But what of Edinburgh
itself? Scots have held contradictory views of their capital and its
people. The oft quoted, "East Windy, West Endy" is too glib,
but does as a sound bite.
MacDiarmid’s more expansionist opinions of the
capital in the 1930’s exhibit a love/hate relationship. He quotes a
young Scottish writer as saying, "Edinburgh, the Edinburgh of our
time, is a capital city, with a provincial population, a Scottish city
whose people strive to be English and succeed in being nothing in
particular." The young writer suggests that Edinburgh’s
inhospitable clime forces "young men of promise to flee to London
and Paris, these genuine capitals, where it is possible to be superior
without being so terribly in earnest about it".
concurrence with these views is limited because he has "no faith in
those young men who fall to London and Paris", and he concludes
"If one is to live in Scotland, it is necessary to live in
Edinburgh. There is no place else".
After a short period in an Accountants’ office,
Robert managed to acquire the necessary qualifications to enter
Edinburgh University and proceeded, initially, to study pure science
and, after about a year, he switched to medicine.
And in this complex political and social atmosphere,
he began the task of developing his own political views and opinions.
Additionally, and, as important, he fashioned a form of personal
organisation and management which was to characterise his behaviour from
He built up an ability to
combine a use and an apportioning of his time to obtain the maximum
effect on a particular sphere of interest, and yet appear to be
unhurried and have some time left over for "leisure" - rather
like the good footballer who operates in the crowded penalty box to
great effect to notch up the goals, but makes it look easy by appearing
to have more time than actually is available.
Robert’s day could commence with a botany lecture
at 8am and go on until 5pm at the University and, of course, further
study was required after the formal lectures. When asked how he fitted
in his other activities without exhausting himself his modest reply is,
"Ah well, I seemed to have managed", and that reply is an
attempt to conceal his considerable ability to put more into each day
than seems possible.
University politics captured his attention and he
became Chairman of the University Labour Party. His political views at
this time are distinctly left of centre. He did not object to being
called a socialist, but he resisted the attempts to change the name of
the University Labour Party to the Socialist Society.
But, as would be expected in student politics, Robert
was not confined to the mundane. He got involved in an attempt to have
Leon Trotsky stand as Rectorial candidate for the University and wrote a
letter to Trotsky who was on the run from Stalin, only to find it well
near impossible to make contact with the Russian revolutionary.
Apparently, the problem was solved by making an approach to a local
member of the British Section of the International Socialist Labour
Party in Edinburgh who undertook to have McIntyre’s letter delivered.
Unfortunately, Trotsky turned down what was an all-party invitation on
the basis of desiring to stand on his "own ticket". During
this period of University political activity, Robert’s disenchantment
with the Labour Party took hold. The University Labour Party had sent a
resolution to the Scottish Council of the Labour Party for debate at the
Annual Conference, which at this time could not discuss policy. This
posture, not unnaturally, horrified the Chairman of the University
However, his political activities were not confined
to the University precincts. The Annual Report of the Edinburgh Trades
and Labour Council for 1935 records RD McIntyre was the delegate from
the University Labour Party, succeeding his brother, J E McIntyre, who
had held this position in the year previous.
At this time, the Trades
and Labour Council had a wide remit and brought together not only Trades
Unions but a range of local political organisations and left-wing
societies, including the Fabians and the Co-operative Party. Robert
certainly gained a considerable knowledge in a short time of different
approaches to political organisation and the vagaries of political
outlook and action. He recalls being put at the head of a fund-raising
activity during the Civil War in Spain. He was aware that, coming from
the Medical School in the University this would give the organisation a
degree of "respectability", but he was not so naive as to fall
for the proposals emanating from the Communist adherents on the
committee to have the funds raised by public appeal sent to a
"front" organisation in Paris. Robert did not fall for these
tricks and the funds went to support the Republicans in Spain, as was
He moved outside the cloistered atmosphere of the
University debates to practise skills in public speaking and, on
occasions, found himself using the forum at the Mound. This somewhat
surprised his brother, William, when he first encountered his "wee
brother" laying forth. Nevertheless, his verdict was not ungenerous
in that he thought that Robert "was more than holding his