The Abolition of Glasgow
Will the Glasgow Socialist M.P’s hold the field? They probably will; for the Labour vote is the steadiest of all. The law of the pendulum does not apply to it. The Socialist vote all over the world does not diminish, but steadily increases. It is to be hoped that the Clydeside phalanx will remain intact; for its members are more likely to adapt themselves readily to the changed prospect of trade and the world position of industry than any other class of man who could be elected. They have no vested interests in the continuance of commercialism. They are mentally and economically free men in the sense that members of the shareholding class are not.
The beginning of trouble.
But already difficulties have arisen, as reflected in the following resolution which the Glasgow Trades Council has adopted: -
The Conference, recognising the attempts to revive foreign trade as a method of providing employment are doomed to failure, inasmuch as Great Britain can never again be ‘the workshop of the world,’ hereby declares that the only policy which will materially help to solve the unemployment problem today is that of the national organisation of industry, particularly in the field of agricultural production, so that we may not continue to be dependent on foreign sources for our food supplies, which the restriction of our foreign trade now seriously endangers.
These resolutions represent the beginning of trouble which had to come, within the party. What they mean is that something like a school of physiocrats and aschool of mercantilists threatens to develop, or has already developed, within the Socialist party, repeating a division of the Individualist thought which first came into noticeable being in the time of Adam Smith and French Turgot.
Mercantilists vs Physiocrats.
Frankly, one stands with the spirit of the resolution which Glasgow opposed and defeated. The physiocratic view is that real wealth consists of land and its products. It is a producers’ philosophy. The mercantilist view is that any kind of traffic from which money can be made represents wealth-production. Paper money, scrip, banks, advertising agencies, battleships, unnecessary shops and offices, would all figure as wealth in the mercantilist view, which regards not the intrinsic value of any service or thing, but its marketable value. Mercantilism is the antithesis of Socialism. There will always be shops and offices; but any Socialism worthy of the name would abolish Glasgow as it exists at present. Ninety-nine of every hundred of its shops and offices would be absolutely unnecessary in a real Co-operative Commonwealth. Not one fourth of the men of Glasgow are engaged in work for which a Co-operative Commonwealth would have any use.
Will the shop assistants, boilermakers, rivetters, and clerks support a party which sees in the development of ‘agricultural production,’ with the subsidiary callings of the rural community, the great hope of the future? Judging by the Glasgow Trades Council’s resolution, they will not readily do so.
Does Back to the Land mean a Lower Standard of Life?
The prompt answer of the urban dweller to all proposals for agricultural development is that ‘back to the land’ means the acceptance of a lower standard of life. To adopt this view may be natural to the person who merely looks around upon existing British and American conditions; but the facts are against him on a wider survey, even today. The Danish co-operators and the French market gardeners, with their high earnings and retirement at 55 to 60 years of age, are proofs to the contrary; and the pictures of medieval English prosperity left us by Sir John Fortesque, the Rev Hugh Latimer, and the farm accounts quoted by Professor Thorold Rogers, show that the people who lived upon the land in the fourteenth to the sixteenth century enjoyed a relatively high standard of comfort even in that age of undeveloped mechanical power. A labourer’s wage was ‘twice or three times his cost of maintenance,’ says Thorold Rogers.
Anyhow, the objectors are not likely to be asked whether they are prepared to accept that lower standard or not. Britain will not continue to be the workshop of the world merely because the urban dweller wishes it to be so.
The number of the unemployed in the Clyde Valley is put at 100,000. And there is no present prospect of improvement along capitalistic lines. Freights are scarcer than ever. Cotton is dull and likely to continue so. Chemicals and the metallurgical trades reflect the general stagnation. Even coal in Glasgow does not seem to share in the slight boom caused by the Ruhr trouble, and the number of vessels reported as sailing ‘light’ or arriving ‘to be laid up’ is depressing in its immediate significance.
One half of the mercantile marine of America is laid up. Glasgow ships crowd the Gare Loch; and it is said that enough shipping is anchored in Indian waters to take home the whole Anglo-Indian population should a serious rising take place in that restless and teaming dependency.
The dour and reactionary men of the Ulster coast have just had British credit pledged to the extent of millions in guarantee of a shipbuilding venture there; but a Tory Government is not likely to do much in this way for the shipyard hands who vote Labour, even if there were a demand for shipping.
Revitalising the Home Market
The Labour Party may take the ground that the due improvement o the home market would revive overseas trade and the demand for shipping. They may argue that with the National Debt enormously reduced by a thorough-going Capital Levy, the money which now goes in interest charges to the relatively small class of the well-to-do would be diffused among the wage-earners and would transform adversity into prosperity. They may point out that the reduction in the earnings of the working class by £700,000,000 a year is quite sufficient to account for bad trade, irrespective altogether of the loss of foreign markets, since the higher wage was paid while the foreign markets, since the higher wage was paid while the foreign markets were still closed.
There is much to be said for the view that a revived home market would mean more for trade prosperity than the recovery of all the foreign markets. But the question is: How is the vicious circle to be broken, that keeps the home market stagnant? Granted that a substantial reduction of imperial taxation would greatly lower prices and set money free for enhanced working class buying, how long with the process have to be deferred? How can wages be forced up with a million and a quarter of unemployed on the ‘register’ to break strikes and keep labour quiet? A Labour majority at the next General Election would ensure the Capital Levy; but what would ensure a Labour majority?
Protection from Whom?
Toryism never had the majority it has at present; and the reason lies in a matter in which the Labour party has not given very particular attention. Toryism got the votes of the Sleepy Hollows, it is said, because Tory candidates promised Protection for agriculture.
That something needs to be done for agriculture there is no manner of question. But what? The deputation of farmers and their workpeople which waited on Mr Bonar Law during the Norfolk strike heard, without protect and without alternative suggestion, his despairing plea that, in spite of election promises, a Parliamentary majority for Protectionism was not to be had, and that a subsidy was out of the question.
Protection against what or whom? It might have been asked. The produce with which British agriculture has to compete at present is mainly American, Canadian, and Australian produce. The standard of comfort for the producers of food is too low in all parts of the world; but it is not lower, but rather higher, in the competing countries than it is at home. British agriculture might well need protection from German, Russian or Austrian produce; but these countries are not exporting food; they need all they can raise for themselves.
One Great Handicap.
One great handicap to British agriculture is railway rates. These favour the foreigner as much as they punish the home producer. The nationalisation of the railways, with a uniform rate for home and foreign produce, would automatically exclude a large amount of foreign grain and meat, which has to travel thousands of miles by sea and hundreds of miles by land, both in the country where it is raised and on our own home railways. Long ago so shrewd a business man as the late Sir John Brunner pointed out that the greatest thing the Government could do for British trade would be to nationalise the railways and equalise the rates for home and foreign traffic. One sees no hint of this in Labour’s practical policy as apart from the general declaration in favour of all-round nationalisation. The present writer has publicly and privately tried to ‘rush’ Mr Ramsay MacDonald in the matter of railway nationalisation; but even during the paralysing strike of 1911 Mr MacDonald answered an urgent plea by saying ‘This is not the time to nationalise.’
The Oldest and Largest Industry
To set agriculture, the oldest and still the largest industry in Britain, on its feet, would not only be an eminently desirable change in itself, but would be the best of all preparations for setting the British Commonwealth in order generally. To this end the re-establishment of the Wages Boards, with a fixed minimum wage for the worker, fair controlled prices for produce, and insistence by the Government on efficient farming, beyond even war-time standards, would be, not merely palliatives of Individualism, but instalments of Collectivism.
But can Glasgow and its unemployed wait for the working out of anything so slow? Ought they to wait? Thousands of able-bodied young men and men in the prime of life are being ruined by enforced idleness, short commons, and the physically enervating and mentally and morally soul-deadening effects of living in a community which has no use for them. The dole is being paid for no return, except that it just keeps alive the men who draw it.
A Timber Famine
Meanwhile there is no end of work to be done in developing the waste places of our own land. The Forestry Commission has just issued a report in which it predicts a timber famine at no distant date. The Forestry Act passed in 1919 is by no means a dead letter. There are in the north eastern division of Scotland some forty unemployment schemes of forestry in operation, one quarter of which are under public authorities. But there is still admitted crying need for additions to the areas being dealt with.
The British Desert.
One great blot upon the economy of the British Isle is that a vast country like Sutherlandshire should be lying mostly derelict. Its 1200 square miles carry a diminishing population of about 10 to the square mile, or some 21,000 for the whole breadth of Scotland from sea to sea. There are fertile valleys in the neighbourhood of the rivers; but the soil is mostly poor and thin, and the region is swept by cold winds and mists from the North Sea and the Atlantic.
It is just the county for a large experiment in State afforestation. The fact that the natural conditions are so poor marks it out for public enterprise. Trees will grow where nothing else wil, and the more there are the more there will be. The planting of a great belt of woodland along the northern and western coast would do much to keep off the cold winds and mists and raise the whole temperature of the north of Scotland.
The railway service penetrates only a small portion of the area; but there are many good roads, and the motor waggon has now made the railway of less necessity.
Instead of paying unemployment benefit and giving subsidies or guarantees to Ulster shipbuilding and African cotton-growing, surely it would be more reasonable to spend money on reclaiming the north of Scotland from desert.
The population of Glasgow has always been largely recruited from the Highlands, and to the Highland as many should be returned, under favourable conditions, as would go. The land is mostly the property of the Duke of Sutherland, who has already had State grants for improvements. He could be bought out on the hire-purchase system – the rental of 17 years being treated as purchase-money, and the valuation to take no account of sporting values.
Settled down in well-organised colonies, housed at first in army huts till the unemployed masons could build houses, the colonists could carry on the work of tree-planting and preparing the ground under State forestry officers. What of agriculture and horticulture could be combined with forestry work might go on under skilled guidance; and the men and their womenfolk might carry their own amusements and arts of life into a district which badly needs invasions of the kind. Much of civilization was introduced to Scotland by the 10,000 soldiers of General Monk’s garrison, who introduced vegetables such as had not before been seen in the north, and generally set an example of industry to the flaunting idle, ‘braves’ of the district.
Such a scheme need cost the Government no more than is being paid at present without return while the physical and moral benefits to the transplanted citizens from Clydeside must needs be incalculable.
The county supported of many more people than it does now. Hugh Millar says that in one decade 15,000 persons were driven off the land; and the story of the clearances represents an indelible tale of shame to those responsible for it as carried out.
The scheme for transplanting suggested would not, by itself, mean the depopulation of Glasgow; but as part of a general return to the natural way of living it may well be as salutary as it is likely to be found necessary. It would be the beginning of a reversal of present tendencies. The coastwise population of the highlands is being shipped abroad in hundreds at a trip; but this is because of the loss of the Continental herring markets. Agriculture and afforestation have not been seriously tried there in the light of the newer knowledge or under the spur of newer necessities.
Climate and soil can both be made, and results justify the labour and expenditure. Trees and enclosures raise the temperature as a contingent advantage, and of course trees represent genuine wealth in themselves. We are all physiocrats to the extent of accepting that. But as regards the mercantilist theory that trade for export can go on for ever, that is obviously illogical. As Johnson put it long ago –
‘Depend up on it, this rage of trade will destroy itself. You and I shall not see it; but the time will come when there will be an end of it. Trade is like gaming. If a whole company are gamesters play must cease; for there is nothing to be won. When all nations are traders there is nothing to be gained by trade, and it will stop first where it is brought first to the greatest perfection.’
