with the necessities of life are in urgent need of development."

Policies relating to land ownership and use, and the need to ensure that the Scottish people were fed properly are given considerable attention with the claim, "The land of Scotland is the inheritance of the people from whom it cannot be alienated"

Dealing with finance and banking, money was to be put in its proper place as servant and not as master. "General development must not be held up by currency and credit manipulators with such disastrous consequences as the country has already experienced."

"Every Scot must have an effective voice in government and must be sufficiently independent, from an economic point of view, to exercise his democratic right in freedom, without fear of the State, the Combine or the Laird."

To McIntyre, there was a clear distinction between the needs and rights of the community and that of the state. In his view: "The community of Scotland cannot enter into its rightful inheritance while the wealth of the country is in the hands of an alien government, international finance and private monopolies." Power and wealth must be vested in the Scottish community.

Natural monopolies like transport, water power and mines should be in the control of a democratic government, "acting in the interests of the people engaged in the industries, as well as in the interests of the nation".

Economic means are at all times related to social and community ends, rather than those of the state. In essence, "The Scottish nation is dependant for its existence on the home and the individual rather than the state". In McIntyre’s view, "The encouraging of responsibility and independence among all members of the community is more necessary now than ever before".

It was not to be long before he was to have the opportunity of putting his views more directly to the Scottish electorate, or at least an important part of it.

By the early months of 1945, the SNP had several candidates "in the field" ready to fight in a general election. But a by-election at Motherwell was to have first claim on attention and resources.

The death in a car accident of James Walker, the Labour Member, who had been elected in 1935 on a majority of 430 over the Tories gave the SNP the opportunity of putting into practice the belief in carrying on the fight on all conceivable occasions for the support of the Scottish people.

Discussion of tactics and the finance were of supreme importance. Here, Arthur Donaldson played a key part, A brief letter from Arthur to Alistair McAuslan (who became the Election Agent) in the closing stages of the campaign gives some flavour to his concerns and attention to detail. Arthur queries: "Did I tell you that I can now see about £300 for the Motherwell Election fund and I am trying to get it up to £350, which, I think, will be the final expenditure."

Arthur Donaldson had been instrumental right from the initial prospects of fighting Motherwell in pushing the need to embark on the campaign. At a meeting of the National Council, the issue was fully discussed. The relevant Minute records that Douglas Young proposed Dr McIntyre to be the candidate, with an election committee composed of: Mr A McAuslan, Convener, Mr Leask, Mr Donaldson, Mr Wilkie and Miss Gillespie.

During the discussion, reference was made to a pointer to trends of the result of a mock election at Dalziel High School, which had produced the following result: SNP 373, Communist Party 112, Labour 62, Conservatives 58. The view was expressed,".. if the youth of the place were with the SNP, then the Party had no business to let the youth of that place down.

What were McIntyre’s own reactions? He was in Greenock, working as a Port Boarding Medical Officer, and, on a bus journey to Princess Pier he had read of the death of James Walker, the Labour Member for Motherwell. He admits that he got the shivers in an extraordinary way and inwardly said: "Dammit, that’s me."

This was his first election campaign at the age of thirty-one. Leave of absence had to be obtained from Glasgow Corporation and the organisational and financial moves set in train.

Most important in the context of Motherwell and Wishaw was the fact that the Scottish National Party had a vigorous branch in the area. The estimate from records is that, in 1945, Motherwell & Wishaw had 60 SNP members and that the branch met on a regular basis.

The leading activists had been in the fire in the clashes of 1942 when they were critical of the then leadership’s stance in not being willing to make an effective challenge to the government on Scotland’s war time role and economic position.

A by-election was an ideal opportunity for their pent up energies to be used.

The SNP’s campaign started with a high class - indeed unbeatable - act, and was opened, not by a politician, but by none other than Duncan MacRae.

One can imagine the craggy Duncan telling this war-weary audience, which packed to overflowing the meeting in the Lesser Masonic Hall, that, as an ardent Scot, he had taken a vow to put all his talent at the disposal of his fellow countrymen. He took the view that Scottish MPs were lost to Scotland when they went South to make laws.

Robert McIntyre’s first speech in the campaign embraced the interlocking elements of principle relating to Scotland’s destiny and the bread and butter issues affecting the constituency and the nation.

