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Dr Robert D McIntyre
Chapter 13 - By-Election after effects

But, having voted for Robert McIntyre, strangely this was no guarantee that he would be able to speak for his electorate in the Westminster House of Commons.

When McIntyre sought to "take the oath" in the House of Commons on Tuesday, 17th April, 1945, he caused an upset which could only take place in an establishment riddled by adherence to tradition and designed to intimidate the newcomer and impose its establishment will.

Mr Speaker (D Clifton Brown) made the usual announcement, "Will Members desiring to take their seats please come to the Table".

Hansard records: "Mr R D McIntyre, Member for the County of Lanark (Motherwell Division) came to the Table to be sworn WITHOUT BEING INTRODUCED ACCORDING TO CUSTOM"

The Speaker informed the SNP’s new Member, "That it is the uniform practice of this House that, when any Member comes into the House for the first time, he should be introduced by two Members of the House", and he put the question to Robert McIntyre as to "whether two Members of this House are prepared to introduce him, in accordance with the usual practice ...".

Well, in the words of the Punch cartoon which appeared in the Times, "McIntyre was INTIRELY ALONE,’ and could only state, "I was elected as a representative of a Scottish constituency and ....", before Speaker Clifton Brown shut him up. He had been asked a question and, in Mr Speaker’s view, his answer, was "No".

What the Speaker did then makes it quite clear that the House of Commons is not a UK Parliament but an English Parliament carrying on the procedures and precedents of that institution.

"I have to call the attention of the House to a Resolution of the House on 23rd February 1688 ..." stated the Speaker. The terms of this mysterious Resolution are worth noting in full: "The House, being informed that it was an ancient Order and Custom of the House, that, upon new Members coming into the House, they be introduced to the Table, making the Obeisance’s as they go up, that they may be better known to the House; Resolved, that the said Order and Custom be for the future observed."

In fairness to the Speaker, he did state that, "I have had diligent search made in the journals of the House and find that only once has a variation of this practice ever been sanctioned - in 1875."

After a deal of searching out as to what could or could not be done for Dr Robert McIntyre in order to allow him to take his place in the "Mother of Parliaments", Sidney Silverman, the Labour Member for Nelson & Colne asked if it would be in order, "without going into whether the rules should be altered or not, to suspend the Standing Order", to enable Robert to take his seat. Against some protest, the Speaker conceded that it would be in order to make such a notice and George Buchanan, the Labour Member for Gorbals eventually was able to get the issue discussed.

The ensuing debate shows the House of Commons in all its absurd pomposity. Here it is, in the closing stages of the War, discussing whether or not to keep up a practice which was designed to prevent impostors sitting in the place 300 years before, and the Prime Minister of the day took time off pursuing his battle with Hitler and the Japanese to use all his oratorical gifts to advise the House of Commons to keep to its ancient traditions.

Reasons coming from other MPs give a deal of insight into their difficulties. Arthur Woodburn, the Labour MP for Clackmannan and future Secretary of State for Scotland, summed up the problem of "guilt by association". "When a Member arrives at the House, he is in a difficulty if he has to be sponsored by people who are hostile to his political views it is equally embarrassing, even to persons who may be personal friends of the Hon Member to sponsor him in this House when, by sponsoring him, they automatically create the impression that they or their party are associating themselves with the Hon Member and his party."

In order to avoid such a compromising position occurring, Woodburn submitted that the rule should be waived in the case of a Member "of a unique party, a person who had nobody associated with him".

To do them justice, Labour MPs, in addition to George Buchanan and Modwyn Hughes (Labour MP for Carmarthen) supported the motion to waive the rule, none was more eloquent than Aneurin Bevan who put it clearly and succinctly, "Whenever there has been a conflict in constitutional history between the privileges, usages and customs of the House and the right of the constituents of this country to elect a person to this House, the right of those constituents has always prevailed ... and the House ... is flying in the face of every single major constitutional precedent in trying to set any role, regulation, custom or usage of this House against the rights of the citizens of this country to be represented here by any person whomsoever they select". He put it that, "Robert McIntyre ought to be admitted and the Commons should not bother any more about the matter". Notwithstanding such persuasion, the vote went against Motherwell’s MP by 273 votes to 74, with both Attlee and Churchill voting against.

Writing in the "Evening Citizen" later, Robert McIntyre defended his position by making the point," It happens that I very clearly stated to the people of Motherwell and Wishaw that I would give no allegiance to the London-controlled parties. Self-government for Scotland was the chief issue which was put before the electors."

He saw the problem of party difficulties for any MP who acted as a sponsor. The Order of 1688 had been devised long before party allegiances and before press and communication techniques made elected representatives widely known, but, more importantly for Robert McIntyre, "It should be noted that 1688 was before the Treaty of Union between Scotland and England (1707). If resolutions of the old English Parliament are binding to the Parliament now at Westminster, then it would appear that the present Parliament is merely a continuation of the old English Parliament and is not a united Parliament based on the Treaty of Union."

He had hardly stepped off the night train from Edinburgh when he had been confronted with the House of Commons in its most overbearing mode and insisting on a stance which had little real or practical meaning.

Some appreciation of the problem to be overcome is expressed in the description of the situation by William McIntyre, Robert’s brother, who was present in the House of Commons and who witnessed the event.

William McIntyre’s recall of the happenings are: "On the afternoon on which his election (Robert’s) was announced, Mr Arthur Woodburn told me in the course of a telephone conversation that, "Of course., they couldn’t sponsor him". When he went to the House, Dr McIntyre naturally looked to Home Rulers to sponsor him ... They were to be found among the older Labour Party members ... He asked James Barr. Barr said he could hardly do that. "You see," he said, "my agent was over speaking against you". I tried to persuade Barr on the grounds of family friendship ... he was a friend of my parents and had consulted my grandfather (Rev George Morison) when he was considering leaving the church for politics". Notwithstanding Barr’s reluctance, he returned sometime later and said he would do it whatever happened."