This does not mean that the end of Glasgow has come, and that within measurable distance it will become a deserted heap of ruins like the derelict cities of antiquity. But it does mean that Glasgow has to all appearance reached the point when further growth is neither probably nor desirable, and that a move in another direction is fully due.
Can Britain Feed Herself?
That the land of Britain is capable of supporting its present population from its own soil, and enjoying an improved standard of life in doing so, is hardly worth proving. The facts are notorious to all serious students. The textile manufacturing State of Saxony supports over 600 persons to the square mile with home-grown food. So does Belgium, and exports manufactured goods and foodstuffs as well. The British farmer considers seven tons of potatoes to the acre a good crop, though favoured districts, such as the Howe of the Mearns, raise the figure to 14. But the German farmer produces over 116 tons to the hectare (just under three acres) which is nearer 40 tons to the acre. For one thing, German sewage is not wasted. Berlin’s river, the Spree, is kept unpolluted by the city’s sewage , which is pumped up from self-contained sewers and is used on 18 sewage farms.
Back to the land is no untried experiment, no leap in the dark. France has no unemployed, and is even importing British workmen, because the people use their land, and, while they produce goods for export, do not depend on foreign markets.
The city is – all cities are – the abode of death. The life of the great centres is kept going by new men from the country. The business men, the professional men, are of fresh stock. Old firms and old families either disappear or they are kept alive by the infusion of country stock or by their members combining country life with urban.
None need dread or shun a return to the life of smaller or more scattered communities. Rather it is a consummation to be striven for. Humanity wilts and dies out in purely urban surroundings in the course of a very few generations. William Morris, much as he loved London, when he came to write his utopia ‘News from Nowhere,’ thinned out the city to extinction. In this he probably only adopted the most feasible alternative to Macaulay’s picture of a New Zealander who ‘shall in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St Pauls.’ The ancient States persisted in clinging to the wrong way of life till it had to be ruin complete and entire. Let us hope that neither Glasgow nor London, nor Britain as a whole will refuse to adapt herself in time, to changing conditions of living and of getting a living.
Glasgow in the Limelight
Humour, Quickness, Turbulence
The Municipalism that blesses, the Industrialism that blights.
Glasgow has always occupied its fair share of the limelight. The ebullience of Mr David Kirkwood, with which one has much sympathy as a rule, is in character with the native temperament. The term ‘canny’ as applied to the Scot is a standing proof of the infelicity of national labels. It is always forgotten that the word ‘Scot’ means tempestuous, windy, stormy.
Glasgow had Bread Riots to correspond with the Meal Mobs of Aberdeen and the Porteous Riots of Edinburgh, with the Edinburgh ‘rabbling’ of a Lord Provost, who was found hiding in a cup-board and was roughly handled. As far back as 1725 the Glasgow mob made its power felt in a riot against the Malt Tax. Bands of men, armed with sticks, paraded the streets and threw stones at the town officers. They put the authorities into such a state of alarm that an urgent message was sent to Edinburgh for troops. The Provost connived at this summons; but its chief instigator was the local member of Parliament, Daniel Campbell of Shawfield whose handsome mansion-house was plundered and wrecked, the mob being headed by a man in woman’s attire, a common device with Scots crowds of rioters in those stormy days.
Two companies of soldiers presently entered the town, and martial law was proclaimed; but so little intimidated were the inhabitants by the mounting of guards and the display of force in general that they taunted and stoned the soldiers till they fired upon them volley after volley, killing or wounding many of those who came within range. The alarm bell in the Townhouse was rung, hundreds of citizens flocked from all parts, and, breaking into a magazine, equipped themselves with a medley of weapons and set off to avenge upon the hated English soldiers the deaths of their fellow citizens. Warned by the Provost, however, Captain Bushell and his men beat a hasty retreat for Dumbarton Castle, fifteen miles distant, which they reached through a demonstratively hostile countryside. The Provost was arrested, and more troops were sent; but for the time being the spasm had passed. In the result, the Captain who had lost his head by reason of the taunts and stone-throwing was tried and sentenced, but received the King’s pardon on account of the provocation received; the Provost was liberated; and the obnoxious M.P. who had called in the soldiers received £9000 in compensation for the wreck of his house; but the Malt Tax was allowed to stand unrepealed.
The people of Glasgow mostly had no votes then; but now that they have, they take the more excellent legislative way for the redress of grievances. For that matter, they are still prepared to assert ‘the sacred right of insurrection’ in addition. Scotland is nowhere more Scots, in the sense of being turbulent, than it is in the Second City: ‘scenes’ at Westminster are the natural, spontaneous expression of the national temper, and it never had more legitimate reason for flaming up than it has in these days of governmental ineptitude and frank reaction, with, oddly enough, a Glasgow representative at the head of it all.
But the Glasgow man is, nevertheless, over-engined. Even their fellow-labourists in Parliament urge that the Glasgow members are ‘excitable.’ The folk of St Mungo’s are subject to many more neurotic stimuli than other people. The market never ceases in the congested city. Because of the busy commercial life and the limited area upon which a dense population is piled in houses of flats, street-cleaning is largely done in the night-time, though boys with shovel and handbrush dangerously dodge the endless traffic by day as well. The whistles of night trains lumbering overhead upon the arches, and the sirens of shipping in the river must make a special strain upon the nerves even of the sleepers. To the dweller on Clydeside the peace and rest of silence is forever denied. Men may sleep through racket, but it cannot be deep, relaxed, full-stretched slumber. Tired Tommies slept during a bombardment; but it was noticeably a sleep with many starts and twitches, which must have entailed a certain nervous tension even if the starts and twitches were unconscious.
With the morning ‘horns’ an inferno of noises begins. At six o’clock in the old days, in a walk, say by Haggs Castle, from Plantation, from Scotland Street to Kinning Park, from Polmadie on the east to Govan on the west, one could trace the ululation in all notes of the scale. The hoarse roar, typical of the brutality of much of Glasgow’s industry, is not so racking as the crepitation of boring and crushing machinery; but it has nevertheless a more dismally depressing sound.
If this is a bad beginning, still worse remains behind. Glasgow has processes in her shipyards and foundries that render communication by ordinary speech impossible. It is said that 40 per cent of boilermakers are deaf, and is it any wonder if the Glasgow man’s ordinary conversation out of doors is often an angry shout where there is no cause for anger?
Much time and money are expended over the suppression or abatement of noise in London. Architects labour at floors, walls, ceilings, and windows in order to deaden sound, and outside devices to the same end are represented in the laying down of gravel and tanners bark, and the covering of opposite walls with ivy or other foliage. It is found that the minimising of noise has its direct result in the increased efficiency of the workers who have been relieved, to say nothing of their increased comfort. One would be glad to learn of a similar campaign against noise was afoot in Glasgow; but one’s experience of Glasgow’s indwellers is that they profess to rather like the noise. One has heard Englishmen, long resident in the Second City, not only defend the noise, but discover a healty asset in its smells and an aesthetic lure about Dickson’s Blazes.
The neurotic tensions caused by its noises, its rush of traffic, and the hot industrial and commercial pace, has other regrettable aids. Wullie Paterson lives mostly in two-roomed tenements, with many neighbours, and of course there are no gardens, while his bleachgreen is a pole projecting from the windo. He and his wife do not believe in open windows, nor has he a stomach for wholesome fare. ‘Nane o’ yer parrich and mulk for him,’ says one who knows him well; and he adds; ‘The baking of bannocks and the making of good Scots broth are alike outside the ordinary powers of his wife… she has a settled convitction that new bread is more digestible than stale, and treats ‘him’ and the bairns to boiled tea and ham at every other meal, with shop-made potted head and a slice of shop made plum pudding for the Sunday dinner’ - when there is one. Often I have found that there was no Sunday dinner; that early high tea took its place. The Glasgow writer, whom I am debarred from naming, adds: ‘Small wonder that Wullie Paterson is outwardly spare, grim, and fierce, and that his children grow up small of bone and badly nourished.’
Before the war there were districts of Glasgow – Cowcaddens is given for one – where the householders spent on the publicans from two to three times as much as they gave an the house proprietors in rent. The Scot all over is a heretic on the rent question. I have heard a comparatively well-to-do man in an Aberdeenshire town say: ‘Imagine paying aicht poun’ for a hoose to bide in!’
The correspondent whom I have cited above writes of the Glasgow man’s ‘savagery’ in drink, and especially after a spell of ill-luck with the ‘bookies’; but of this I have no direct knowledge, the workmen with whom I associated being free of the betting virus. A friend who was for a time in low water had to live in a working-class tenement, and his wife assured me that her husband was the only man in the building who did not give his wife an occasional thrashing.
One night I had a shock and very nearly got myself into a scrape. Passing the end of a mean street with some friends, we could hear the screams and moans of a woman who was being dragged along the street by her husband. Women at the end of the street cried out, ‘He’s twistin’ her airm!’ They were some way off, but I started to run after them with the natural impulse of trying to stop cruelty so repellent. But my friends held me, and the men who had come out to the doors on hearing the hullabaloo declared that it served her right; that the man had gone and taken her out of a public house; and that he had ‘stood owre muckles at her hands a’ready.’
I was on a missionary visit, and the shock of this sight, and the feeling conveyed by the bystanders that the incident was comparatively ordinary nerved one’s denunciation of the horrors of civilization as it still existed in ‘cruel Scotland.’
The temper of the Glaswegians is quick, but surely it has its offsets. Wullie Pai’erson is a live wire. I don’t suppose he lasts; but for work it is an undoubted asset while it does. Even the ‘funny stories’ about Glasgow often have a touch of temper about them.
An Englishman found himself in a Glasgow street crowd which had assembled, apparently, over some accident. ‘What has happened?’ he asked.
‘A man fa’n aff a larry,’ he was told. No wiser for the quick explanation he applied to another.
‘It’s a man fa’n aff a larry.’
Still no wiser, he made a third attempt, and got a sharp answer.
‘Man, ye maun be a stupiet fellah. I’ve h’ard ye an twice, an I’ve h’ard ye twice tell’t that it’s a man fa’n aff a larry!’
The explanation, need it be said, was that a man had fallen off a lorry.
A story is told, not very often, which illustrates Glasgow’s great achievement, the deepening of the Clyde. One day a skiff of the shallow draught of the eighteenth century was stuck on a mud-bank in the as yet undeepened river. A girl came down to fill her bucket near the stranded vessel. The angry skipper hailed her: ‘If ye tak’ ae drap o’ water oot o’ this, I’ll hit ye owre the heid wi’ the marlinspike.’ He was afraid his progress might be delayed, and was for taking no risks.
In the early days of steam navigation one of the craft propelled in the new way passed another vessel in the Clyde, perhaps with a pitying smile from the man on the bridge. ‘You an’ yer blasted deevil’s reek!”’ exclaimed the man who was being outpaced. ‘I’m content tae gang wi’ the breath o’ God Almichty.’