He explained that, when asked to stand as a candidate, he felt that he could not refuse because he sensed that there was an increasing interest in the affairs of Scotland by the Scottish people and an increased feeling of perplexity at the manner in which the English Parliament was dealing with Scottish affairs.

He raised issues, including the building of the Forth Road Bridge, the future of Prestwick Airport, and Scotland’s housing, but, above all else, the candidate sought to make it clear that, "The issue in this election is Scotland." "Scotland depends on us and looks to us that we do not let her down."

The alliance of principle with fundamental issues of the day was deep in McIntyre’s character. He makes it very plain in a commentary on the first meeting of the election, "... it was a WOW. It wasn’t a very big hall but, such as it was, it was packed out and this was going to be a very good campaign ... David Murray, who was an economic journalist, particularly interested in steel, came to see me after the meeting and said, "Look, McIntyre, unless you get down to the bread and butter issues, you’ll never make any headway here." "I disagreed with him, not that I disagreed with dealing with bread and butter issues, but other issues were very much in my mind and he was wrong. You get a wee bit more lift if you go away from the bread and butter issues from time to time".

Notwithstanding the desire to get a "wee bit more lift", Robert was occasionally brought down to earth by the canny folk of Motherwell and Wishaw. He tells a story against himself. At a meeting during the campaign, a question was put about MP’s salaries. "If you were elected, what would you get as an MP?" McIntyre’s reply was he thought about £380 a year. "What are you earning now?" "Around £500 per year". Up got the questioner. "Weel, Chairman, if the candidate canny look after himseIf how the hell can he look after us?"

A most significant aspect of the by-election, in addition to the lengthy campaign - six weeks - was the time and energy which Robert was able to spend in direct contact with the electorate - not just in well attended meetings but also in having the opportunity to have face to face discussions at places of work in the area, like Colville’s and Anderson Boyes.

Reporting of the campaign in the local press, given the difficulties of supplies of newsprint, was far in advance of what it has now descended to. The Wishaw Press and Advertiser gave extensive cover of an SNP meeting in the Templar’s Hall, Craigneuk at which, by all accounts, Robert was in full flow dealing with a host of accusations and slanders by the Labour Party, including a statement which came from the Secretary of the Labour Party in Scotland, John Taylor, saying that the name of the Scottish National Party should be "Scottish Nazi Party" because it had great similarities with the German Nazi Party and was growing in the same way and trying to develop on exactly the same lines as the Nazi Party began in German. McIntyre, with more than justice on his side, tore into this. He challenged Taylor to state that he was a Nazi or to state that his policy had any similarity with the policy of the German Nazi Party.

He also put the obverse side of the coin by requesting Taylor to state that he (McIntyre) was not a Nazi and that his Party’s policy had no similarity with that of the Nazi Party.

In Robert’s view, Taylor could say, "Either one or the other. If he says nothing, then we will know that Mr Taylor is prepared to eat his works". The same newspaper also devoted considerable space to Labour’s campaign and its further attacks on the SNP.

Jean Mann, then Vice-President of the Scottish Labour Party (and later MP for Coatbridge) vented her not inconsiderable spleen on the Scottish Nationalists.

In her view, she did not think that they would poll very well but the electorate had to prepare for the General Election which would come in a few months’ time and thus make sure that the SNP vote was so small that it would not be worth their while to stand in a few months’ time.

Jean Mann’s dislike of the Nationalists had a very personal bent. She claimed, ". ..that they kept me out of Parliament for years". She explained that, in 1935, she had stood in West Renfrewshire and the SNP had taken away 3,000 votes which was just sufficient to let the Tory in. (Any one who has cause to remember Jean Mann’s subsequent stance as MP for Coatbridge can testify how sore this blow must have been for her.) But she had other grievances which Labour has repeated over the years. Labour’s candidate was Alexander Anderson, a school teacher, who was prominent in local politics and was dignified by the title "Hon Treasurer". In his view, the choice in the election was," ... are you going to have a Scottish Parliament in Scotland and shut your eyes to our major problems or are you, as an intelligent electorate, going to be steadfast and put first things first? Are you going to say we want a Socialist Britain before we want a Parliament in Scotland? Remember these facts and vote as you have voted in the past for a Socialist Policy which means freedom, equality and justice for all".

