John Maclean, Justice February 1910
Source: Justice, 12 February 1910, p. 8;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
DEAR COMRADE, – Since the formation of our Pollokshaws Branch, about three years ago, we have not only carried on active propagation of our general principles and formed new branches, but we have given the lead on all questions of local interest to the masses, as well as having participated in every election. If we had no candidate we always issued a manifesto, supplemented by public meetings, to advise the voter which candidate to reject. Whilst we have all along considered it unwise to ask the people to support a candidate, as that would imply agreement with him, still we have reckoned that it was no breach of our party’s policy to exhort the workers to defeat a man who had proved himself openly opposed to the workers’ interests. On every occasion we have been able to crush the candidate condemned by us. This has been such an effective weapon in our hands that not only have we increasingly gained the confidence of the people, but also, through fear, have forced the opposition to move slowly in our direction.
Encouraged by our success in local elections, we thought it expedient to experiment with the General Election by adopting similar tactics, although not with the unanimous consent of the branch. We issued a four-paged leaflet explaining our general position and our attitude towards the larger election issues, and concluding by a request to our supporters to vote down Sir Robert Laidlaw (Liberal). Our reason for so doing was based on the attitude of the Liberals towards us. Before we read any such suggestion in “Justice” we adopted the position that we would vote Liberal if the Liberals gave our men a clear fight with the Conservatives.
The Liberals had in public called for the unity of all progressive bodies. We had no illusions as to what this meant, but unfortunately, most workers are easily duped by such plausible suggestions, and for the education of these we had to take the Liberals at their word. The fact that the Liberals opposed all our candidates – and we laid special emphasis on North Aberdeen, Northampton, and Burnley – enabled us to come before the public and effectively expose this election dodge of our cunning opponents.
As we had the balance of power in East Renfrewshire we were able not only to expose but likewise to defeat the Liberals. No one knowing the situation can deny that this claim is most effectively substantiated by the fact that East Renfrewshire is one of the few Unionist victories in Scotland.
Such, an accomplishment in itself is small, but I consider it involves momentous issues for the S.D.P. The supreme issue for us at the election was not programme, but party, and this we made the basis of our action. Had all branches in constituencies where we had no candidates openly opposed both Labour and Liberal candidates alike, on the ground that they oppose the growth of our party, although they claim to be the real friends of the workers, then a lesson of exceptional historic importance would have been taught them, because we have the power to sway from side to side a huge part of the electorate.
As it was, we nullified our influence nationally in consequence of some voting Liberal, others Conservative, whilst probably most refrained from the use of their vote, or spoiled their paper. Had a special conference been convened, or had the E.C. given a definitely clear lead, then there might have been the possibility of united action. If we are going to become a political party worthy of support by our class and of fear by the plunderers, then we must act as a party and not as a loose conglomeration of jarring elements. This is certainly a question that ought to be thrashed out at our Annual Conference, where trivialities and personalities have loomed large in the past, to the exclusion of immediate lines of national action. The probability of an election in the immediate future should undoubtedly give piquancy to a discussion on the broad lines of our next election policy and on the machinery that should be devised to find and give expression to the views of the party on the policy to be adopted when election time returns.
This does not exclude advocacy of a minimum programme adapted to the occasion, but simply reduces it to a secondary position. Social-Democracy can only come through the efforts of an organisation having that as its goal, and in a capitalist society that organisation must find expression as a political party. It consequently follows that the growth of our party must demand our highest immediate consideration, and for its development we must do what under other circumstances we would despise.
Whilst I have always reckoned that the payment of election expenses and of members of Parliament is the political reform we ought to make a national fight for over a protracted period, yet I maintain that if by the threat of national opposition we could force the Liberals to give us a straight fight with the Conservatives at Burnley and elsewhere we would do more for the growth of our party than by success in the above.
Of course, the best solution to the whole unsatisfactory position, is the initiation of proportional representation, agitation for which from now till the next General Election would be most wise. Till it has become a reality, however, I insist that the course suggested by me is worthy of the party’s consideration. – Yours, etc.,