Wullie’s phrases are sometimes picturesque enough. It was a Glasgow man who described a tall, lean man as ‘a man like a lang drink o’ watter!’
A man who had a hump on one shoulder was said to have a knot in his gallowses (braces.) A well-known Glasgow magistrate who always refers to his mother as ‘the aul’ yin,’ once described how another relative ‘Gaed lookin’ for an escape o’ gas wi’ a licht, an’ he fund it, an’ he’s been in the infirmary for three weeks!’
The same dignitary used to sing occasionally, but in his musical essays was wont to harass the accompanist by straying into another key. When asked what key he was singing he once said, ‘Aye, gie me the key o’ the washin-hoose.’
Jocular heckling has long been a feature of the political life of Glasgow. Thus a candidate was asked: ‘Wad ye be in favour o’ a blin’ man bein’ chairged for stairheid gas?’
And talking of gas, there was an air of jocular originality about the escapade of an offender who was sent to prison the other day for keeping an illicit whisky still, which he had operated with several hundred thousand feet of gas stolen by an illicit connection established with the corporation mainpipe!
But sometimes the causticity has no redeeming feature of wit or humour. At a St Andrew’s Night concert in Hull once I sat just in front of a pursy man, clean-shaven except for a moustache, who was accompanied by two women – his wife and perhaps his sister, their conversation specifically connecting them with Glasgow. On such occasions Scots people are apt to be in a specially good humour; but my man certainly was not; and though his companions sometimes demurred to his censorious remarks, his mood was infectious at least to the extent of freezing geniality in others. Thus when a very acceptable singer had finished his first number, and was leaving the platform amid a storm of applause, the man in the rear remarked, when the din had subsided; ‘Ay, Bob Burnett. He’s a good singer and he knows it!’ In due course cam Scott Sinner, the Strathspey King, whose appearance evoked the bored comment; ‘Och, ay, always the same old thing wi’ him.’ While others smiled and beamed at the surge and vim and unerring accuracy of the veteran’s playing, with difficulty restraining their desire to find the floor as the fire of music got into their feet, the scornful remark came from behind; ‘Look how he saws!’ The fiddler played his own lovely ‘Lullaby,’ gave clever barnyard imitations, and ‘took off’ a parrot with laughable realism. But it was all of no use to the critic behind, who remarked with impatience, ‘What’s next?’ almost before the artist had finished.
The Glasgow correspondent whose name I am unable to give testifies to the fundamental kindness of Wullie Pai’erson as exemplified in the attitude of his children towards him. Coming stained and tired from his toil, his little boy hails him from his street play: ‘Gie’s a cairry, feyther!’ and the father, tired as he is, lifts the urchin on to his shoulder and then carries him up several flights of stairs to his won door.
Yes, human nature has a beautiful power of resiliency and of rebound from evil conditions. Even the industrialism of Clydeside cannot corrupt it beyond remedy. Thinking of the various amenities of the great western city – it’s parks, libraries, art galleries, baths, its municipal lectures and recitals in choirs, its car service, its ferries, its fine supplies of gas, electricity and water, its farms and works department (and of course one does not!) resist the feeling that most of its evils it owes to private enterprise, and most of its amenities it owes to the Socialism of the Municipality in other words, what it suffers it suffers at the hands of commercialism in haste to be rich and too heedless of what it does in the process, and what it enjoys it enjoys to the extent that it has taken its business or its comfort or its pleasure into its own hands. The same may, indeed, be said of other cities, but in the case of Glasgow the contrast is specially violent, between the harm that others have done to the citizen, and the good that the citizen has done for himself through his own publicly elected, controlled, removable, responsible, and capable public servants. It is the great lesson that Glasgow has yet to teach to the outer world, and the moral of it is not yet at all sufficiently appreciated. That is why these chapters have been written. They will conclude with a final chapter on ‘The Abolition of Glasgow’ – a thesis that will not surprise those of its new Parliamentary representatives who, like the wideawake and capable member for Shettleston, Mr John Wheatley, realise that the export industries upon which the city and its people have existed and grown and multiplied must give place to another way of living and making a living.
The Future of the Party – More Pioneers
We sing ‘England, arise!’ But do we always mean it?
By the dark cities where your babes are creeping,
Naked of joy and all that makes life dear…
From each wretched slum
Let the loud cry come,
England is risen, and the day is here.
I am dealing with Glasgow as typifying commercialism at its worst but with the true sociological purpose of showing that evil has generated its own cure. Glasgow has risen. Even its card-sharpers quote the language of political economy, and urge that the gains of their nefarious practices in railway carriages represent ‘the rent of ability.’
Crooks have, indeed, in days gone by had somewhat of a look-in in connection with the Labour movement in Glasgow. Apart from free-lance adventurers who never had the backing of the Labour movement, there have been times in Glasgow when ‘the trade’ financed official Labour candidatures – for its own end. It got nothing; its support was withdrawn; and now Labour is paying for its politics, and stands to get much more satisfaction out of the support it gives to it politicians than ever it had from the publicans and football players who got (and get) so much of its money.
In these notes I am keeping clear of the adventurers and the men who were politicians first, last and all time – yea, even when an election was on, and the word Socialism was doing but occasional service as a party shibboleth. Casting the memory back over the past thirty years of the public life of Glasgow, one recalls many meteors that have flashed across the horizon, and have long since sputtered out. With these I have no concern.
Someone (John Morley I think) has said: ‘It is only the very great and good who have any faith in the simplest axioms; and there are few who are so lucky as to feel that 19 and 13 make 32 as certainly as 2 and 2 make 4.’
But the Collectivist solution of the world’s troubles is not at all difficult to understand. Indeed, it is so simple and irresistible that one has a difficulty in understanding how all the notable people who have adopted it of late did not adopt it as soon as they came to years of discretion. It was obvious to me forty years ago, at the age of seventeen; and that certain members of the Labour Party, now very active, were equally active against it only a few years ago, casts discredit either upon their mental or their moral make-up. ‘Go hang thyself, good Crillon,’ said Henry of Navarre. ‘We fought at Arques and you were not there.’
The proposition that Society can do whatever the individual can do is as self-evident in human relationships as the proposition that the whole is greater than the part is in mathematics. Society could not write the play of ‘Hamlet’ or the music of ‘Pinafore’; but it can command the services of the best contemporary genius and talent within the realm.
The cardinal principle of Socialism is that there is no function discharged by the landlord or capitalist that cannot be much more efficiently performed by the organised community. This is no mere assertion; the thing has been done. It is regularly done in time of war, and it could be done in time of peace. Indeed, it is done in time of peace. All the great undertakings are left to the State as a matter of course. When the banks threaten to put up the shutters the State comes to the rescue with its credit. The Panama Canal, the draining of the Zuyder Zee, the making of the Sudan railway through many miles of hostile country, the conduct of the Great War – all are left to the State. When a private company cannot finish its Ship Canal, and has spent all its capital, the corporation comes to the rescue with public money and finishes the job.
It is half a century since Frederic Harrison advised us to ‘Look to the State,’ and when Edward Bellamy’s great creation ‘Looking Backward’ appeared, Harrison acclaimed it as embodying a social system to which we were undoubtedly tending. And he welcomed it. This was in the eighties.
It was all so obvious then that a man had only to be in earnest about politics, free of a vested interest in the maintenance of muddlement, and willing to live and let live, in order to adopt it.
And so I prefer to tell of the humbly placed men who ‘saw the cat’ thirty or more years ago rather than the men who have come in because Socialism looks like winning. We do not suggest, as Henri Quatre did to Crillon, that they should go and hang themselves because they did not lend a hand when help was most needed; but we do ask them to consider well whether their timidity and their distrust of liberty and right is not making them hang back even now from the true implications of the Socialist principle. In view of current events and tendencies, the advice is far from superfluous.
The new Parliamentary party will have to make up its mind for the application of its principles constructively, and above all, will have to get ready for their application by much study, thinking, discussion, and planning, of which one sees little sign at present.
Reading the Socialist Review month by month, one would expect to see the questions of the future discussed there if anywhere. Can capitalism carry on? If so, how! And how long? Should Socialists try to help in the re-opening of foreign markets, or should they frankly admit that the game of capitalist civilization is up, and advocate the adoption of Collectivist principles now? If the Labour Party were returned to power on the not improbable early collapse of the present government, what would it do? The matter has not been discussed.
If France persist in her policy in the Ruhr, what remedy have we short of the unthinkable arbitrament of war? And if the policy of wrecking Germany is persisted in, what hope is there of the continuation of commercialism with our best markets gone?
Instead of such questions as these being discussed, all the concern of the editor of the Review (who is also leader of the Labour Party in Parliament) is about electioneering and the chances of Liberal reunion.
Turn to Mr Ramsay MacDonald’s books, and there is the same haziness about what the party would do in the way of reconstruction. One lends ‘Socialism and Society’ by request, to a keenly intelligent man of goodwill, and he hands it back with the puzzled comment ‘I cannot make out what he would be at.’ In MacDonald’s ‘Socialism and Government’ there is not a single reference to the all important role of the municipality and local governing bodies in general. I reviewed the book at great length years ago, and Mr MacDonald promised to reply; but he never did.
On the other hand, he admitted privately the rightness of my strictures on certain points, including this neglect of the great truth embodied in De Tocqueville’s dictum that ‘It is in the Commune that the force of a free people resides.’
That is to say, in the domain of local government. Having no practical or technical training, Mr MacDonald has, unfortunately, no discoverable constructive bent – a fact of which there are many disappointing proofs.
I am not disloyal, and I have no personal political ambition whatever. I advocated Socialism by voice and pen for years before MacDonald cut his connection with the Liberal Party. But his party will have to take him in hand, and I am leading the way, as I have always been apt to do.
And let me suggest, on a minor matter, that Mr MacDonald should try to curb his fondness for metaphors that are always second-hand and never particularly felicitous. The Archangel Gabriel, sowing dragon’s teeth, and getting into the ( ) have all done duty of recent weeks, and on the other hand one who looks in vain for specific detail as to the future.
Speaking to the Aldwych Club of rich men, he denounced ‘Ca’canny’ and Bolshevism, but said nothing of matter that ought to have proved of more interest to his hearers and the public, such as the advantages to everybody of nationalising the railways and the mines, about which one reckons the nabobs would have expected to hear. These would be the two first jobs we should expect a Labour Government to tackle. There is ‘Ca’ canny’ and sabotage and Bolshevism among the rich as well as among workmen, and he was addressing a rich man’s gathering.
I get back with great goodwill to my humble heroes who were Socialist first and politicians a long way afterwards. It will be part of my plan to discuss the future of Glasgow in a chapter all to itself. The question has already emerged in a Trades Council resolution which is all in favour of retaining the capital system – on international grounds, if you please.
