One criticism which could
not be levelled at the Labour Government coming to power in July, 1945
was that it lacked experience or that it did not have plans for action.
Many of its leading
figures had been ministers in the coalition. Clement Attlee, now Prime
Minister, during the period from May, 1940 stood second only to
Churchill and, in many ways, his method of running cabinet Committees
was much better suited to the problems of peace. Sir Stafford Cripps,
Herbert Morrison and Ernest Bevin had all been leading members of the
War Cabinet and others, like Hugh Dalton, had held high office. A
notable absentee was Tom Johnston, who had decided not to stand, and
Attlee’s appointment as Secretary of State was Joe Westwood who lasted
only a couple of years and was replaced by Arthur Woodburn.
Attlee himself had high
expectations of success but he was also aware of the difficulties of the
situation and, first, the war with Japan had to be won. His own book,
"As it Happened" puts it squarely. "The Labour Party came
to power with a well-defined policy worked out over many years and we
were determined to carry it out.
Its ultimate objective
was the creation of a society based on social justice, and, in our view,
this could only be attained by bringing under public ownership and
control the main factors in the economic system.
Nationalisation was not
an end in itself but an essential element in achieving the ends we
sought. Controls were desirable not for their own sake but because they
were necessary in order to gain freedom from the economic power of the
owners of capital. A faster distribution of wealth was not a policy
designed to soak the rich or to take revenge but because a society with
gross inequalities of wealth and opportunity is fundamentally
said Attlee "was not a reformed capitalism but progress towards a
Happily, it is not the
task of this work to examine the merits of all that Labour tried to
achieve between 1945-51. The work of the Government did change the lives
of ordinary people but it was a long hard struggle when rationing and
scarcity were prolonged and these had to be borne during the period of
severe and prolonged cold, like that of the winter of 1947.
But there was work. While
people and industries were being demobilised from war work, the demands
of paying for imports increased. Lend-Lease organised with the Americans
ceased in August 1945 and, in 1946, loans were negotiated with Canada
and the USA designed to cover the gap between exports and imports up to
1948. However, these loans were expended at such a rate that, in just
over a year, they were virtually exhausted.
The Cripps’ plan was
put in place to raise exports and to restrict imports. Austerity was the
order of the day.
By a combination of
fiscal methods and the continuance of a strategy of controls plus cheap
money, the Labour Government managed to get the UK back on course to
something like a peace time footing: but at considerable sacrifice.
Resources had to be
diverted from consumption to exports. Wages had to be restrained. In a
period of two and one half years from February 1948, while prices rose
by 8 per cent wages increased by only 5 per cent.
In this period, the
recognition of Western Europe’s plight by George Marshall, the US
Secretary of State, and the initiative of Ernest Bevin in organising
comprehensive response to Marshall’s suggestion that further American
aid for Europe would be dependent on European countries (including the
Soviet Union) organising themselves for recovery saved many nations from
economic and political collapse.
Of course, the USA had a
deal of self-interest in generating the provision of aid and in the
organisation of the international monetary system effectively put the
industrial world on a dollar medium of exchange but, against this, must
be placed what might have happened to the peoples of Western Europe had
the economic system been left to collapse.
One of those who made a
considerable personal sacrifice was Cripps himself. Rising at 5am to
deal with his papers and carry on the hard task of Chancellor for a
period of over three years and, while presiding over recovery, he had to
devalue the currency in 1949. The strain this imposed on his health
resulted in his resignation in 1950 and hastened his death in 1952 at
the age of sixty-three years.
In a very real sense,
Cripp encapsulates the problems of a government of the left pledged to
alter economic and social relationships with the desire to preserve
democracy. It is doubtful if any Chancellor of the Exchequer before or
since, even in the war years, has exercised greater power to influence
the direction of the British economy. As a Christian, he understood the
importance of moral imperatives which were as binding to him as the
legal obligations which he comprehended as a lawyer. But other mortals,
especially those who have an interest in not possessing the same
comprehension, do not embrace the same motives.
People will make
sacrifices when there is a clear and easily agreed end. The winning of
the war with Germany and Japan were obvious goals winch few would
dispute. But once peace had been achieved, it is difficult, in a
democratic society, to obtain the same unity of purpose.
He stated the priorities
with an "almost Cromwellian directness" as, "You will
see, then, that as long as we are in this impoverished state, the result
of our tremendous efforts in two world wars, our consumption
requirements have to be the last in the list of priorities. First, are
exports ...; second is capital investment in industry; and the last are
the needs, comforts and amenities of the family" This, from his
viewpoint as Chancellor, was clearly correct but, from the stance of the
ordinary citizen, who thought that the fruits of victory should go to
the winner, the priorities were the wrong way round.
