THE collapse of the Labour Party in Scotland from its once dominant position to being third behind the SNP and Tories has prompted many in the party to call for radical reform.

The true meaning of radical is derived from the Latin word radix which means root. Getting back to the roots seems to be very important to many people in Scottish Labour, but given the poor knowledge of history displayed by so many of the party’s leaders, never mind members, you have to wonder if they really know what those roots are, not least because they are steeped in Scottish working-class history which so few people seem to know about these days – and not just Labourites.

Indeed, apart from his name, you wonder how many people know much at all about the man who, more than any other, created the Labour Party as we know it today, and who was the first Labour MP, James Keir Hardie.

This extraordinary man personifies the birth of Labour, and his personal struggle against overwhelming odds remains an inspiration to this day. Jeremy Corbyn referred to him in his speech to the party conference after his election as leader as “the last bearded man to lead Labour” and quoted his famous dictum: “My work has consisted of trying to stir up a divine discontent with wrong.”

So there are some serious problems for a party which has wandered so far away from those Hardie roots – how can the party of Jim Murphy and Kezia Dugdale be the same as that of a man who was an outright “gut” socialist, a muscular Christian who converted from atheism, a temperance campaigner, a trade unionist who helped forge the link between the unions and Labour which so many wish to break, and a true representative of a people which Labour turned its back on to seek English middle-class votes – Scottish workers.

And most of all, right at the top of his early campaign leaflets, were two words: Home Rule. By that he meant Scotland being part of a truly federal UK, as he wrote in 1889: “I believe the people of Scotland desire a Parliament of their own and it will be for them to send to the House of Commons a body of men pledged to obtain it.”

The following ideas and pledges appeared on his manifestos at various times: the nationalisation of railways, public ownership of the mines, the nationalisation of land, waterways and also banks and pensions. By comparison, the Scottish Labour Party manifesto for 2016 contains neither the word privatisation nor the words public ownership.

So back to the roots, as personified by the life and works of Keir Hardie.

He was born in August 1856 in the Lanarkshire village of Newhouse near Holytown, to a miner named William Aitken and a domestic servant, Mary Keir. Born illegitimate, as was his great friend and colleague and the first Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, Keir took the name of his stepfather, David Hardie, a ship’s carpenter who moved his family to Govan where he could get work in the shipyards.

Unusually for the time, both his mother and stepfather were atheists. They were also keen proponents of education as a salvation from drudgery, and taught their son to read and write as his formal schooling ended at the age of seven – you read that correctly, he had to start work at the age of seven, as a message boy for a shipping line.

He had a series of menial jobs, but his earnings proved vital for the family when his father and other trade unionists were locked out of the Clyde shipyards.

His father went back to sea and his mother moved the family to Newarthill where Hardie started in the coal mines at the age of 10, working the trap door that let air into the pits, before being put in charge of the pit ponies. Going to night school to improve his education, Hardie did various jobs in the mines and before he was out of his teens, he had also worked in quarries. He also began to attend the Evangelical Union church in Hamilton out of curiosity and to learn the art of public speaking.

In 1878, by his own admission, he was converted to Christianity and became a lay preacher and a temperance campaigner. At the age of just 23, local miners elected Hardie as their chairman and he was promptly blacklisted by employers.

Unable to work down the pits he became a union official and organised the major strikes of 1879 and 1880, during which his new wife Lillie operated a soup kitchen from their home. At the same time as he was becoming a noted union official, he trained himself to be a journalist, learning shorthand.

He moved to Ayrshire, becoming the organising secretary of the new miners’ union there. He also founded a newspaper The Miner, and began to write about his political philosophy. He had joined the Liberal Association in Ayrshire because he thought they were more for the working people than the Tories, yet it was Benjamin Disraeli’s broadening of the electoral franchise that gave Hardie and his colleagues the impetus to believe working men could have their own political party.

Socialism offers a platform broad enough for all to stand upon who accept its principles

Thus the Scottish Labour Party was born in 1888. To put that date in historical perspective, it was the year Celtic FC was founded, when Jack the Ripper first struck, and when Scots-born John Boyd Dunlop invented the pneumatic tyre.

The founding initiative was Hardie’s – in April that year he stood in the Mid-Lanark by-election as an independent Labour candidate against the dominant Liberals and Conservatives, and came last but with many more votes than expected.

