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Dr Robert D McIntyre
Chapter 3 - Scotland in the Inter-War Years

Basic statistics cannot convey, sixty years and more on, the carnage in Scottish society occurring in the inter-war years. The generation, which lived through and can recall from their own experiences the hardships brought by industrial and commercial changes - to say nothing of incompetent government, is growing old and passing on and, when they try to speak about it to young people in the 1990ís. their recollections appear to come from a by-gone age and evoke no real response.

The period has been well documented and has fashioned myths about the Scottish character, particularly in the west of Scotland, but there are few who have been able to channel the resentment into giving the Scots a sense of positive ambition. Those who doubt this can take a glance at the names and ages in their local war memorial to see the extent of the sacrifice made in the "war to end war".

It is the artists, poets, musicians and writers, who feel the pain and humiliation first and deepest, and it is no accident that it is this section of our society which senses the irritation at being denied the recognition of a clear identity.

Such stirrings appear in the 1920ís in the Scottish National Movement of literary figures like Hugh MacDiarmid, Neil Gunn, Eric Linklater and Lewis Spence. But, as has been acknowledged, this is a long way from "consistent and effective" political activity.

Post 1918. Scotland suffered from a "high" over rising expectations based on a mistaken analysis of what had happened during the war and a view that boom conditions in heavy industry would continue.

Business leaders, like Lord Pirrie, head of Harland & Wolff in 1917, epitomised this approach. He owned an upper Clyde yard at Govan and decided to purchase the Cairdís yard at Greenock and embark on an extension which involved encroaching on the Old West Kirk and its adjacent burial ground in which Bumsí Highland Mary (Margaret) Campbell lay. After considerable outcry, which included the blocking of a Parliamentary Bill, the Old West Kirk was removed stone by stone and recrected, and the remains of Mary Campbell were likewise removed and re-interred to accommodate the needs of the shipbuilding magnate.

Shortly after this exertion and dislocation, Lord Pirrie died in 1924 and the dream of expansion ended. Cairdís closed and stood empty for years as a "monument" and mockery.

Lord Pirrie also held a position on the Board of John Brown & Co. and, through the inter-connection between Royal Mail Shipping Group, which had acquired Harland& Wolff in 1919, Brownís obtained substantial orders in the early 1920ís.

But the effects of over-concentration on naval building during World War 1, and the changes in the nature of competition, were not to be staved off. The international financial and economic cuts produced a huge steel "monument" on the Clyde. John Brownís had reached an agreement to build ship No 534 for the Cunard Line and work began in December 1930 - not a good time, in view of the collapse of world trade and banking failures.

Work stopped on the vessel in December 1931, and it lay on the stocks like a "monument to the glory departed" for nearly three years before, by dint of pressures from Scotland, a government loan was granted which enabled the ship eventually to be completed in 1936.

The crisis in shipbuilding merely highlighted the malaise of the Scottish economy and the damage to pride and confidence. The reaction and proposed solutions took many forms, political and social. Pride might be restored by industrial agitation and political action. The great mythology of the "Red Clyde" was created, emphasised, in boxing terms, by Benny Lynch and, in political terms, by the still revered Marxist, John McLean, and stories of the exploits of David Kirkwood, Emmanual Shinwell and the loveable Jimmy Maxton.

Scottish reality in this period was far removed from the engaging resonance of competing panaceas, of which there were many and varied. Writers, like MacDiarmid, were absorbed by the Social Credit views of Major C H Douglas. The Church produced its own missionary to Scotlandís unemployed with the energetic and charismatic activities of the Rev George MacLead, who deserted St Cuthbertís, Edinburgh, for Govan Parish Church and the Pearce Institute to conduct his experiment in putting God into the High Streets and, specifically, the Govan Road.

MacLeod, tall, elegant and a magnificent preacher, carried the effects of the honors of the Great Warís trenches on his conscience. When he saw the sheer grinding poverty of Govan, he asked the question, "Was it for this that men had died in their thousands in the trenches?" He told of the experience of entering a house where a woman was suffering from puerperal fever and the family were sitting round silent and dismayed. "Get hot water bottles", he said. Six people in the room heard the plea but none moved, the reason being that there were no hot water bottles in the house. There was no health insurance and only one doctor who could be relied upon for midnight calls among ten thousand people.

Children playing in the back courts knew better than to shout up to their mothers for a "piece" of bread because it was highly unlikely that there would be bread in the house and their pleas would only cause anxiety and annoyance.

For the vast army of unemployed, the sense of hopelessness and despair was unrelenting and could rarely be relieved. Technology produced the cinema, and the escapism into the growing number of Vogues, Plazas, Coliseums etc. fulfilled the role of diversion and distraction that Methodism had provided for an earlier generation.

On quite another level, John Maynard Keynes was refining his economic analysis on how to explain the reasons for the market mechanism not working to produce a full employment equilibrium which the classical theorists had thought applicable. Keynes argued, in his General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936) that the classical view was a special case and, "Moreover, the characteristics of the special case assumed by the classical theory happen not to those of the economic society in which we actually live, with they result that its teaching is misleading and disastrous if we attempt to apply it to the facts of experience."

Millions of unemployed would have exclaimed "Amen! Amen!" to this, if they had understood it because western industrialised countries and their politicians, including Britain under Labour, Tory and "National" Governments were thirled to dogmas which did the opposite of what Keynes was advocating.

Other powerful schemes to solve the problems of the age were afoot and, in one guise or another, were placed before peoples. The Russian Revolution of 1917 had taken a course under Lenin and Trotsky and their successor, Stalin, which caught the imagination of some of the left in Britain and caused many, who should have known better, to support Stalin and his successorsí repressions for over forty years.

In Germany. Hitler had come to power in 1933 and his form of so-called national socialism, with its racialistic implications, building on the experiences of Mussolim in Italy, had its advocates in high political circles and was to see its initial aspirations of expansion and wars in Abyssinia and Spain.

Political ideas and opinions were not scarce for any student at a Scottish University in the early 1930ís and it was into such an atmosphere that Robert McIntyre found himself when he commenced his studies at Edinburgh.

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