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Dr Robert D McIntyre
Chapter 8 - Scotland at War


To many Scots, too many, the most significant change which the war with Hitler and Mussolini brought was not rationing or the blackout or being evacuated or being called up, but that there was work.

Shortly before the beginning of the conflict, Scotland’s unemployment had been 16 per cent (as against 6 per cent in London). Out of the 2,688 new factories opened in Britain between 1932 and 1936, only 102 came to Scotland.

But war brought jobs and money to those who had been idle and poor for years. The old story of the fitter returning to his trade after years on the dole well illustrates the point. His foreman, eyeing the journeyman’s tools, made a scathing comment about their inadequacy. The fitter’s response was, "If ye’ think they’re rusty for no bein’ used, ye should see the wife’s flying pan!"

New factories came, notably Rolls Royce to Hillington, employing eventually 20,000. In the five years of the war, 1,502 merchant and naval ships were launched and the works of Lanarkshire boomed to meet the demands for steel beams and plates.

Scots men and women questioned the adequacy of an economic system which could find little use for them to produce goods and services in peace to benefit mankind which now recruited and directed them to make the weapons of war. Suddenly, those who had been consigned to the scrap heaps had become important, so important that increased attention had to be given to their health and welfare.

But this importance did not necessarily go with high wages. Engineers on the Clyde reached the highest wages in their history at 1s 11¼d (under 10p) per hour for a 47 hour week (overtime at time and half). Not much to bring up a family! But it was a regular wage and, despite poor pay and harsh conditions, there was little resort to industrial action.

In the midst of the war in 1943, the time lost in industrial disputes for the whole of Scotland was under 1 per cent. For shipbuilding in the Clyde district, the man days lost were equal to one day per man during the whole year.

The early years of the war brought both cohesion and disruption. There was a coming together in the life of the tenements in the central belt, the more so when there were family losses brought by the War. Tens of thousands left the cities for the countryside and abroad in a mass evacuation:

135,000 children and 37,000 mothers in late 1939. Many returned home quickly then, with the bombing of Clydebank and Greenock, moved once again.

Scotland and the Scots played a leading part in the War and none more so than the many Scottish women who were forced to leave home to work in factories in the Midlands.

The Scottish National Party campaigned against this treatment and Scottish manufacturers also joined in the opposition. One of the results of the protest was the creation of the Scottish Council on Industry, like its parent, the Council of State, a brainchild of Tom Johnston, the then Secretary of State. An irony of the conscription of women is that it was the product of the thinking of Sir William Beveridge (later Lord Beveridge) who wrote a memorandum on the topic to the Minister of Labour and National Service in May 1941 stating, "For women, considered apart from men, military compulsion in war is as appropriate as it is for men. When thinking of themselves as citizens, most women would probably accept and welcome compulsion as their equal right and as the only way of distributing the burdens and dangers of war fairly among women as among men".

This view that women should be conscripted took six months to obtain statutory blessing and became law in the National Service Act of December 1941.

This memorandum was, in fact, Beveridge’s "swan song" at the Ministry of Labour and his parting of the ways with Ernest Bevin, the Trade Union leader and Labour politician who ran the show, and led Beveridge into a renewal of his interest in social insurance and the eventual authorship of the report on Social Insurance and Allied Services in 1942, which deservedly bears his name.

The impact of the Beveridge Report, allied to the economic management of the British economy, largely on Keynesian lines, persuaded many on the left of politics in England, Wales and Scotland that a government of the left in control at Westminster would be capable of managing the economy in such a way as to eliminate the inequalities of the inter-war period and produce, if not full employment, at least a reasonable approximation of it.

This thinking was resisted by the like of Robert McIntyre who, while welcoming some of the changes made in Scotland under Tom Johnston and, indeed, admiring the skills used by him to obtain Westminster approval for such projects as the North of Scotland Hydro-Electricity Board, nevertheless viewed this process as very much second best to having clear independent control over one’s own destiny.


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