One of the steadiest, most resolute of the early Glasgow Socialists was Willie Nairn, who, although a labouring man, was for years a very shrewd and keen, regular correspondent of Justice. Hi pen-name was Sandy Macfarlane; he was an S.D.F.er; but, although resolute and stalwart, not narrow. He took the chair for me once, much to my surprise, at an Albion Hall meeting for a lecture, ‘What is the Good of Empire?’ delivered during the South African War. I can recall even now the pleasure I had in his stern approval of the lecture as ‘economically, politically and morally sound and in strict accordance with Socialist principles.’ The boys said it was a great compliment from Nairn, and this, not so much because he was a stickler for orthodoxy, though he was that, as because he was an undemonstrative man whose approval, when given, counted for all the more. Nairn is long dead, and had a Socialist funeral by his own request.
William Nairn conveyed such an impression of integrity that he was once taken to task by a Glasgow policeman haling, like Willie, from the north country, as to why he, a respectable man, should consort with a lot of Fenians.
To this Willie demurred. They were not all Irish. There was Hob Hutchison. Well, where did he come from? Stranraer. Wasn’t that near enough? Then there was Pat Curren: he was Irish certainly. Then there was Doyle, yes, he was Irish too. But there was Stewart ‘who comes’ said Nairn ‘from about the same place as ourselves’ ‘Does he?’ said the bobby indignantly. ‘I don’t care what you say. If he comes from the north he must have risen left shin by some Irish hairs han’.’
One of the earliest warriors I noticed about the S.D.F. meetings in Glasgow was John Turley. John was a cabinet maker earning fairly good wages, and a steady man; but, in case he should be accused of respectability, he would not dress or even shave for Sunday. He shaved before going to work on Monday, and my recollection of him is that he wore a red muffler, and had a strongish growth on his chin always at week-ends. Turley had two stereotyped questions which he put at lectures.
John Toole was an Irish hammerman, who, after the manner of his race, had a real grievance. He use to put it in this way:
I have no grievance against being born into this world to live in penury and labour for the benefit of others. Some people might find it unpleasant to do that because they are uneducated and have no better idea of what life ought to be. But the great grievance I have against the capital class is that, instead of leaving me in my ignorance and misery, they have educated me so that I should be more able to appreciate my abject position in this hell upon earth. That is my grievance against capitalism.’
These two last ‘cards’ appear in rather a bitter vein; but there were quiet humours as well. One man, a Clyde deportee who had a stutter, once said at a business meeting;
I b-beg to p-p-propose David McLean as a member of this branch. He m-might not know much about M-Marxian ec-economics; he is a damned good man at a p-pro-Boer meetin’!’
A well known figure in the movement of the nineties was Bailie George Mitchll, who managed a reform bookshop and printing business. George was a quiet-spoken, canny going man whose health was not robust. In the old days of horse traction he visited the tramway stables one day and was promptly accosted by a strapper as to what his business there. George said he was a councillor and had a right to be there; but two men set upon him and bundled him out. They got carpeted for it afterwards, and many said it was unfair, as George ‘did not look the part.’
Another time, when he had become a magistrate, he was about to enter the magistrates’ room behind the bench on the day of a licensing court. In order to prevent solicitation of the magistrates, a policeman was on duty inside the door of the room. As George proceeded to enter, the policeman asked what he wanted. ‘I’m a magistrate,’ said George. ‘So am I,’ said the policeman sarcastically, and proceeded to close the door on Geordie’s neck. The altercation attracted the notice of Bailie P.G.Stewart, who was already in the room, and who did look the character, and poor Mitchell was allowed to enter, with apologies from the policeman.
It is depressing to think how many of these men are long since dead, at comparatively early ages; but that is the price men pay for living in large cities. Returning to Manchester after an absence of eleven years, I met an old acquaintance. Inquiring as to men who had been our contemporaries, and mostly men in the thirties and early forties, one was greeted time after time with the answer ‘Dead!’ ‘Dead!’ ‘He’s dead.’ ‘Oh, he’s dead too.’ I had never till then adequately realised what a toll of life the city takes.
There were many bright spirits, jovial companions, good speakers and disinterested workers in Glasgow then, such as George Neil, an ex-army sergeant, Scots draper, poet and singer; Robb, the Burgoynes, Pollock and others whom one cannot specially single out because they were just normal good fellows.
But there was a speciality about Camlachie Dickson. A Fifeshire farm hand, he had emigrated for a time to America. Lecturing on ‘The Mississipi Valley in Relation to International Socialism’ Dickson took about three-quarters of an hour to get from Fifeshire to the boat at Glasgow. The bad cheese and margarine on board were exhaustively condemned and he had spent an hour and a half talking before he at last got to work, ploughing, in the Mississipi Valley. He was parading up and down the platform ploughing, the stilts in his hands, in imagination, when the big rough voice of Jock Bain bawled, ‘Half-time Dickson!’
Such are some of the rank and file who did the propagandist work in the early days before Socialism became Labourism. There was much character among them. They were quite disinterested. To them Socialism was a religion, not a career. They got their hands gown for the expenses of the work. They kept the door open for lecturers, and they scattered literature through various agencies. It is in such ways that movements are maintained till better times come, always provided there is a good idea behind them.
A Socialist Official.
In a niche all by himself stood James Thomson, Superintendent of the Corporation Baths and Washhouses. A descendent of the poet Burns, Mr Thomson himself was full of picturesque prose, full of ingenious, original ideas, which were printed mostly in Justice over the signature of Dan Baxter, but sometimes in official reports on the work of his own department, in which he was enthusiastic. Personally he was always the cheeriest and most amiable of mortals, and his official superiors gave him much of his own enlightened, benevolent way.
Part Six next Month
I sometimes speculate as to what the Archbishop of Canterbury’s butler would think of the Twelve Apostles if they turned up at the palace. Swarthy, hirsute, some of them, like Peter, vehement and forward, all of them doubtless frowsy, as Jews and fishermen tend to be, they would impress the man of the corkscrew much as a deputation of dustmen would do. Yet these were the men who founded a system that curbed kings and made an emperor do penance in his shirt out of doors on a snowy day. They had the faith that moved mountains - a faith that communicated itself to others in endless irradiations outwards.
The original apostles of Socialism in Glasgow partook largely of the character of the twelve disciples, in the lowliness of their lot and the boundlessness of their faith and zeal. But there was one fundamental difference. The pioneers of Christianity had to put the emphasis upon personal sacrosanctity ‘The Kingdom of God is within you’ was their message, and like their leader, they seem to have lived up to it. The tale of their martyrdom is almost monotonous in its brevity and its uniform ending of crucifixion. Even Judas died of remorse. It was the great advantage of Christianity as a movement that it was a spiritual and not a political movement, that its kingdom of heaven came not with observation. Jesus himself imposed searching test – ‘Sell what thou hast and give to the poor… take up the cross and follow me’; but these were individual tests only. Neither he nor his followers had any politics, had anything to say against slavery, war, concubinage, or any of the main social institutions that shape men’s lives and characters more powerfully than anything that is merely within the individual.
The pioneers of Socialism also carried their cross, but it was the comparatively prosaic one of the industrial or commercial bargain with its by-products of poverty, visits to the pawn shop, short commona for the wife and bairns , and in not a few cases a life shortened by suffering and embitterment.
The average man is now more largely represented in the movement than he was in early days. In the eighties and nineties it required men of exceptional parts to be attracted to Socialism and to remain faithful to a movement that had so many ordinary deterrents and so few ordinary attractions.
Of ‘Little Robertson’ the tailor, it is related that one day his wife came up to a crowd of which he and his oratory were the centre. ‘Here’s him on again aboot that damn’t Social Revolution,’ she said. ‘He promised me a new silk goon when it comes aff’; but I’m thinkin’ it’s like royal chairlie, it’s lang o’ comin’.’
I do not know if Roberston was a native of Glasgow; but he worked there and did much public speaking there, and about the effectiveness of his appeal to the populace there could be no manner of question. The little man could talk by the hour, and the very commonness of his range of topics was the secret of his hold upon the crowd. He and his friend Bob Hutchison, a s shoemaker, would go on tour together, and although Hutchison was a much finer speaker, the little tailor won his real admiration by the effective sincerity of his homely speaking. The bigger man stood by listening, and at points would say for all the world to hear, ‘Man, isn’t he grand’!
It was the unfeigned admiration, so often seen, of a bigger man for a smaller as in the case of Burns for Fergusson, or Macaulay for Sir James Mackintosh.
Robert Hutchison, a shoemaker as said, was a native of Stranraer, and I think he retired and died there. In appearance and in some of his habits he was no very attractive missionary of a new evangel. Robert was ‘fond of a dram’ and made no secret of it. He wore a black sourtout coat, the state of which suggested that he had not been its first wearer. He had a blue scar across his biggish nose, and the injury that had left the scar had spoiled the shape of the organ itself. One day as I saw him brush his way into a railway station on a more or less public occasion, I thought he made rather an ugly drunk.
The occasion was the departure of a company of sixteen French delegates, who had come over to see the Glasgow Exhibition of 1888, and had been entertained to dinner by the Corporation first and by the Glasgow Socialists afterwards. Hutchison had made friends with them, as we all did; but the repeated festivities had set Bob on the spree.
Cunninghame-Graham had ridden up on his own horse, a fine figure of a man, had dismounted outside, and had made a speech in French to our visitors, much to their delight; and the public were impressed and pleased by the whole affair, when Bob swaggered in on the platform, sweeping other bystanders on one side. One was pleased to see how little harm the episode seemed to do.
The Frenchmen were all find men and fine-looking men. They had taught us to sing and dance ‘La Carmagnole,’ and we sang it again that day, and the train steamed out amid cheers, a red flag on a little staff with a brass finial to it fluttering out at one of the carriage windows. Someone had presented the visitors with it during their stay.
I was myself less shocked by the episode than I should have been had I not witnessed beforehand the indulgence with which Bob was treated. Bruce Glasier and I had been passing meeting on Glasgow Green one Sunday afternoon at which Bob was making a speech. He was moving along under full sail, with grandiose references to the Barings, the Rothschilds, and the Bank of Egypt, when he suddenly pulled up with a declaration that he was not in form at t the moment; that he was just off a three weeks’ spree, and ‘the whisky is oozing out of me at every pore. But,’ he continued, ‘if you will come along to our rooms tonight, I am to be lecturing on ‘The Ethics of Socialism,’ and I tell you, if the heads of H.M.Hyndman, William Morris, Belfort Bax, and all the rest of them had been put together they couldn’t have composed a better lecture than I shall give tonight. I know it’s a good lecture gentlemen. I wrote it when I was drunk, and I’m always inspired when I’m drunk.’
I was disgusted, but Glasier smiled, and said, ‘We’ll look in just to see what effect a statement like that will have.’
We accordingly did, and there was a good audience, and it was really a good lecture.
The chances are that, even in the state in which Hutchison declared himself to be, he would have had a copy of Shelley’s poems in the tail-pocket of his frock-coat. For he loved the poets and hated economists. When they tried to induce him to study Marx he declared with vehemence, ‘Do I need to read Marx or anyone else in order to learn that I am robbed and how the robbery is done?’
Perhaps it may not be superfluous to explain why Glasier and I only looked in at Hutchison’s meetings. Bob belonged to the Social-Democratic Federation, while we were members of the Scottish Section of the Socialist League. The chief man in the Federation was H.M.Hyndman, who believed in Parliamentary methods. The leading member of the League was William Morris, who somehow expected a sudden change by the modus of a revolutionary upheaval. We in Aberdeen from the outset believed in the policy of the S.D.F, and finally became affiliated with it, regarding it as foolish to expect men to shed their blood at the barricades when they would not shed ink at the ballot box for our candidates. Morris came in time to admit, handsomely, that he was wrong and Hyndman was right.
