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Scottish Review

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Dr Robert D McIntyre
Chapter 15 - The Immediate Post-War Period


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 unhealthy."

"Our policy", said Attlee "was not a reformed capitalism but progress towards a democratic socialism".

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 policy.

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 "SCOTS INDEPENDENT".

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 1928.

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 movement.

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."


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