Tag: political song

Young Socialists, Hugh Gaitskell and Polaris Missiles

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© 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:

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“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.’

The Castlemilk Anti-Bedroom Tax Campaign

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© Castlemilk Anti-Bedroom Tax Campaign

In the March of 2013, I think it was Socialist Party Scotland, organised a public meeting in this very room [Main Hall, Castlemilk Community Centre] and I think there was over 100 people turned up to that. So a sense of injustice and fury was already building because the Bedroom Tax was imminent. This thing was coming in the next week to ten days and people didn’t feel they had enough information about how this was going to affect them. ‘The Bedroom Tax - what does it mean for me?’ There were figures bandied around. ‘It’s going to cost me 14% extra or 25% of my rent, what is actually going on here?’

This was unfair because no matter how many spare rooms you had, people’s rents were different depending on what area you lived in, even within Castlemilk. The rents down the valley in Drakemire were actually different from that in Ardencraig even though the house sizes were the same, so even though it was 14% or 25% the figures were going to work out differently for people living in the same type of accommodation. [...] What we need to remember is when they built the scheme they built all the houses the same size, they were all family units. The majority of houses are three apartment houses. There are a few four apartment houses and I don’t think there is many single apartment houses. So the whole idea that the government were going to shift people freely into smaller accommodation was just never going to happen. There was absolutely no way that this could happen in this area and in similar areas in the city, and that could be seen throughout the country. It wasn’t just here in Glasgow, it was the same throughout Scotland.

So the public meeting in the March of 2013 was basically the birth of the Castlemilk Anti-Bedroom Tax campaign. We started having meetings regularly. There are people in this room that belonged to that group and we continued to have these meetings but we also stood in the shopping centre on a Friday afternoon talking to folk. We got a petition organised and one of the things we focused on in the petition was evictions. There are a lot of similarities here with the Anti-Poll Tax Campaign […]. It is no accident that the banners are similar, because we learnt a lot from the Poll Tax campaign. That campaign was ‘Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay’, and you can see from this [Jean points to the Anti-Bedroom Tax banner] that its a ‘Can’t Pay, Won’t Leave’ scenario because the main concern – and this is the difference between us and the Poll Tax – is that we were at risk of people losing their homes. It wasn’t just about losing independence and losing furniture, which was bad enough, but being evicted and ending up on the street. It was a really scary, scary thing for folk, so the decision was made – because there had been Anti-Bedroom Tax groups springing up across the country – to get them all together, much as the Anti-Poll Tax Unions did, so that we could share resources and come to a decision about what route we should take. It was decided at that point that it was a bit too risky to put out a ‘Don’t Pay’ scenario because it might put people at risk of them losing their homes and becoming homeless. That was a difficult decision but that is the decision people eventually came to.

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Some of the similarities [with the Anti-Poll Tax Campaign] are actually quite incredible and I think it is fair to say that the Bedroom Tax really used a lot of their techniques, like the phone tree scenario but by that point we did have Facebook and we did have text messaging. We fortunately didn’t ever have to do anything as drastic as the Anti- Poll Tax campaigners had to do [i.e. physically obstruct bailiffs]. There were about three different times where someone received text messaging or there was an alert on Facebook – ‘Oh we think there is an eviction’. There was one in Pollok. I think it was the first in Glasgow. People arrived on the scene and that was really quite quickly quelled by having a meeting with the local housing association and Govan Law Centre – we made use of the free legal advice out there to make sure people had legal representation and back up. It was quelled by people just turning up, having a meeting and realising that this really isn’t the best scenario - people being turned out on to the street. There was another one in Greenock, a girl in Greenock who was threatened with eviction. She had her say in court. We arrived at court, we stood outside the court, lobbied outside the court, marched round to the housing association, lobbied outside the housing association where eventually the manager spoke to the tenant and a representative from the Scottish Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation and that again was quelled so we never found ourselves in the drastic stage the people from the Anti-Poll Tax movement found themselves in.

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For me I really need to end by saying this is still happening, this is still very real for people. Particularly with folk in England and Wales who are still suffering greatly, they are still arguing for no evictions. We have had a wee bit of respite right now [in Scotland] but the thing still exists; it’s not been abolished. I don’t want to end on a bad note but that’s the reality for us in Scotland. The campaigning has worked in terms of mitigation, but I think to keep it real, we need to keep in mind that for us, for me certainly anyway, the campaigning has to continue considering the situation we are still in. Do your best to help to actually get the thing abolished and a lot of the other welfare reform agenda to be abolished as well.

Jean Devlin, Community Activist

The image directly above and Jean's words are from the Banner Tales of Glasgow workshop, Castlemilk Community Centre, 01/05/2015. The YouTube clip below shows Anti-Bedroom Tax Campaigners singing The Anti-Bedroom Tax Song by Citizen Smart at a demo in George Square. Presumably the words to the song are written on the back of the placard! The song is sung to to the tune of Adam McNaughton's Jeely Piece Song.