During the campaign, Robert McIntyre was aided by John Scanlon who had journalistic and campaigning skills and was instrumental in producing a variety of leaflets dealing with current issues. Scanlon was particularly good in exposing contradictions in Labour’s policies and its approach to the war by indicating its anti-armaments posture in the pre-war period. Efforts were made to influence voters by asking them to remember the need to support the lads still at war. A leaflet showing a kilted soldier put it, "He fights for the freedom of Belgium, Holland, France and Burma -You must liberate his homeland".

The other side of the coin was also played by obtaining messages of support for McIntyre from the forces. Local newspapers published greetings telegrams from wounded officers and men: "I fervently hope that the electorate of Motherwell and Wishaw will return you as their Member of Parliament and thus take the initial steps in arresting the decline of our nation." David Reekie, Argyll’s (51st). Others were more succinct: "Power to you elbow". J H Beaton, RAC. "Wishing you all success". J McLaren, Black Watch. These are a few of the expressions of support received by Robert.

There can be no doubt that the SNP mounted a formidable campaign with McAuslan travelling to and from his offices in Glasgow and keeping control of the administration and finance and McIntyre, aided by Scanlon and a host of speakers and supporters, carrying on the direct attack on Labour. While the campaign moved forward with appropriate momentum, it would have been too much to expect that all would be completely smooth. No election campaign is and there were strong personalities around, and nothing tests the strength of character of individuals more than a by-election campaign.

Robert McIntyre is a supreme one-to-one campaigner who knows his own mind and "gangs his ain gait". He is patient in analysis and investigation and tenacious in pursuing his objectives. But, once he had made up his mind on the methods to be adopted, he is difficult to shift.

McLauslan’s background of business and attention to detail can be seen in his approach and methods.

He still has in his possession when I spoke to him at his home in Garelochhead a file on the by-election containing, amongst other important notes, receipts for election expenses of bills for advertising for magnificent sums like £3 .8s etc. More importantly, the file also contains details of his administrative procedures with an extensive and detailed account of jobs to be done. These are a credit to any election agent and especially impressive for one who was having a first "go" at the task.

Although the different skills possessed by McIntyre and McAuslan balanced, the movement towards equilibrium clearly brought occasional friction, but the general atmosphere was conducive to a happy and successful campaign with the fire and aggression directed on the Labour Party and the Government of the day.

An issue which brought considerable hostility from the SNP was the fact that Scottish women, may from Lanarkshire and the Motherwell area, had been "conscripted" to undertake munitions work in England. Although only two parties contested the by-election, there was a third party intervention in the shape of the Communist Party in support of Labour. They issued an "Election Special" price 2d to urge the electorate to vote Labour and "build up the unity of Labour and progressive forces to go forward in 1945 to victory in war and peace". Their view was, "It is because of the intelligence of the majority of the Motherwell electors and their ability to distinguish between serious politics and political buffoonery, it is extremely unlikely that the Nationalist Candidate will save his £150 to divide the Labour Movement in any other constituency".

Despite such opposition and attempts to confuse the issue, Robert McIntyre achieved a victory which some, even those most close to him, seem to have doubted was possible.

The result, declared on April 13th 1945, was:

Dr Robert McIntyre (Scottish National Party) 11,417
Alex Anderson (Labour) 10,600
Majority 617

Thus, Dr Robert Douglas McIntyre had written his name in history on the basis of a by-election campaign, which had marshalled the resources of an extremely able candidate, with a battery of supporting speakers on platforms and at meetings over a six week period. The speakers included such personalities as Oliver Brown, Arthur Donaldson, Douglas Young, Duncan MacRae, Hugh McDiarmid and the MP’s father, the Rev John E McIntyre, who had returned to Motherwell for the fray.

But even making the necessary substantial allowances for the excellence of the supporting team and organisation, the conclusion is pressed on us that Robert McIntyre more than caught the mood of the times and that in a lengthy campaign of six weeks he was able to get close to the electorate and, by the impact of his personality and ability patiently to persuade, he convinced the electorate of Motherwell and Wishaw that he was their man.

4 Page Election Leaflet from Dr Robert McIntyre

4 Page Election Leaflet from Dr Robert McIntyre - Page 1 4 Page Election Leaflet from Dr Robert McIntyre - Page 2 4 Page Election Leaflet from Dr Robert McIntyre - Page 3 4 Page Election Leaflet from Dr Robert McIntyre - Page 4

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