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
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
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
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
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.