Monday 18 October 2010

Tracing the development of Red Scotland

This month a number of history students who are taking the Red Scotland / Radical Scotland c 1880-1932 module have been regularly visiting the archives to consult our records. Archive Services has been closely involved with this module since it first ran in 2002 and students undertaking it are required to make extensive use of archival materials. Red Scotland examines the growth of the socialist left and developments in working-class politics in Scotland from the 1880s to the 1930s. Among the themes and events the students study are the wave of strikes between 1910 and 1914, the impact of the Great War and Russian Revolution on Scottish politics, and the rise and fall of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) as an electoral force in Scotland. 

Dundee and the Tayside area was an important part of ‘Red Scotland’. Dundee elected Alex Wilkie as one of Scotland’s first two Labour MPs in 1906 and was the base of several well known figures on the left of Scottish politics including Edwin Scrymgeour, Bob Stewart and E. D Morel. Others such as William Gallacher and Tom Johnston were involved in election campaigns in the city. Dundee also had some significant industrial disputes including the 1911 Carters’ Strike and the 1912 Jute Strike. Archive services hold a great many collections that contain important manuscripts and books relating to the history of the labour movement in Scotland in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These include:

  • Minutes of Dundee Town Council (MS 5). These give some idea of Dundee Council’s response to industrial unrest in the city.
  • Dundee Power Loom Tenters Society Minute Book 1916-1923 (MS 65)
  • Cox Brothers, Jute Spinners and Manufactures, Dundee (MS 66/II). Contains the records of one of Scotland’s largest textile works which was badly affected by the jute workers strikes of 1911 and 1912. The Cox Family Papers (MS 6) also contains records relating to these industrial disputes.
  • Association of Jute Spinners and Manufacturers (MS 84). This employers’ organisation was set up during the First World War and quickly represented members in negotiating with employees and trade unions over wages and disputes.
  • Joseph Lee’s Papers (MS 88). This collection includes Lee’s accounts of his time as a prisoner of war during the Great War and his copies of Tocsin, a Labour monthly published in 1909 which Lee edited. Tocsin was praised by Keir Hardie and Philip Snowden and the collection contains letters that they sent to Lee commenting on the publication. Also in this collection are copies of other publications that Lee was involved with which also offer some comment on the political situation of the time.
Pages from Lee's Tocsin
  • D J MacDonald Ltd, Engineers, Dundee (MS 93) (includes D. J MacDonald’s papers from the 1922 general election in Dundee, which famously saw the socialist and prohibitionist Edwin Scrymgeour and Labour’s E D Morel defeat Winston Churchill). 
  • The Kinnear Collection (MS 103), includes the early Communist Party activist Mary Brooksbank’s handwritten poetry as well as other materials relating to her life. 
  • Elizabeth McGill Clark Collection (MS 149). Contains a number of important books relating to the Labour movement in Scotland at this time including a signed copy of Bob Stewart’s memoir Breaking the Fetters, histories of the ILP, and Tom Johnston’s A History of the Working Classes in Scotland.
  • The Records of Dundee Conservative and Unionist Association (MS 270) provide a commentary on the political developments in Scotland at this time from the Unionist Party’s perspective.
  • The Joan Auld Memorial Collection (JAMC). A large collection of books relating to Labour History which was compiled in memory of the late Joan Auld, the University’s first archivist. This collection includes works by many figures prominent in the labour movement including Ramsay Macdonald, William Gallacher, George Bernard Shaw, David Kirkwood, G D H Cole and Beatrice and Sydney Webb.
Some of the books in the Joan Auld collection
  • The Kinnear Local Book Collection (KLoc). This collection include copies of the Dundee Yearbook which give a good account of developments in the labour movement in the city before the First World War. The collection also contains a complete run of The Dundee Free Press a left-wing newspaper set up following the general strike in competition with the publications of D C Thomson, and which devoted much of its attention to the activities of the labour movement in Dundee.

Dr Kenneth Baxter

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