IT was in this week in 1965 that Scotland’s last Communist MP Willie Gallacher passed away. Gallacher is often thought to have been the only Communist MP in Scotland but Walton Newbold stood as a Communist in Motherwell in 1922, only to lose the seat a year later. Gallacher won West Fife in 1935 and kept the seat until 1950, making him the longest-serving of the four Communist MPs elected to Parliament in the 20th century.

If it was Fife that made him an MP, it was Red Clydeside that made Gallacher a firebrand politician and campaigner for socialism.

Born in Paisley in 1881 to an Irish father and a mother from the Highlands, Gallacher was just seven when his father died and at the age of 10, he had to go to work when not at school.

At 12 he left school to become a delivery boy for a grocer but continued to educate himself. After various jobs and trips to the USA and Ireland he went to work at the Albion Motor factory just before the First World War broke out, becoming a shop steward almost immediately.

He was already a member of the Independent Labour Party but joined the Social Democratic Federation, later the British Socialist Party, where he came under the influence of John MacLean who, like Gallacher, was a lifelong teetotaller. It was a heady political time in Glasgow as Gallacher wrote in a memoir.

He said: “By November 1914, the campaign against the war, against high prices and rents, and for increased wages was in full blast. Housewives, as well as factory workers, were being brought into political activity.”

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Gallacher was becoming increasingly influential himself and was elected chair of the powerful Clyde Workers Committee (CWC) which was an ad hoc committee of shop stewards and other trade unionists.

In 1915 they protested against rent increases and then picked a fight with the British Government over the practice of dilution in which semi-skilled workers were parachuted in to munitions works.

In February 1916, Gallacher and John Muir of the CWC were imprisoned under the Defence of the Realm Act over an article in the CWC’s publication The Worker. Gallacher got six months and Muir a year, and all that did was make Gallacher even more determined on revolution, especially after the Tsarist regime in Russia collapsed.

He would later write: “Here we were in the earliest months of 1917 with the greatest masses of Glasgow aroused to the highest pitch of enthusiasm ... How is it possible to describe those hectic days and the never-ending stream of activity that was carried on?”

In 1919, the agitation for a 40-hour week culminated in a massive strike on Clydeside and the Battle of George Square. Gallacher described what happened: “Suddenly, without warning of any kind, a signal was given and the police made a savage and totally unexpected assault on the rear of the meeting, smashing right and left with their batons, utterly regardless of whom or what they hit ... with brutal ferocity they made their onslaught on defenceless workers.”

Gallacher was struck on the head but with a bandage applied to stop the bleeding he and David Kirkwood appealed to the crowd to move away from the square. Precious little thanks they got from the authorities as the police arrested him and Kirkwood and another jail term was served. He would go to prison twice more in the 1920s.

He would later write: “We were carrying on a strike when we ought to have been making a revolution ... such was the condition of our leadership that there was no plan, no unity of purpose, we were watching one another and waiting for and wondering what was going to happen ... A rising should have taken place. The workers were ready and able to effect it, the leadership had never thought of it.”

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Gallacher went to Moscow in 1920 having become a Communist which saw him split from his old Red Clydeside colleagues in the Labour Party.

It was Lenin himself who turned Gallacher to the parliamentary route of revolution: “I had an interview with Lenin during which he asked me three questions. Do you admit you were wrong on the question of Parliament and affiliation to the Labour Party? Will you join the CP when you return? Will you do your best to persuade your Scottish comrades to join it? To each of these questions I answered yes.”

THE Communist Party of Great Britain was in no small way a creation of Gallacher’s and he became a full-time activist, working with the unions and the Unemployed Workers Movement. He stood five times for Parliament before finally succeeding in West Fife in 1935.

He was instrumental in gaining support for the anti-Franco forces in Spain and went to the front line, recalling: “Then, after visiting the American section, we came back to our own lads.

‘‘All of them came outside and formed a semicircle, and there, with as my background the graves of the boys who had fallen, I made a short speech.

‘‘It was good to speak under such circumstances, but it was the hardest task I have ever undertaken. When I finished we sang the Internationale with a spirit that all the murderous savagery of fascism can never kill.”

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The problem for Gallacher was the shifting sands of Soviet policy. He was a committed Stalinist and supported the Soviet non-aggression pact with Hitler, only for Germany to invade Russia which meant that Gallacher could enthusiastically support the war against the Axis countries.

Gallacher and his wife had lost their two children in infancy. Later they adopted his brother’s two sons after his death. Both boys were killed in action during the war.

Noted as an assiduous MP, Gallacher survived in West Fife until 1950. He continued as president of the Communist Party until 1963 and died on August 12, 1965, aged 83.

It was reported that 40,000 people lined the streets as his coffin, draped in the Red Flag, was carried to Woodside Crematorium. The Times, no less, noted that “he left little rancour behind him.