After his barnstorming speech to the Scottish Trades Union Congress advocating political organisation, the Scottish Labour Party was formally founded at a public meeting in Glasgow on August 25. Alongside Hardie was the remarkable Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, the first MP to openly identify as a socialist, and who later founded the forerunner of the SNP, the National Party of Scotland.

Scottish miners’ leader Robert Smillie also gave his approval for the party which thus became the forerunner of the British Labour movement. In other words, Labour started here. The left at that time was prospering as Victorian industrialisation and the harshness of employers gave the workers’ movements real reasons to fight. Hardie always saw it as a struggle against a system, not a class war, and he did not embrace communism as a philosophy – Friedrich Engels, co-author of the communist manifesto, detested Hardie for that.

As seemingly always happens with the left, there were a number of internecine struggles between the Scottish Labour Party and various socialist groups, but Hardie had a clear vision – not shared by the Trades Union Congress – of a workers’ party agitating for reform within the House of Commons. It was to there that he went in 1892, having stood as a “Labour” candidate in West Ham South in London’s east end. For once the left rallied behind a single candidate and Hardie won convincingly to make history. He promptly needled the other parties in the Commons by refusing to wear the uniform of top hat and tails, turning up for his first day in a tweed suit, deerstalker hat and red tie.

Now respected and popular for his superb oratory and his visionary writing, Hardie helped found the Independent Labour Party in Bradford in 1893 – it would later merge with the Scottish Labour Party – advocating it in his successful newspaper Labour Leader.

Defeated in West Ham South, in 1900 Hardie was instrumental in bringing together the ILP, the TUC and others to form the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) and in October that year he was elected as MP for Merthyr Tydfil and Aberdare – he would stay in that post until his death – effectively becoming the leader of the Labour political movement.

In 1906 the LRC became the Labour Party and Keir Hardie became the first official Labour Party leader. Now working people, who had traditionally supported the Liberal Party, had a real choice to vote for, and that was what Keir Hardie had worked to achieve for so long.

His causes ranged from votes and equal rights for women to the abolition of the House of Lords and self-rule for India. He was not modern-thinking in other ways as he opposed immigration, having seen Lithuanian miners, as he viewed it, take Scottish jobs.

Broken-hearted by the onset of the First World War, against which he had campaigned as a pacifist, Keir Hardie died in hospital in Glasgow on September 26, 1915. Thousands lined the route of his funeral procession to Maryhill, but no other political party was represented. You suspect Keir Hardie would have liked it that way.

So what lessons has he for modern Scottish Labour?

Let’s end with extracts from his speeches:

“We are called upon at the beginning of the 20th century to decide the question propounded in the Sermon on the Mount, as to whether we will worship God or Mammon.

“The present day is a Mammon-worshipping age. Socialism proposes to dethrone the brute-god Mammon and to lift humanity into its place”

In a 1904 article he wrote: “For my own part I have always maintained that to claim for the socialist movement that it is a ‘class’ war dependent for its success upon the ‘class’ consciousness of one section of the community is doing socialism an injustice, and indefinitely postponing its triumph. It is, in fact, lowering it to the level of a mere faction fight. Socialism offers a platform broad enough for all to stand upon who accept its principles ... socialism makes war upon a system, not upon a class.”

One of his greatest speeches was given on the 21st anniversary of the founding of the ILP: “I may recall the fact that in those days, and for many years thereafter, it was tenaciously upheld by the public authorities, here and elsewhere, that it was an offence against laws of nature and ruinous to the State for public authorities to provide food for starving children, or independent aid for the aged poor. Even safety regulations in mines and factories were taboo. They interfered with the ‘freedom of the individual’. As for such proposals as an eight-hour day, a minimum wage, the right to work, and municipal houses, any serious mention of such classed a man as a fool.”

On female emancipation: “Who that has ever known woman as mother or wife has not felt the dormant powers which, under the emotions of life, or at the stern call of duty are even now momentarily revealed? And who is there who can even dimly forecast the powers that lie latent in the patient drudging woman, which a freer life would bring forth? Woman, even more than the working class, is the great unknown quantity of the race …

“Henceforward we must march forward as comrades in the great struggle for human freedom.”

Lessons from history, perhaps forgotten.