Robert McIntyre’s assessment was that the issue of his sponsorship had become a Party matter and it would be more fitting for him to go forward without sponsors to take the oath or affirm.

Having been defeated in this endeavour, Robert decided that he was "sufficiently kenspeckled" and was introduced next day by the Rev James Barr and Alexander Sloan.

One of the interesting aspects of the whole affair is that, while the Speaker made reference to a variation of procedure in 1875, no one seems to have examined exactly what happened on the previous occasion. What did happen is most revealing and is worth noting, even at this stage, as a point of comparison.

On February 18th, 1875, Dr Edward Vaughan Kenealy, who had been returned in a by-election for Stoke-on-Trent, sought to be introduced without sponsors, in contravention of the Resolution of 1688. None other than the Prime Minister of the day, Benjamin Disraeli, moved that the 1688 Resolution be dispensed with, and this was carried without a division, in stark contrast to the overwhelming rejection in the case of Dr McIntyre and the Prime Minister in 1945, Churchill, speaking against.


A surprising aspect of the reaction of MPs to the sponsorship issue of Robert McIntyre is that there does not seem to have been much examination of what happened back in 1875 and the personalities involved. If there had been such an examination, the absurdities of the House of Commons posturing would have been even more clearly revealed.

Dr Edward Vaughan Kenealy was a barrister who had been elected as an Independent for Stoke-on-Trent on 14th February 1875 with a majority of 2,000. His conduct in the courts in relation to a famous 19th century case involving a claimant (Arthur Orton) to the Tichborne Inheritance had resulted in his being disbenched and disbarred. His sole reason for entering the Commons appears to have been to continue to ventilate grievances, real and imagined, affecting the court’s decision.

His "record" made him extremely undesirable, and thus his inability to find the necessary sponsors. Disraeli carefully avoided going into details of the reasons for Dr Kenealy’s plight stating, "I think there are circumstances connected with the present case which render it desirable that we should not insist upon its enforcement". That is the Order of 1688. When pressed further on the issue as to what he meant by "circumstances", he offered the weak explanation. "I was told the Hon Member for Stoke-upon-Trent had not succeeded in obtaining two Members to introduce him, and I thought it might be painful to his feelings to allude to this fact."

The fact is Kenealy’s reputation was well known - indeed, he was notorious and it is for this reason that no MP wanted to stand beside him as a sponsor. Notwithstanding all of this, the House of Commons saw fit to waive the Order of 1688 in 1875. No one seems to have had either the time or resources in 1945 to reflect on the implication of the behaviour of MPs towards Dr Vaughan and the contrast with Dr McIntyre. It may be they wanted to avoid the implication that, if you were a well known rogue and wanted to use the House of Commons to indulge in a personal campaign, procedures were adjusted to admit you. But, if you were principled and wished to stand up for your country’s interests, procedures were insisted upon.

Entering the war-time House of Commons was hardly the sort of experience conducive to making one feel exactly at home. It has to be remembered that the Commons itself was not entirely at home. Because of the effects of the bombing, it was meeting in the Lords, their Lordships being quartered in the Grand Committee Rooms off Westminster Hall.

McIntyre’s stance was quite resolute, in that he took the view that, if Members or any Member resented his presence, he had the obvious answer that he really did not want to be there either!

In this assertion, he was giving voice to the dilemma of SNP Members of Parliament and, in a way, contradicting his own intentions. In seeking election to Westminster (and local government) SNP candidates had several aims. To promote the cause of independence and to convince the Scottish people that it was wrong to accept second class status, and that Scotland had the resources and capabilities of governing itself, just like any other western nation. But, in order to achieve the goal of independence, the SNP had to win a majority of seats or votes in a general election. This task could not be accomplished at one attempt and, therefore, the MPs elected to Westminster had the choice of sitting in a parliament of which they did not really approve and try their best to represent Scotland’s interests and the interest of their constituents, or boycotting the place. Having taken the Party political electoral course rather than of an all-party/no-party Scottish Movement, McIntyre was obligated to represent his constituents at Westminster and to use the House of Commons to articulate Scotland’s needs and rights as a nation.

Unfortunately, the time he had at Westminster to do this was very short indeed, but his maiden speech on 1st May 1945 shows him well up to the task he set for himself He stated: "...I am in a rather singular position for I, and the colleagues who will shortly follow me from Scotland, come here with no intention of interfering in the affairs of this country or reforming any of the legislation or changing any of the customs of this House. We come with the intention of returning as soon as possible to our own country where we may, under democratic government, achieve the long-needed reconstruction of Scotland. In the meantime ... it is necessary for us to do everything in our power to safeguard the Scottish position from any further deterioration."

The topic for debate was more than apt for this purpose - the Education (Scotland) Bill - which sought to apply to Scotland the Government’s policy for the development of education in Great Britain.

In McIntyre’s view, "In Scotland, you can have either a Scottish education, or an education which is a poor imitation and copy of the English product. Scottish education has a different fundamental social basis from any English education". Developing his argument, the Motherwell MP stated, "The fundamental basis of Scottish education has always been a democratic one. On the other hand, the basis of English education, it appears to me as an outsider, is of the nature of a caste basis".

He went on to illustrate the different understanding of the meaning of "public" school in Scotland by telling the story. "I have a friend who recently applied for a commission in the British Army. When asked what school he was at, he said he was at Knowtop Public School. He got his commission.

In Scotland, I always considered that the word ‘public’ meant everybody and that everybody matters. In England, it seems that ‘public’ means those that matter and that those that matter are not everybody."

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