The Socialist League was introduced into Scotland by Andreas Scheu, a stalwart, handsome, brainy, in every way attractive Austrian, who had been obliged to leave the dominions of Francis Joseph because of his Socialist activity. He was employed as a draughtsman in Edinburgh, but later became a commercial traveller, with his home in London. An intensely electric speaker, he could be graphic, subtle, and delicate as well. He was the author of the very find song beginning ‘Where’er the eye its glance may throw,’ sung to his own tune (see Carpenter’s ‘Chants of Labour’). I have turned aside to mention Scheu because no one who had met him – no one, that is, with ‘an eye for a man’ – could ever forget him. Among his other claims to remembrance, he was the only man in London who could hector Charles Bradlaugh. He used to go to the Hall of Science when Bradlaugh was lecturing against Socialism, and, by sheer personality rather than sound argument, turn Mr Bradlaugh’s audience against him. One cannot help wondering how this attractive, masterful man fared during the war fever, when Teutons were so generally interned.
But the mention of Bradlaugh brings me back to Robert Hutchison. I have said that Scheu was the only man in London who could overbear Bradlaugh. But Bob Hutchison did so once in Glasgow. He also, was the possessor of a formidable indignant manner, and it is related that on one occasion he stormed Badlaugh’s platform, and denounced the self-styled ‘iconoclast’ as one who took away the hope of heaven from mankind, yet was content to offer them nothing in its place. This was not because Bob believed in the evangelical heaven any more than Bradlaugh did, but he rightly held that the Hope of the Ages for some approximation to a heaven on earth, as in Burns’s ‘it’s comin’ yet for a’ that,’ was a legitimate, commendable and comforting aspiration, which only a drab and barren soullessness would ignore, deny or belittle. Under the influence of his angry attack, Bradlaugh, as the story goes, was temporarily demoralised, and gathering up his notes, he hurried off the platform, his lecture having already, of course been delivered. Such is the power of strong feeling strongly expressed.
Hyndman, an excellent judge, gave Hutchison the credit of being in many respects one of the very finest orators he had ever heard. It is, indeed, not at all remarkable that a man of strong natural powers and much reading should speak with all the greater sincerity and force out of the depths of feeling engendered in a life of comparative failure. Who knows what Robert Hutchison might have been in happier surroundings and circumstances? I do not know his sotry. What I do know is that a man with a tithe of his ability and innate benevolence of mind and disposition has ‘succeeded’ and has stood very well in the eyes of the world and in his own eyes.
Bob Hutchison was not ‘good’ in the sacrosanct sense, but he was good for something. Whereas it often happens that the sacrosanct man is good for nothing and nobody but himself. He is so anxious to keep himself ‘unspotted’ that his virtues are chiefly of the negative sort. Bob Hutchison was of the ‘named and nameless’ battlers who put up a fight for the good of the world, present and to come –chiefly to come – and to listen to his pleadings for a better system was to listen, you felt, to one who could speak out of the depths of a bitter experience which the smug Pharisees had not got. The best men are often those most sorely tempted and are not always able to resist the temptation. But such men speak with all the greater authority and power of conviction, since none can be so profoundly convinced as they are themselves.
A very different type from Bob Hutchison the masterful was old McNaughton, the schoolmaster. The old man had kept a private school till it would no longer keep him. His last establishment had no playground attached to it, and on this an inspector duly commented, only to be assured that there was a beautiful playground near by. The story went that he took the inspector to Glasgow Green, and pointed to its vast acerage as representing the ample playfield provided for his scholars.
At a discussion in branch meeting he would sit silent till near the end, and then, getting up to speak, the softness and mildness of his high-set voice at the outset would be in marked contrast to the tones of those who had preceded him. He would say ‘comrades, I have listened with great interest to this discussion on political tactics. It is just possible that by these means we might be able to emancipate the working class. But gentlemen, I have a better method.’
His tone now began to rise.
‘Let us begin with the little children.’ Let us tell them how their fathers have been crushed, and how they will likewise be crushed when they grow up into manhood. And further let us train them to use the rifle and to SHOOT! And then, gentlemen, will their emancipation be sure.’
The finish up was a crescendo of vehemence. Poor old McNaughton! His last job was that of a lamplighter, ‘ the poor old lamplighter,’ as he described himself in accents of hushed and pathetic self-pity. By this time he had absented himself form the meetings, with some sort of idea that he would be looked down upon; and it was only when you fetched him up in the street, perhaps upon his rounds, that he would enter into talk.
It was greatly to his credit that, outshipped by the socialising of education as he was, he nevertheless was a supporter of the better system that had made a misfit of him. By comparison with the pigs and fools who make wars, rob the public, and decimate the human race in the interests of dividends which they do not even know how to spend, such men as the least of those I am sketching are the salt of the earth.
In these papers I am discussing, and propose to discuss, not mere politicians who reap where other men have sown, but men who were politicians only because they were Socialists. What the lightning candidate may be in his innermost mind, heaven only knows. Seats are won, it is feared, by the practice of great economy in the telling of the truth. That the people who vote ‘Labour’ accept the full implications of the party programme is hardly credible. To the extent that the voters do accept the promise of Socialism, their acceptance is due to the work of the unrewarded propagandists who have often lived in penury and grief, albeit with a great hope and conviction as their mainstay. To the climbing candidate the Cooperative Commonwealth is a shadowy thing, of the Ever, ever, and therefore (he may think) of the Never, never.
As I write, the efforts of official Labour seem to be directed towards maintaining the life of Capitalism rather than ushering in instalments of the Co-operative Commonwealth. One drawback of the Labour Party is that its leaders are largely men who have little or no practical acquaintance with business. Ex-secretaries, ex-civil servants, and ex-teachers can hardly be expected to be strong upon the practical construction and reconstruction of industry under public control. Happily there are some business men in the ranks also, and these may be expected to show the same enterprise in the public interest that they have shown in their own. For, as it happens, some of them have been Socialists first, and politicians afterwards. Social organisation is largely a matter of local government anyhow.
The man with whom I deal here have had the great Hope of the Ages as their religion. So far from seeking to minimise the implications in the interests of electoral success, it has been their consolation and delight to see in the Social Revolution a complete change in the whole orientation of human motives and relationships, a universal solvent of all the man-made bugbears, and disabilities of topsy-turvey civilization. The charm of their attitude was its disinterested idealism. They found their happiness by losing themselves in the contemplation of the Delectable State and the Sons and Daughters of Men made perfect. It is the oldest yet the newest religion. Its foundations are in the most sacred aspirations of the human mind, and its basis is the evidence of all the good that has been thought and said and done in the world throughout the ages of man’s long ascent from his ape-like progenitors.
A Newspaper Comment on the Gateway, and a Rejoinder.
In the Glasgow Evening News of the last Saturday of last year there appeared a double-column comment upon the first of these articles. We have a few score readers in Glasgow, but none of them seems to have thought of sending us the paper. The editor of the Educational News, however, my friend Mr Thomas Henderson, happened to call at the office of the Glasgow News, and someone suggests, as he was to be visiting Turriff, that he might take me a copy.
If an Aberdeenshire man, or an Aberdonian (they are different) had done this is would have been remarked that it was not in character. An Aberdeenshire woman (not an Aberdonian) took a parcel to the guard of the train and said: ‘Ye’ll tak’ that in tae Aiberdeen, an’ ye wunna charge me, since that ye’re gaun ony wye.’ She would have been a poor woman probably; and the proprietors of the News are not too poor. But they did exactly the same thing as she did.
The Yorkshireman or Londoner who has most to say about Scots greed is usually very costive in the disbursement of money himself. Sitting near two young couples at a band performance in Aberdeen one Sunday, I asked if they minded my smoke. ‘Not at all,’ said the livelier and prettiest lady of the two. ‘I like it.’ And she said to the other lady, ‘I wish he would smoke a pipe and nice tobacco. I was nearly buying him one the other day.’ Her husband, whose accent betrayed St Mungo’s, said jeeringly to the other man: ‘She was ‘nearly’ buying me one! That’s right Aberdeen!’ Most men would have been grateful that she hadn’t, knowing the pipes women buy.
Glasgow never misses a chance of rubbing it in. One night at a sumptuously spread table in Turriff a Glasgow business man told, among much else, of how an Aberdonian at sea claimed a certain trawl boat, seen in the distance, as of Aberdeen, and of how a Glasgow man declared it couldn’t be, because the gulls were following it!
Some of the most foolishly lavish things one has heard of have been done by Aberdeenshire men. Here is a specimen. One night in the New Inn at Ellon, a company of curlers, after supper, began to play a rink with decanters of whisky. The fun was fast and furious for a time, the waiters being ordered to bring in fresh-filled decanters, which duly met the fate of the ‘stones’ with which the roaring game had been begun. When there was no more glass in the house to smash, the curlers, as they trampled among the fragments, laughingly called for the bill. But the man who had begun the whole play had slipped out, and the others were told that the score had been paid. Ellon is an ancient little Aberdeenshire town of some 1400 of a population. The only thing I know to compare with this decanter-smashing is the trick of the old Russian nobility of making a clean sweep of all the contents of a dinner-table. But that was after they were all drunk, whereas the Ellon company would be no more than ‘canty.’ It was a deliberate piece of fun, and the more it cost and the more daft it was, the better it would be enjoyed.
But not by the sophisticated commercial man. And I do not know that I think any less of him for that. One night at a dinner in the old County Forum, Manchester, I lifted a bottle from the table and helped myself to a glass of Chablis, only to be told by my nearest neighbour that ‘There is no wine on the menu – I got that bottle for myself and my friend.’ Fortunately (as it must have seemed to him) I hadn’t drunk the wine, and he did not press me to. I said if the wine wasn’t on the menu it was on the table, and I moved to another seat where the atmosphere was less bohemian, or perhaps I ought to say citified.
There are mean and generous people everywhere, but the bigger the town the more likely the average non-bloated person is to be usually well spent-up, were it only because he has more temptations and facilities for spending. I thoroughly sympathise with that; but the man who lives up to his income does not, characteristically, do generous things. He can’t afford to.
Anyhow, we sent the News The Gateway, which is a ‘threepenny touch’ and has no advertisements. These we refuse as we refuse to advertise ourselves. And we paid the postage. The News is a penny paper, with lots of advertisements, and the News saved the postage.
