By mid-1971, it was
becoming obvious that the terms which were being secured for entry into
the EEC by the Tories were not very different from those which Labour
might have obtained had the negotiations continued with George Thomson,
who was MP for Dundee East.
Heath’s strategy, after
a lengthy House of Commons debate in July, 1971, was to put the terms of
entry to the House of Commons in a White Paper in the autumn. A
by-election in September could not avoid discussing the issue.
But, as is the norm in
politics, campaigns become more than a single issue matter. A crisis
loomed on the Upper Clyde with the yards composing the UCS in danger of
going under. John Brown’s, Connell’s, Yarrow, Stephen’s and
Fairfield’s had been put together in the UCS in the vain attempt by
Labour of turning losers into winners. Yarrow was never happy in the
set-up and wanted out. The other yards, despite the Fairfield
Experiment, were far from capable of competing with the Japanese and, in
June, 1971, the UCS was allowed to go bankrupt and the fight to save
jobs began under the Shop Stewards’ Committee led by Jimmy Reid and
Jimmy Airlie, both at the time members of the Communist Party, but
having the strategic sense to see that, if they were to win through, the
fight had to be conducted on an all-Scotland basis.
Reid was an excellent
orator and capable of establishing an instant rapport with his audience.
Those in politics and trade union affairs who knew him had recognised
this since the 1950’s when he was active amongst the Clydeside
Apprentices and at least a few were of the opinion that the gifts which
he displayed then were of a much more direct nature than his attempts at
intellectualisation in the 1970’s.
Any limitations which
Reid had in strategic understanding were more than filly covered by the
abilities of Jimmy Airlie who, in the future, was to
"graduate" from the shop floor to fill-time trade union
What the Upper Clyde
dispute did was to give a number of people with no real understanding of
the complexities of the shipbuilding industry the opportunity to stride
the industrial and political stage. (This was also true of the position
of Rolls Royce which the Tories were forced to nationalise.) The battle
to save jobs, particularly in Scotland, made it difficult, if not
impossible, in any way to be seen to be siding with policies which had
even the least sign of the imprimatur of the Tories on them.
Candidates in Stirling
Burghs lined up on these issues. For Labour, Harry Ewing gave his
thoughtful opinion on the Common Market. "Great Britain" he
told an audience in Stirling, will only be a "Bedroom" if they
enter the Common Market. "We will sleep here and work in other
countries like Germany. It won’t be a case of the Government giving
the worker work, but taking him to it."
He told his listeners
that he had been opposed to Britain’s entry into the Common Market
from the beginning. "We really ought to look more closely at the
conditions of entry. After Mr Heath’s speech in Glasgow ... I am more
opposed to our entry that ever."
(Labour’s odd unity of
purpose on the issue was exemplified by Harry Ewing having as his
supporters on this occasion Dr J Dickson Mabon, MP, an ardent supporter
of Britain’s entry and Jim Sillars, an even more ardent opponent.)
Widening the issue and
endeavouring to display his understanding of international trade, the
Labour candidate stated, "Most important of all our trading is with
the Commonwealth. Australia alone has the potentialities of the United
States. Entry into the Common Market would threaten the existence of
One wonders why a Labour
Government had bothered even to apply for entry given these assertions.
Dr Robert McIntyre’s
views on the issue were expressed, as one might expect, on the basis of
Scotland’s position. His statement on the EEC set out his concerns.
"I am opposed to entering the Common Market. Our steel industry is
already under threats as a result of London centralist control provided
by the Labour Government and continued by the present Government. In the
Common Market any future development would be under control of the
European Iron and Steel Community and the prospects would be dire
indeed. Inshore fishing and hill farming would be in grave danger, as
would be many other activities."
It was left to the
hapless Tory to defend the UK’s entry but how many heard and
understood David Anderson, the Tory candidate’s plea to follow,
"in the great Scottish tradition of close connection with Europe
dating from the Auld Alliance with France and beyond" is a matter
of extreme conjecture.
When the result was
declared in the early hours of 17th September, Labour had retained the
seat with a considerably reduced majority, from 7,230 in the 1970
general election to 4,444.
The SNP nearly doubled
the vote from 6,571 in 1970 to 13,048 in the by-election - a swing of
18% in their favour. With the Tory vote slashed from 15,754 to 4,488, Dr
Robert McIntyre could feel justified in claiming that, "None of the
London parties can be satisfied with the result but the Scottish people
can. The significant vote here is my vote. The SNP is again on the
He showed that part of
this vote at least was an anti-government of the day by-election
syndrome by stating: "If Labour had continued in government, there
is no doubt that they would have lost this election." He backs up
his contention by pointing to Labour’s reduced vote of 13,048 to
22,984 in the general election. Whatever the truth of the detail what is
true is that the SNP were on the march and, from this period on, the
troops were to be fired by the potentialities of oil and gas production