Wednesday 1 February 2012

Discontent, War & the Impact of Revolution in Dundee

Caroline has recently been teaching a class of Level 4 History students taking the module Discontent, War & the Impact of Revolution: Scotland 1910-1922.  The subjects covered included industrial unrest, the growth of socialism, the impact of the Great War and the decline of the Liberal Party all of which are very well documented in the University archives.

The 'sane and high class journalism' of the
Toscin is commended by Keir Hardie
 Dundee was an important centre of political and social change in Scotland in this era. In 1906 Dundee elected Alexander Wilkie as one of Scotland’s first two Labour MPs. Other key figures on the left of Scottish politics were also based in Dundee including Edwin Scrymgeour, the socialist prohibitionist who was a councillor in the city and eventually one of its MPs, and  Bob Stewart, another councillor who went on to be a key figure in the early days of the Communist Party of Great Britain.  Also active in the labour movement before 1914 was the journalist, cartoonist and future war poet Joseph Lee who produced a Labour periodical called the Tocsin, which is held in the University archives along with letters of praise from key figures including Keir Hardie and Arthur Henderson.

The decline of the Liberal Party was very evident in Dundee; Wilkie’s victory in 1906 was a blow to the party, but not completely fatal. In 1908 the Liberal Winston Churchill, who had recently lost his seat in Manchester, was fairly comfortably elected at a by-election in the city and was returned with Wilkie in the next three general elections. However by 1922 Churchill was in trouble. The Liberal Party in Dundee, as in many parts of Britain, was split leading to an independent Liberal challenging Churchill and his running-mate D. J. MacDonald. He was also bitterly attacked by the other three candidates – the communist Willie Gallacher, Labour’s E. D. Morel and Scrymgeour – who, like many on the left, felt Churchill and the Liberals had failed the working classes.

The Tocsin's view of Churchill's attitude
 to women
D. C. Thomson, owner of the local newspapers, turned against Churchill leading to both the Liberal Dundee Advertiser and the Tory Courier advising their readers to reject him. Additionally, with the city now having a large female electorate, his previous hostility to the female suffrage campaign cost him support.  All of this added up to a spectacular and embarrassing defeat for Churchill, who finished a poor fourth as Scrymgeour and Morel romped to victory.

The University archives have several collections relating to this important period in history including: Joseph Lee’s Papers (MS 88), the Dundee Power Loom Tenters Society Minute Book (MS 65), the Papers of D. J. MacDonald (MS 93) and the Joan Auld Memorial Collection which contains an extensive collection of books written by and about some of the key figures of this era.

If you are interested in looking at any of these collections we are based in the main University Tower Building and open to the public. See our opening hours at

Kenneth Baxter