The News man makes sarcastic play with the name of Turriff as a place of residence, mentioning it many times, as London comedians make the house rock with ‘Aber-r-r-r-deen.’ I would do him the credit of believing that he would prefer to live in a little, clean, tree-surrounded town if he could. Ayr wasn’t much of a town when Burns produced, just outside it, the greatest pieces of literature that Scotland possesses. Stratford-on-Avon, in Shakespeare’s day, was a smaller town than Turriff is now. Sir Walter Scott, the Lake poets, Harriet Martineau, Tennyson, Ruskin, all wrote in the country, as Belloc, Chesterton, Shaw, Maurice Hewlett, Thomas Hardy, and Arnold Bennett do now. Neil Munro left Glasgow for Inverary as soon as he could. He is a native of the little Argyllshire town; but I am not a native of Turriff. It was ‘a place to retire to,’ chosen out of the whole country. Doesn’t the News man wish he were as free an agent! The people of the cities will yet have to come back to the countryside, which will be redeemed from dullness by their presence, as they will be recreated by having work to do that will have some sense, utility, and beauty in and about it. The game of commercial civilisation is about up. Building battleships and shopkeeping among dirt and racket are not men’s work; though male children have to do them.
Our commentator is surprised that we find Glasgow speech is full of corrugated cadences. But all the midlands of Scotland speak up and down, up and down. So, for that matter, does the Ulsterman. The speech of the north of Scotland is only too much of a monotone; but this often means that a northerner can speak English (and French) with much less trace of a Scottish accent than the southerner. The cadence begins in the southern end of Kincardinshire and is intensified as one goes south.
The name of Helen Hope, the capable write to the London Daily News, is mentioned in the Glasgow paper as being a native of Glasgow who toured with a company of Scottish players for two years. The Glasgow News writer must have overlooked the fact that in the article from which he quotes the writer remarks upon the up-and-downness of her speech. My comment upon this up-and-downness was written weeks earlier. Perhaps the Glasgow writer has not lived much away from Glasgow. Anyhow, it is odd that he has not noticed the cadence.
Edward Bernstein, a man of European culture, one day in a Huddersfield hotel managed to locate the approximate county of origin of each of the speakers present, except the Aberdeen one.
The News writer hazards the remark that ‘Mr James Leatham… sets up his own work in type.’ Well, he doesn’t. he wishes he had time for that too. If the Glasgow writer had set up his work in type, probably he would not have transformed the word ‘couthy’ into the very different word ‘courtly.’ He doubtless saw a proof of his article, and it is odd that he didn’t correct that.
I intended to deal this month with some of the early pioneers of Socialism in Glasgow. But the lecture printed in this issue occupies so much space that this short comment upon a comment must serve instead.
Glasgow in the Limelight
What and Who Made Glasgow Socialist?
One of the Pioneers
There was at one time a widely prevalent conception that Socialism was a creed held only by amiable idealists – ‘fools and poets,’ as it was breezily expressed. The opposite view is now epitomised in the epithet ‘Bolshevik,’ which aims at connoting an ogre thirsting for blood and loot, and ‘in need of a bath,’ as Lord Birkenhead in his more irresponsible days put it. Socialism undoubtedly has always drawn the poets, to its credit (and to theirs) be it said. But if Germany had its Freilligrath and Britain its Morris, before either of these poets were the ‘economists and calculators’ Rodbertus, the junker of Judgetnow; Lassalle, a wealthy and luxurious Jew, ‘the wundekind of philosophy’ (as Baron Hunboldt called him); Marx and Engels, the latter a prosperous and caustic cotton manufacturer and Marx certainly not a soft-hearted poet; and in England H.M.Hyndman, Oxford man, war correspondent, and latterly financier. Not much of the rapt, mooning dreamer about any of these latter, any more than there is today about ex-civil servants such as Sidney Webb and Philops Snowden, or bank inspectors like the late David Campbell, or shrewd manufacturers like Willie Leach of Bradford; France Littlewood of Huddersfield; and John Jackson, of Salford.
To have constructive imagination, foresight, ‘the presentiment of the eve,’ belongs essentially to the character of the best type of business man.
If the best type of business man in Glasgow does not turn to Socialism as a deliberate, declared movement, it is partly because churchianity is still very much of a manacle upon the mentality of the ‘respectable classes’ in Scotland as a whole. But if the very successful Glaswegian does not take up with Socialism in theory, he does so extensively in municipal practice. Glasgow has so long taken the lead in the Socialism of the Municipality that it was a standing marvel she did not until now strike out for the larger Collectivism of the State. It was because of the shrewdness of her business men that they adopted as much Socialism as suited them, while opposing the sort of Socialism that might not suit them. To municipalise gas, water, and tramways, to establish municipal lodging houses, crèches, washhouses, farms and a works department did not greatly disturb vested interests. The shareholders of the old tramways company did not depend on tramway dividends for a livelihodd and they were a specially grasping lot, and treated the public and their employees so badly that it was only human nature that there should be reprisals upon them. Then the corporation always owned the lines anyhow. So long as textiles, shipbuilding, or the metallurgical and chemical industries were not interfered with, the shrewd Glasgow business man, by reason of his very shrewdness was willing and even anxious to adopt Collectivism. Indeed if he could be sure that every other business could be socialised and his left alone, he might well be in favour of a process that would suit him so well as a consumer and a citizen. But just there comes the rub. He could not hope for anything of the sort, and his sympathy would naturally go out ot any form of threatened private enterprise from the consideration that his turn might come next. And so he has favoured the socialising of ‘monopolies,’ without stopping to define exactly what a monopoly is. Every business is a monopoly to those who are outside it.
But if this consideration operates with the employer, it need have no weight whatever with the man who is not an employer and who is not likely ever to be. The capitalist municipalisers builded better than they knew. They gave a succession of object lessons proving how immensely successful large-scale managerial direction in the market, such as a public service can always command.
They were so proud of these civic successes that they could not forbear stroking the t’s and dotting the I’s – in municipal reports and speeches, and the newspapers. Outsiders took up the cry. When in a Nineteenth Century article Mr John burns wished to state the case for London Collectivist Development as against company extortion and mismanagement, it was to the Collectivist triumphs of Glasgow that he turned for his examples of the better way. The thing, at last, was done. The wonder is that the intellectual and manual labour proletariat voted against their own obvious interests so long.
There was no escaping the moral, sooner or later, that if better and cheaper service, better treatment of employees, and impressive money surpluses for the common good could be secured from a few services, the process was capable of indefinite extension, the personnel of local government being increased to cope with the additional work, and the conduct of a business simply transferred from a board of more or less amateur directors to a not more amateur committee of the city council.
The largeness of Glasgow helped in many ways. For one thing, bigness makes for larger conceptions. Where large sums had to be spent, a certain amount of prospecting had to be done. Deputationists came back with enlarged ideas from what they saw being carried on elsewhere. Pro or con, they were obliged to think matters out, and ample revenues deprived cheeseparing of much of its motive. Local pressure and local criticism were much less felt than they would have been in a small town. A big job often had to go on, and heavy items of emergency expenditure had to be sanctioned by the convenor of a committee even if he was the only member who turned up at a meeting for the purpose. This on the administrative, public side.
But bigness helped the mental growth of the private citizen too. In a small community , with small businesses, Jack and his master are much more closely in touch than where businesses belong to limited companies and Jack has no one master in particular. In the small community Jack may start in business more readily than in a city where the shipyards, foundries, shops, offices are on the big scale, with plant, buildings, and raw material beyond his means. His position as ‘hand’ is stereotyped. With the hands he must stand as a matter of course.
Thus the evils attending the concentration of wealth work their own cure by causes inherent in the system.
Not that the inevitable functions inevitably and without conscious direction. The movement which has given Glasgow an overwhelming Parliamentary majority for Socialism dates back to the eighties, when the Socialist movement was represented by branches of the Socialist League and the Social-Democratic Federation. The Independent Labour Party and the Fabian Society were to come later in the day. These first-named branches were primarily for the workman, though even by 1887 there was a professor of Glasgow University in the attenuated ranks of the Socialist League. The petty bourgeois also had their Single Tax movement, with which a Lord Provost was connected, their bête noir being, not the capitalist but the landlord. I know no other provincial city in Britain where Georgeism had any following or influence as a movement; but Glasgow in the early nineteen-oughts had enough Single Taxers to maintain a journal and an office staff, and sent out a brilliant speaker in the person of John Paul, a small man in stature only. It is hardly likely that these Individualists have had any lot or part in the return of the Labour men.
Of the men returned, I have met only two in my lecturing days. These are Mr George Hardie, the brother of Keir; and Mr Neil Maclean, who was the little secretary of the Clarion Scouts on at least two of my visits, twenty odd years ago.
The earliest and best exponent of Socialism in Glasgow was J.Bruce Glasier, who was called away two years too soon to witness this great triumph for the principles (if not for the methods) he used to advocate with so much eloquence, at the street coerners chiefly. A native of the isle of Arran, Glasier attended school in Ayr, it seems , though somehow, amid all he told me, he never told me that. He was fairly well schooled and had good taste anyhow. He had little of the Glasgow cadence in his speech, but had a trick of leaving out oa syllable in some words, such as ‘bar’n’ or ‘baron.’ When I first met Glasier in Glasgow he had turned aside from his proper calling of architectural draughtsman, and was drawing iron grates and things of the kind for an ironfounder at Alloa. He preferred the Alloa connection because it left him with more freedom in Glasgow, to which he went home on Saturdays. In those days he needed all his freedom. His ideas were ardently revolutionary, and when in one of his frequent rhapsodies he threw back his high head with its shock of fair hair, and his blue eyes lighted up with splendid visions, you felt that this was the constructive Communist incarnate. He used to chaff me over my pedestrian sanity, and say of each succeeding pamphlet or article I published that it would be ‘appreciated by the trades unionists .’ His first connection with politics had been as secretary of a branch of the Irish National League, and he knew the Irish as few Scotsmen or Englishmen do.
He married Katherine St. John Conway, a Girton girl who came to Manchester, where I already was, in 1893. For years he and Mrs Glasier moved around lecturing, lecturing, incessantly lecturing, putting up in workmen’s houses, and often not seeing each other for weeks on end. They were an absolutely disinterested, single-minded pair, caring nothing about money, and he at any rate very little about comfort, although both of them knew what pleasant surroundings were. Having great thoughts for his companions, he was apt to have spells of silence which passed for absent mindedness, combined latterly with a certain haughtiness which got him the reputation of being somewhat of a Captain Grand. Full of genuine fun and poetic rhodomontade, he nevertheless played at being a politician and had, indeed, some very just views, which he expounded in pointed and picturesque language.
But Glasier was a dreamer, a propagandist and inspirer. Scorning propitiatory arts and the soft answer, no constituency would return him to Parliament, though he offered himself, and though smaller men were accepted. He was in turn editor of the Labour Leader and the Socialist Review and easily the best editor the Leader ever had; but, knowing his own mind, he was a fighting editor, and while his readers resented his sharpness, they did not appreciate his qualities of style and judgement. He was not a ready writer, but when the thought beat itself out it was worth while. He wrote a few pamphlets. He made a few witty songs. But in proportion to one’s feeling of his powers, his literary achievements are trifling. What was it that checked him? I have often speculated. Was it the lethargy of the dreamer? Was there a lack of physical emberance? Or is it simply that he allowed himself to be spent upon meetings? I say spent, not wasted, for it was those meetings that made the movement, in which others are reaping what he sowed.
