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
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
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
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
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
"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,
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
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
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".
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
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
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
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.
of business and attention to detail can be seen in his approach and
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
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
The result, declared on April 13th 1945, was:
Dr Robert McIntyre (Scottish National Party) 11,417
Alex Anderson (Labour) 10,600
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