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Dr Robert D McIntyre
Chapter 23 - Into Europe?


Throughout the period, Dr McIntyre, despite a workload both in local politics and in his medical profession, continued to stand as a Parliamentary candidate and contested seats in every general election. Perth and East Perthshire was fought in each election from 1951 to 1964 and West Stirlingshire in 1966 and 1970. Here was a clear case of not asking others to undertake tasks which you personally shunned. None of these seats could be described as easy targets. But, in 1971, a by-election caused by the death of Malcolm MacPherson, the Labour Member for Stirling Burghs (Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth) produced a situation which gave real hope of SNP success, with Dr McIntyre (then Provost of Stirling) as candidate.

A significant issue in the campaign was Britainís attempt to enter the European Economic Community (or Common Market as it was popularly known).

Since its inception in 1958 and, indeed, before, the issue of relations with the EEC had divided parties, institutions and, on occasions, families, the jest was made that political parties were in favour of the EEC when in opposition but against it when in government.

When first mooted in the early 1950ís, European economic co-operation, initially in coal and steel and then, later, on a wide range of economic activity, was shunned by UK governments.

Churchill, in opposition, made grandiose statements about the unity of Europe, but Tory governments of the 1950ís were reluctant to make any commitments. Macmillanís pro-European stance was held in check and hidden until after the 1959 general election, when there was a sudden realisation of the rapid progress being made by the six nations who bad come together in 1958, after their 1955 discussions at Messina, which the UK had attended in an off-hand posture hoping that the attempt at economic co-operation would fail.

August, 1961 saw the Conservative government make an application to join the EEC under Article 237 of the Rome Treaty. Heading the negotiations was Edward Heath, whose European credentials then, and since, have never been in doubt. Immediately, there was an outbreak of intera-party warfare. Only the Liberals appeared united. Surprisingly, for an economist with a broad vision, Gaitskell was ignoring the changing balance of international trade and competition, but he was not alone in this.

However, he and others need not have bothered themselves in argument or conflict. Early in 1963, General de Gaulle, always suspicious of Britainís motives, kicked the ball right out of the park by vetoing Britainís application. Many politicians breathed a sigh of relief, but they neglected the fact that, not having to take a decision, brings as many consequences as being confronted with the stark facts of economic reality and having to face them. Obviously, the decision was postponed, at least until the opposition of de Gaulle was either removed or weakened.

Perhaps, in view of Labourís position in opposition, it is surprising to recall that, in government under Harold Wilson, they decided to apply anew to join the EEC. After prolonged discussion, the issue was put to the House of Commons and carried by 488 votes to 62. Wilson records that, "It was the biggest majority on a contested vote on a matter of public policy for over a century". But Wilson also noted that there were 35 Labour Members in the ĎNOí lobby.

On this occasion, the response of de Gaulle was more generous and the long rounds of negotiations began and were reaching a conclusion, but not before a general election in June, 1970 was called by Labour, which Harold Wilson felt sure he would win. Despite the opinion polls supporting this contention, Labour lost.

What were the SNP doing about Europe in this period? Not surprisingly in the early years, nothing much: due to lack of resources and time to analyse what was going on. But, with the victory at Hamilton behind them and a quickening of pace in the negotiations, particularly after de Gaulleís resignation in April, 1969, it became essential that the Party marked out its position.

As a party which claimed that Scotland had been unjustly treated by a fraudulent union two hundred and sixty years previously, it was to be expected that the Partyís attitude towards being dragged into another union in Europe without any real say was hostile. A delegation was sent to Brussels, led by George Leslie, and composed of Winnie Ewing, Douglas Crawford and James Halliday. The claim is made that: "The most important thing that the delegation achieved was successfully to draw attention to the fact that the Scottish National Party was again serving notice on the other countries of Europe that there was a strong and growing movement in Scotland for independence and that a Scottish Parliament would not feel itself bound by any treaties and agreements entered into on behalf of the people of Scotland by any British Government".

Willie Wolfe had become Party chairman in 1969 and saw fit to express the opinion that, "The SNP delegation which went to Brussels has confirmed our view that it is the aim of the Common Market to establish political domination of the whole of western Europe and to tolerate no deviations from this line. The Common Marketeers of today are as much doctrinaire centralists as their opposite numbers in the Kremlin in Moscow

It is no accident that the English parties have indicated their strong wish to go into the Common Market. To do so is a logical continuation of their centralist thinking which has been so damaging to Scotlandís people and to Scotlandís economy".

While this outburst is understandable, because the EEC played little part in the 1970 general election, and when the issue was discussed, it revolved round the acceptability or otherwise of terms which had yet to be finalised, the SNP stance brought no discernible electoral benefit in the immediate term.

However, the by-election in Stirling Burghs was to bring the issue to the fore and, among other aspects which it highlighted, was that the SNPís assertion that the English parties had a strong wish to "go into the Common Market" was far from the truth. Even a brief insight into the machinations of the Parliamentary Labour Party after the June, 1970 election would have dismissed this concept.

Confrontation is the order of the day, almost every day without exception, in the House of Commons. The "Ins" sit on the government benches and the "Outs" face them across a narrow oblong debating chamber, two sword lengths apart to keep them from fighting. Party discipline has to be maintained and, both in government and in opposition to disobey his whip and to flout an agreed party voting stance, invites not only disdain but also generally considerably reduces chances of office.

Harold Wilson took a long time to recover his nerve after the election defeat, and his situation was not helped by his Partyís divisions over entry into the EEC. Heath, as Tory Prime Minister, had sent Geoffrey Rippon to conclude negotiations and to bring back terms which would be put to the House of Commons.


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