Glasier was an idealist; but his Idealism had suffered in Glasgow too. When I firest know him he was a ‘barricades man’ ; but on going to England he became very much of a politician in outlook, though never in personal diplomacy. His Idealism suffered in Glasgow by the depressing influence of his surroundings and the helplessness of his position as an employee in the iron-gate business. I who had always been on friendly and equalitarian terms with my bosses could not but be impressed by Glasier’s fear of ‘the governor.’ He once wrote in The Commonweal of a very bad half-hour he had when travelling one day with his Alloa employer. A soldier in the railway carriage (it must have been a third class one, and so the boss would have been no great nabob) hailed Glasier. ‘Aren’t you the block that spouts Socialism at Paisley Road Toll?’ Glasier confessed then in print and afterwards in private that he was greatly relieved when the journey came to an end.
He once remarked to me that an employer ‘always has the advantage of you in an argument, even if you are relatively right. He can put you down by virtue of his position.’ This he said without any bitterness, as if recognising a certain propriety in such domination.
This feeling of helplessness in the tremendous spider’s web of Glasgow’s commercial life showed itself in other ways. He would not spend money upon books, and used to refer to one who did so as ‘a collector.’ A delightfully kind and cultured journeyman trunkmaker, Dan MacCulloch, who liked to gather around him volumes of Carlyle, and to read you favourite passages from Rabelais, was the subject of a good deal of mild scoffing by Glasier, though Dan read the passages very well and had a pleasant voice, and sang very nicely. Glasier was nevertheless very ready to turn to one for a quotation or a verification. His last letter to me contained a request for the best version of a northern ballad which the wife of a Socialist doctor used to sing to us. He was then collecting an anthology of ‘Songs of Peace and War’ (some such title – I have not seen the book.)
It is but natural that a man who loves books, and uses books, and is himself something of an author, should want to be surrounded by books. There are plenty of bookmen in Glasgow; but that the influence of the city is not friendly to study is surely reflected in Glasier’s conception, that a man was ‘a collector’ because he like to gather books about him and was not happy without them. It was not as if Dan MacCulloch and I did not read our books.
It is possible to have lofty ideals as to mankind in the abstract and yet to be suspicious and chilly as regards individuals. It was some abatement of Glasier’s idealism – due, one feels sure, to his experience of Scotland’s largest city – that he was not trustful of the human unit.
In this connection a disagreeable incident occurred in my own house. He had come north on a holiday to the Highlands, and took in Aberdeen on the way that he might see and have a long talk with me. We sat till the summer dawn was well in, and then slipped quietly to bed, feeling a little dissipated and guilty. I had decided to take the morning off from office work that I might see him embarked on the railway journey to Buckie, from which he proposed to take the boat to Inverness, or something of the kind. He emerged from his room looking a little anxious, and explained that he feared he had lost his purse. He had, he said, provided himself with sovereigns and thought he had put the net purse in which they were contained under his pillow on going to bed. He turned over the pillows but could see no trace of it. I mildly wondering that he could not have left his purse, if he needs must carry a purse, in his pocket. He then said that he must have left it behind at home, and that he would telegraph to his people in Glasgow. I lent him a few pounds in notes, without any clear recollection now of whether he was to go on or to stay on till he had a replyl to his telegram.
We left the house, I feeling uncomfortable, and he doubtless a little dashed also, when my wife came running after us. He had pushed the purse so far under the pillow that it had fallen out at the end of the iron bed, and it was lying on the floor under the bed. He looked, naturally, greatly relieved and I shared his feeling so much that I forbore comment upon the incident. I am minded of it by the fact that the other day a directory tout from Glasgow came to the little town where I write, and hustled, apparently, a good deal of money out of women and shopgirls by calling in the absence of the menfolk and pretending that two years subscriptions were due. He got it from my assistant; and a letter to his employers has elicited an apology, but no return of the money.
Glasgow figures largely in the newspapers in the annals of crime, and it is impossible to live in such surroundings without suffering by it. One of his majesty’s judges commented the other day on the alliance between crime and civic neglect; this a propos a heavy calendar for the assizes at Leeds, one of the most sordid towns in Britain.
This is part of the Socialist case against Commercialism. How could Glasgow escape these consequences?
The life of a large city makes men play for safety, and idealism and playing for safety are sworn foes. Country caution is founded, not on suspicion but on mere slowness.
Still, there Glasier was, for years the greatest, most charismatic pioneer of Socialism in Glasgow – all the more admired because he was not in the least concerned about becoming an elected person or in any way getting kudos out of what was his religion and his heart’s desire. The title of his most typical lecture was ‘The Promise and Prophecy of Socialism.’
Not anything to do with wages or machinery of politics but a picture of a grand and gracious social system of beautiful buildings, beautiful streets and gardens, beauty in all the features and appurtences of life, and not least so in the men and women who were to enjoy and profit by the redemption of life from the multifarious blights of commercialism, moral and mental as well as physical.
The Glasgow with which Glasier was familiar was essentially a Tory Glasgow. Picking up a reference book of those days I find that of the nine seats which the political city then consisted, three only were held by the Liberals and six by Tories, mostly of a peculiarly arid type. The one exception was Sir J.Stirling Maxwell, who sat for the College division and who had some of the characteristics that make the man of learning, leisure and culture very attractive to those who have none of these advantages. In the electoral statistics of these days Labour is represented by Mr Robert Smillie, with 696 votes against Mr Alex Cross’s poll of 3108 in CAmlachie. Shaw Maxwell with 443 in Blackfriars and Frank Smith with 368 in the Tradeston Division, as against Cameron Corbett’s 3373 votes. In spite of the Irish, Glasgow was a tory Town.
I do not suppose the political revolution coincides with a mental revolution. Wullie Paterson and his wife have not become ‘intellectuals’ all at once. Mrs Burnett Smith (‘Annie Swan’) testified after her defeat that the Labour women who questioned her before voting against her were better informed than the women still attached to the old-fashioned parties. It was very pleasant to read that, especially as coming from one who had suffered by this spread of intelligence.
Doubtless some part of the changeover is due to the specially large number of unemployed in the Clyde valley. This would not be a satisfactory foundation for steadiness in the future. The unfortunate feature of the shipbuilding industry is that it has depended largely upon the creation of battleships. The good of the world requires that there should be less and less of this production of illth as Ruskin called it to distinguish it from wealth. It was satisfactory to see that Mr Hardie declared for houses rather than battleships. It will be magnificent if the Clyde men can stick to that and still find a living, even if there should be some privation before the transfer to peace production is effected. With so little demand for freights, and much shipping laid up, there is no very cheering prospect ahead.
Will the Clyde Valley men not only stick to their new politics but make sacrifices for the sake of their opinions? Lord Macleay alleges that shipbuilding costs on the Clye are too high, and although Glasgow ILP has taken up the challenge, one has seen no throroughly convincing reply to his statements. The disconcerting fact is that contracts have gone to the east-coast yards.
One has had, from Socialist sources, disquieting accounts of the extent to which the policy of ‘Ca’ canny’ prevails, and wages are of course high as compared with those of some other shipbuilding districts. Glasgow cannot carry the Social Revolution itself, and till the world is changed, the Clyde men must reckon with outside competition.
I do not labour the point, as I wish well to the lively men of the district, and hope for the best. But under capitalism, prevailing conditions must more or less be accepted. It may very well be that, with the building of battleships considerably reduced and orders going elsewhere, even house-building may not be needed in the Glasgow area. In all conscience, Glasgow is big enough already. We may have come to the turning point when the large centres must cease to grow, and the population fall back gradually upon the land, to find a living in new ways. The probability and desirability of this has long been foreseen.
Anyhow, some amendment may be necessary in the spirit shown in the following incident witnessed by a devoted Social-Democrat. In a suburban train one day he found himself in the same compartment with two shipyard hands, once evidently something of an oracle to the other. The oracle decleard: ‘Things’ll never be richt till we have an aicht oors day an’ a poun’ a day for it.’ The other one queried doubtfully, ‘Div ye think it would staun’ it, Jeck?’ Jeck stoutly assured the doubting Thomas that it would, and Thomas seemed to be satisfied that a condition so satisfactory was also possible.
The incident transpired some little time ago, when conditions were better. It is to be hoped that, pending other changes, the ideal will not be fixed so rigidly. In any case, the instransigent spirit over details under capitalism is no necessary part of the Labour ideal.
A Labour Wave Succeeds a Crime Wave.
Glasgow as seen by a Friendly Outsider
It is not for nothing that Glasgow is the Second City. One is not an admirer of big business or big populations. Quality and size are often in inverse ratio. But the majority does admire big things, and if other cities are not big it must be because they can’t help it. They may have done their best, and it just hasn’t been good enough.
Glasgow is saturated with the spirit of business. It is probably the only city in Britain where there is a deliberate emulation of what we think of as the American spirit. Glasgow men are like Americans in respect of a fondness for novelties and long words. I knew one elderly man who liked to say he had ‘unified’ himself with a party when he joined it. Another man liked to call a soda-water bottle a gasogene. Yet another had got hold of a good work but he had evidently read it hurriedly; he referred to a meeting as having been ‘a b---y fissaco!’ A small political body just after the Russo-Japanese war, headed its advertisements ‘Banzai! Banzai!’ which I suppose most people have forgotten is Japanese for ‘Hurrah!’
One would be disposed to say that there are exceptionally few idealists in Glasgow. Glaswegians take up with ideals but their feeling for them would appear to be like Mrs Bardell’s admiration for Mr Pickwick – it is admiration at a distance. When a Glasgow lady returned from a visit to a married friend, the first question her people asked her was whether her friend’s husband ‘had a good business.’ A few people stood watching a poor man feeding the birds and squirrels in a public park. They r remarked as they turned away that the man seemed to enjoy the confidence the wild creatures had in him, and that he must be a kind man. But a Glasgow woman remarked, ‘He doesn’t seem to have made much by it!’ He looked, indeed, little better than a tramp; but his poverty was not deepened by the few handfuls of crumbs he dispensed, and it did not seem an aspect of the matter that would occur to one readily.
Some months ago a Glasgow lady reader of The Gateway sent me a longish clipping from a newspaper. The article discussed Glasgow ‘Men and Manners’ with some point and wit, and, turning to the other side of the two-column strip to see if there was any indication of the name of the newspaper, I found the stop-press column blank save for a longish pencilled sum in simple addition which had four ha’pennies in it, and totted up to 3/9!
We are amused by a thing so characteristic as that the Glasgow Labour M.P’s should already have raised the question of the inadequacy of their salaries. Dozens of lower-middle class Labour men –English, Irish, and Welsh, have managed to rub along on £400, even through the dear war years. £8 a week should enable a Glasgow man to live well in London, especially if he has recently been drawing ‘the dole’ in Glasgow, as one at least of the new M.P’s was doing up to the time of his election. Davie Kirkwood (as they have begun to call him) smokes a clay pipe, as Mr Robert Smillie does also. £8 would go some way to Swinyerds or Burns Cutties and the appropriate tobacco. However, Glasgow is a town of the cash nexus and it may well occur to even Labour men (if they come from Glasgow) that being an M.P.should have its commercial value also.
It is an article of faith with Glasgow men and women that Aberdonians are the last word in greed. The theory has extended to London, and has doubtless been disseminated by the numerous Aberdonians on the London press, who are themselves the authors of the jokes embodying the Glasgow (and English) view of their fellow-citizens. It is a fine thing to have a currency for these japes and catchwords; the people to whom they are applied have to live them down, and that is good for the world, since they have to be generous to the people who jibe at them.
