One of a series of talks aimed at re-examining aspects of the First World War and of other conflicts, Dr. Billy Keneflick’s contribution looked particularly at civilian reaction and resistance in a Scottish context.
‘Red Clydeside’, that upsurge of popular protest, redolent in the popular imagination of tanks in Glasgow’s George Square, rent strikes and communist agitation, was dissected by Dr. Keneflick in some detail, although much of his attention directed us beyond consideration of activity in that city.
Historians can be guilty of finding or ignoring evidence to suit their own preconceptions and prejudices, and Keneflick indicated the two historiographical tendencies to emphasise or minimise the significance of the radicalism of Red Clydeside.
Reality, is, of course, much more messy than the printed page, and after taking us through events in Glasgow at a brisk pace, Keneflick moved on to consider what happened in other parts of Scotland, including Aberdeen, and in particular in Dundee.
Some 63% of those Dundee males who fought in World War One became casualties, surely a factor in developing the strength of the No Conscription Fellowship and encouraging protest, despite the propagandising efforts of ‘Kirsty o the Cooncil’ a popular local newspaper cartoon character.
Yet the fact that Dundee raised some £8 million for War Savings and the success of ‘Tank Banks’, into which Dundonians and others stuffed substantial sums, suggest that opposition to war was, in some respects at least, ambivalent.
Yet all the activity described by Kenflick produced some radical, if unexpected, outcomes; in the 1922 election, Edwin Scyrmgeour ousted Winston Churchill (then a Liberal) from his seat as M.P. with a 22% swing to Scyrmgeour’s Prohibition Party.
It’s a matter of family pietas that this reviewer’s maternal grandfather was Churchill’s election agent at the time, although whether that gentleman can be held responsible for Churchill’s ‘wilderness years’ and conversion to Conservatism must remain an open question.
Anecdotage aside, this was a densely informative, wide-ranging and thought-provoking discussion of Scottish radicalism in World War One and its immediate aftermath.
The Hub August 18, 5.00pm