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Dr Robert D McIntyre
Chapter 24 - By-Election 1971


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 office.

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 these countries".

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 march."

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 offshore Scotland.


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