It is probably from this cause that an Aberdeen woman of humble means gave the maid half-a-crown at the end of her short visit, without saying anything about it, while the well-off Glasgow woman discussed whether sixpence or a shilling was the proper tip to give. Which is probably the reason why the one is poor and the other ‘comfortable.’
The other day the Glasgow papers had the common-form remarks about Aberdeen’s modified generosity a propos of a students’ collection. Glasgow raised, with much whooping, £3000 and Aberdeen, I forget what – over £3000 anyhow. Had Glasgow given in the same ratio to population her contribution should have been nearer £20,000. Aberdeen had two separate universities, one of them with the full continental curriculum, four hundred years ago, when not another university in Britain had it. But the typical Glasgow man is a careful spender – careful of his property in every way. When the idealists of the rest of the country were smashing images and ‘dinging down kirks’ whose architecture savoured of Popery , the canny Glaswegians mustered to the defence of their cathedral, which still stands as Andrew Fairservice says –
A brave kirk – nane o’ yer whigmaleeries, and curliewurlies, and open-sneck here about it – a’ solid, weel-jointed, masonwark that will stand as lang as the warld, keep hands and gunpowder aff it.’
The author of ‘The Wealth of Nations,’ was a Kirkcaldy man, but he taught in Glasgow University, which may thus be said to be the cradle of modern political economy. Robert Owen was a Welshman; but he married Davie Dale’s Glasgow ‘dochter,’ and made his only successful experiment at New Lanark, near by.
Owen had the Glasgow man’s conviction that life is a matter of business; that any given social phenomenon can be separated from its antecedents and surroundings and dealt with by ad hoc methods. This is the Ford method, as it was, albeit more indirectly, the Carnegie method. It succeeds up to a point; but it did not carry very far with Robert Owen, nor is it carrying very far with the administrators of the Carnegie schemes. It is also the method of the Glasgow man who wanted to ‘smash that atmosphere’ – as if an atmosphere were a plate or a window pane. The atmosphere that was surrounding Black Rod, Goldstick, the Beefeaters, the King in his state coach, and the peers and peeresses in their robes. I daresay something needs to be done about it; though smashing is less a characteristic of good citizenship than building. ‘Nothing is destroyed until it is replaced,’ and the only way to expel the false is to instil the true. Men in the arms and dress of the Tudor period are out of date. Trunk hose and starched ruffs would not be comfortable. But the would-be smasher probably wasn’t thinking of that at all. I agree that the atmosphere is unreal. But there are bigger things to trouble about than a harmless piece of pageantry which at least serves to suggest how old and august the Mother of Parliaments is.
The writer in the Glasgow paper, dealing with ‘a wave of crime,’ repudiated on behalf of the average Glasgwegian, all sympathy with Bolshevism, and respectfully washed his hands of John M’Lean, Bob Smillie, and Citizen Shinwell. He claimed that Glasgow men – the veriest wearer of a hooker-doon – borrowed a reflected dignity from the knowledge that Glasgow had ‘made’ the Clyde, and had an Orpheus choir, a Scottish Orchestra, and a Rangers football team, innocent as he might be of any personal share in these achievements.
There ought to be something to account for the very good conceit Wullie Paterson has of himself. Aberdeen has twice shifted the bed of the Dee, and is the best-built city in Britain; but the Aberdonian is modestly personified.
There are three Glasgows – at least. There is first, the appallingly depressing city, with the barbaric flummery carving on its grimy buildings, the hurrying crowds of distraught citizens, its black, fat, truculent-looking policemen, and its barefooted squaws that sell newspapers on the sloppy bridges. I never saw barefooted women till I went, a young man, to Glasgow. There are Glasgow men who don’t mind giving women votes and don’t mind seeing them barefooted even in winter time. The first results of giving the women the Parliamentary vote have been the return, twice over, of reactionary governments, many women having voted Tory while their husbands voted Labour. I would have kept the power to do mischief from them, but seen that they had boots.
Then there is the kind, sprightly Glasgow, its banter a little prickly perhaps, its speech of corrugated cadences, up and down, up and down, like the furrows in a field, with sometimes a note of vehemence that to the couthy north-countryman or well-bred Englishman suggests anger. Dr Johnson objected to a certain Scotsman ‘Because he has no animation, no!’ He couldn’t have objected to the Glaswegion on that score.
A Glasgow audience is the quickest in Britain. They have the habit of going to meetings, are trained listeners, and no audience could be more pleasant to speak to. Without shyness, they get up and speak, sometimes awful blethers, often good enough book stuff, sometimes really tactful, pleasant speech, despite the corrugations of the accent; and on jolly feature of a big Glasgow meeting is that a man may talk nonsense at it, but he will not do it for long; the audience will laugh him off or ruff him down. Even those who themselves talk nonsense recognise it when it comes from another. For it often happens that a Glasgow man whose talk is absurd will have read a great deal of capital stuff.
There was Sandy Whiting, repeatedly a candidate, and at last an elected person of some sort. During an election campaign he would swear and threaten from the platform and once at least he did go down and chastise and interrupter. Sandy would say ‘He says says he,’ and he would invoke aphorisms of ‘the weyver o’ Kirkintilloch,’ and he would mis-attribute sayings, such as ‘As the Prophet Isaiah says, He that does not work, neither shall he eat.’ And when you protested sotto voce, that it was not Isaiah who said that, he would reply, aloud ‘Ach, what does it matter? It’s a’ in the ae book onywey.’
But going home with Sandy, you found he had a complete set of Ruskin’s books at a time when Ruskin was still copyright, and his books dear, and that he had read in them if he had not read them all. Sandy would mix metaphors – I have heard him describe a proposal as a ‘Rid herrin’ draws across the trail to blindfold people!’ But when you pointed out that red-herrings would not make good eye-bandages, none laughed more heartily than Sandy himself.
He was nearly always a little absurd in public speech, but never so in private; and his heartiness and jolly laughter made him welcome wherever he came. Be it said, he would never be anywhere for very long without your knowing he was there. He had the quick, black eyes and quick temper so common in the west. ‘I’ll gie ye a slap in the mooth, an’ there it is!’ is an established pleasantry about Glasgow. Sandy illustrated Glasgow in respect of the tartness of his tongue, the carefulness of his habits, and the carelessness of his dress. He worked in a rolling mill and earned big money, while his wife ran a shop and made money too. Yet he wore hobnailed boots which struck fire from the pavement; on his head a black silk cap; and round his neck never a collar, always a muffler.
Sandy abounded in the local free-flowing chaff. One Sunday night at a busy crossing he was addressing a crowd when some young dudes interrupted with banter.
‘There’s some fowk hae mair sterch in their collars than beef in their bellies!’ was his riposte.
The cross-fire continued, however, Sandy with the advantage of position making good against the power of numbers. As the young men at last cleared out, Sandy’s parting shot was; ‘Ye needna be in ony hurry; the doss doesna close till twelve o’clock!’
One day we entered a restaurant together, and were waited upon by a smart, even stern young man. ‘Bring us two welsh rabbits, ‘ordered Sandy, ‘an’ bring them good – they’re for eat’n.’
Sandy is now quiet enough – at last – and there can be no harm in telling of an incident that concerns him and the damsel who became his wife and was grannie by the time I knew him. They were at the back of a dyke one night in their courting days and Sandy had one hand aloft vowing eternal fealty. The hand must have remained in position some time; for presently a man grasped it and shook it cordially from the other side!
I detail such absurdities because instead of regarding Glasgow as a seat and centre of crime, one’s prevailing memory of it raises a smile rather than a shudder. Mr J.J.Bells Mrs McLeerie, the kindly old body who deranges her epithets, but, when corrected pleads that ‘It’s a’ yin,’ seems to an outsider the most typical of Glasgow characters.
There is a third Glasgow of which I have little knowledge and would fain have less. I refer to the Philistine business world, which I knew chiefly from the bagmen it sends out. These people go to church, are keen on climbing, and have hardly, in my experience, one idea to rub on another on any matter apart from business. Of course it is the travellers who call. One does not meet the principals. It often happens that the great man is much more pleasant to meet than the great man’s man. But one has so little respect for the qualities that win success in huckstering that one is very willing to let the limited circle of acquaintances in the west end stand as it is – very nearly at zero.
The writer on ‘Men and Manners’ already referred to is concerned about what an American author says of Glasgow’s underworld. The full sordor of Glasgow’s drunkenness and crime would not strike a native as it does a visitor. It never does.
Travelling down to Glasgow one Saturday night from Yorkshire, the last stages of the journey were made with a carriageful of seafaring men returning from a trip, their vessel having been put into the Mersey instead of the Clyde. They all seemed to be sober; but with the best desire of a returning exile to be favourably impressed with the men of my mother country, it was impossible to resist a feeling that in looks and talk they were a very low set – oh, a memorably low set! Let us not dwell upon it. The sea has its own codes of morals and manners.
The young trawling skipper was taking his boat up ‘the burn,’ and as he came within sound of his home he tooted his horn. An old skipper was on the boat. ‘That’s for the wife?’ he half-queried. ‘I used to dae that,’ he continued. ‘But I dinna dae’t now. I gang to the front door and gae twa lood knocks. Then I rin roond immediately tae the back. I meet him comin’ awa every time. In thirteen year I’ve never missed him yince.’
One Saturday night long ago I did a round of some of the Glasgow slums with Bruce Glasier, Keir Hardie and Cunninghame-Graham. We saw sights which I hope are not to be witnessed in any other town in Britain. It was after eleven, which was at that time the closing hour, and repeatedly we were asked, in the explosive gutterals of St Mungo’s ‘D’ye want a boattle o’ beer?’ the askers evidently having the liquor planted about them. Under the aegis of a stalwart bobby we were given one short horrific glance into an awful ken where, amid smoke and fetor, we could see on a seat an old grey-haired woman rocking in drink and perhaps in pain, the blood lying fresh upon her unreverend forehead from a recent wound, while wretched men and women swarmed around unheeding. In a side-street towards midnight a piper blew with the vigour of mid-day, while several prostitutes danced and whooped around him, their petticoats pulled up for the freedom of an abanadoned dance. A swarthy policeman stood gravely looking on.
I have never had my pocket picked (except in the regular way of trade) but once, and that was in Glasgow another Saturday night, when for a little I got lost from my friends. So that I am naturally impressed with the idea that Glasgow’s underworld is something rather special.
One Sunday night thirty years ago a Socialist speaker was addressing a thin crowd at the Jail Square entrance to Glasgow Green. When the crowd got even thinner than usual the speaker halted and looked around as if contemplating a full stop. A policeman standing by gave his advice. ‘Oh, man,’ said he, ‘what need ye waster yer wind on thae lads?’ Man, they a’ practise what you’re only preachin’!’
They would be mostly thieves. It was criticism as well as advice.
It is of vast significance that this most commercialised of all British cities should have gone over to the party which stands for the negation of Commercialism, in motive and practice alike; and I shall return to the subject in further papers. For the rest, one has many pleasant memories of the Second City.
PART TWO NEXT MONTH
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