It is something of a
minor miracle, in terms of the persuasive power of the like of Cripps
and Bevin, that the system of priorities which he envisaged carried sway
for so long. Part of the reason for this was, of course, the changes
which were being brought about by Labour’s social and industrial
These latter changes bad
profound effects on Scotland and the Scottish economy. Although some
thinkers of the left had envisaged public ownership as being a
decentralising force (Tom Johnston could be numbered in this category)
the effect of bringing industries like coal, transport, gas and
electricity into the public domain was to increase the centralising
aspects of decision-making and to reduce the flexibility of local
initiatives and opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE
When Robert McIntyre
found himself involved in the higher echelons of the SNP in the 1940’s,
one of the responsibilities he shared with others was to promote the
continuance of the "Scots Independent".
This newspaper pre-dates
the Scottish National Party and was founded in 1926 as the organ of the
Scots National League whose object, clearly stated in the initial issue
of the SI on 1st November, 1926, was "The restoration of Scotland
to her former position of political independence".
Much of the credit for
the launching of the paper and ensuring its survival under difficult
conditions goes to Tom Gibson, who, at that time, was a solicitor’s
clerk in Glasgow. He not only undertook a considerable amount of writing
for the early issues but he was also the business manager, main
distributor and salesman.
It seems that, like the
Salvation Army’s "War Cry", the early issues were sold
mainly in the Glasgow pubs and, as one can easily imagine, the promoters
were scraping around repeatedly for the cash to meet printers’ bills.
The frequenters of the
local pubs must have been a fairly intelligent bunch to digest the
contents of the new periodical because, right from the start, it had
abroad compass, including articles on industry, agriculture, commerce
and the arts, as well as current political events - all for two pennies.
From the beginning, it
desired to see the formation of a united national party in Scotland and
played its part in the formation of the National Party of Scotland in
With the creation of the
NPS, the "Scots Independent" became the Party’s newspaper
and gained the support, in financial terms, of Roland E Muirhead, who
was a reasonable dependable source of money when things got tight.
Muirhead had devoted finance to the "Forward" but, becoming
disillusioned with the Independent Labour Party, this support was
gradually transferred to the SI.
Again, the newspaper,
continuing in its position of support for political action, was a strong
advocate for the creation of the Scottish National Party in April, 1934,
although this had the rather strange effect of seeing the SI handed over
to one of the younger sons of Sir Alexander MacEwan, who then launched
the short-lived "Scottish Standard" which collapsed in a few
months leaving the SNP without a newspaper. The gap was bridged by
Roland Muirhead who stepped in and revived the SI at his own expense. In
essence, "The Scots Independent" became Muirhead’s newspaper
and not that of the SNP, but this did not break the links with the Party
which continued to keep close ties with the SI’s operations.
From its inception, the
SI endeavoured to provide Party activists with basic information about
Scotland and its economy. Important contributors, in addition to Tom
Gibson, were individuals of the considerable intellect and drive like
Archie Larnont and Oliver Brown. Hugh MacDiarmid was an early and
frequent contributor, who dealt with a broad range of subjects and who
did not restrict himself to poetry and literature.
Robert McIntyre, from the
beginning of his association with the newspaper, acknowledged the
importance of having this medium of discussion and, at times, even of
dispute. Later on when others in the Party hierarchy aimed to belittle
and criticise the SI, Robert sought to defend its position within the
For a brief period in the
early 1950’s, the SI was produced under an arrangement between the
Scottish National Party and the Scottish Secretariat, after which it was
carried on under SNP auspices.
However, it was apparent
to all concerned that too close links with the Party, in terms of
control and personnel, could involve discussions at Executive level
devolving into disputes on the editorial policy of the SI. Robert
McIntyre was instrumental in 1956 in the initiation of moves to
establish a Private Limited Company to publish the SI, with a Board of
Directors to control its operations. This relationship has proved
happier and more beneficial both to the Party and the SI, and Robert
McIntyre shares the credit for assisting and maintaining the SI in
existence to overcome what Arthur Donaldson described in his assessment
of fifty years of the newspaper’s existence in 1976. "It is
difficult now to realise just how grim an image had been fostered in
Scotland by ignorant and sometimes lying propaganda. It is difficcult to
realise how generally the image was accepted as true. It is difficult
even for those who lived through the last fifty years to credit that so
much has been changed by so few and with so little money to do it."