Young Socialists, Hugh Gaitskell and Polaris Missiles
© CSG CIC Glasgow Museums
There were twelve branches of the Young Socialists in Glasgow throughout the 1960s. Members included Maria Fyfe, who became the Member of Parliament for Glasgow Maryhill from 1987- 2001, Gus MacDonald, a journalist who became a Labour Life Peer and Stuart Christie, who later wrote 'My Granny made me an Anarchist' (2002), which recounts his time as a Young Socialist and a political prisoner of General Franco. The Springburn Young Socialists were established sometime in the early 1960s.
Wilma Gillespie, pictured below, made the banner. Bob Gillespie was both the Treasurer of the Springburn Young Socialists and Secretary of the Glasgow Federation of Young Socialists. He recounts some of his memories of the banner and the group:
“We sat in a very small hall, which was across from the Springburn Halls, at the bus stop on Keppochhill Road, just where the fire station was. It was a wee hall, it must have been a shoemaker’s shop or something and they had some cinema seats, a row of four or five. That is where we all met with the likes of Maria Fyfe. Each of us would write down a subject, put it in a hat and rumble them up. You pick out something – you have to give us a two minute speech. “So what is this? Housing” – and you would just launch in to that subject. That got the subject discussed and it got everybody speaking and arguing his or her beliefs. Between that and street corner meetings you were becoming an established debater, discusser and so on.
The banner was on all the demonstrations. I think on one occasion it was carried in Aldermaston at a demonstration. I think it has been to the Holy Loch. The poles were made of thick heavy wood and they had fitments. They were solid brass. I think they might have come out of the Caley [Caledonian Rail] Works. So whoever got the job of carrying the banner, they carried it for about a mile, and then they’d had enough and wanted to give someone else the banner. That was all part of our youth.
It was at the demonstration on May Day 1962 with the Glasgow Federation of Young Socialists, of which I was secretary. The Young Socialists walked out on Hugh Gaitskell during his speech. He was talking about nuclear weapons and he started haranguing the Young Socialists as ‘agents of Moscow’”.
Stuart Christie in 'My Granny made me an anarchist' shares his memories of the episode mentioned by Bob:
After being heckled by the Young Socialists present at the event “he [Gaitskell] paused for effect, surveyed the crowd of hostile Glaswegians, and then leaned forward to deliver his memorable punch line. ‘You’re nothing; Your just peanuts!’ he shouted hysterically at the crowd of thousands […].
Gaitskell went beserk. He ranted and raved that we were all secret members of the communist party, tools of Russia and that we should go back to Mosco and demonstrate under the Russian tanks. A Hamden-like roar of derision greeted his words and the jeers went on and on, rolling up the green slopes of Queens Park" (Christie 2002: 136).
Morris Blythman, songwriter and activist, captured the event in his song 'Peanuts', sung to the tune 'Bless 'em all: the long, the short and the tall':
‘Ye a’ ken how Gaitskell got shelled in Queen’s Park
Roasted and salted as well
He cried the folk peanuts but a’ body kens
The only nut there was himself
For he said that Polaris should stay in the loch
An Scotland should bow tae the yanks,
An’ back Adenauer and the hail NATO shower,
Wi’ sodgers, bazookas and tanks.’