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The Day Gaitskell ’Lost the Heid’ — Sunday 6 May 1962
THE SCOURGING OF the YS as a laboratory of radical ideas coincided with the halcyon days of the Committee of 100.
Clause IV of the Labour Party Constitution was obviously a fantasy, a non-starter. I wanted out. I was an eager socialist who believed passionately in the freedom of the individual. I loathed the parliamentary game and the capitalist system, but I was not prepared to accept either the leadership of the Marxist intellectuals, or the dictatorship of any party.
The theme of the Glasgow march was ‘No To Polaris’, and the Labour Party leader Hugh Gaitskell, a supporter of the US bases on the Clyde, came to address the Glasgow labour movement on this platform. It was provocation by the National Executive of the Labour Party on a huge scale.
This was the man who for the past 3 years had been making vitriolic attacks on CND, ‘pacifists’, unilateralists and ‘fellow travellers’, coming to nuclear ground zero in the heartland of ‘Red Clydeside’ to lecture them on the ‘benefits’ of the US nuclear bases. Gaitskell might have been clever, but he was not astute and certainly lacked political judgement right to the end.
Folksinger Gordon McCulloch — who together with Bobby Campbell and Hamish Imlach, formed the short-lived but popular Emmettones folk group — unwittingly set in train the hostile banter that triggered the whole shindig.
Josh Macrae had been at the ‘wee goldies’ all morning and was well out of it by the time he came on to the stage to entertain us with anti-Polaris songs. After Josh had done his bit, Gaitskell was escorted onto the stage by some Labour Party dignitary who announced how proud he was to present to us the leader of the Labour Party.
Gordon, who was sitting directly behind me, with Bobby, shouted, ‘Confront, you mean!’ The roar of approval to Gordon’s interjection and hooting catcalls shook Gaitskell: he paused for effect, surveyed the crowd of hostile Glaswegians, and then leaned forward to deliver his memorable punchline. ‘You’re nothing. You’re just peanuts!’ he shouted hysterically at a crowd of thousands. This judgement became immortalised in one of Morris Blythman’s many songs, called ‘Peanuts’ but better known as ‘Boomerang’, and sung to the tune of ‘Bless ’Em All’ – aka ‘The Long and the Short and the Tall’.
Gaitskell went berserk. He ranted and raved that we were all secret members of the Communist Party, tools of Russia, and that we should go back to Moscow 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 Queen’s Park.
Pandemonium broke loose as hundreds, including myself and friends, feeling that this was the right moment to make our protest felt, rushed to pull him off the platform. God knows what would have happened if we’d managed to get to Gaitskell, but the police and stewards had an inkling that something was in the wind. While we were milling around below the stage shouting abuse at the leader, suddenly my arms were pinioned behind my back and a large Highland ‘polisman’ unceremoniously ejected me in a headlock.
Unfortunately, an identifiable picture of me made the centre spread of the Daily Record the next day and I was hauled over the coals by my boss, Mr Wilson. ‘His’ apprentices, he informed me in his most baronial manner when I was called into his office the next day, were not to get involved in politics or it would endanger the articles of indenture I had signed. He was marking my cards, effectively, that any more trouble and I would be out.
The press coverage that followed described the incident as a communist plot and the Labour Party immediately called for an inquiry into the incident, and sent Mrs Bessie Braddock up from Liverpool to conduct the preliminary investigation. Mrs Braddock had been an MP for some 18 years, and having been a member of the Communist Party in her youth was regarded as particularly suitable for ferreting out secret members of that party.
Bessie found it hard to find suitable candidates to blame in the Glasgow YS branches. There were no communists, no Irish Republicans, and no foreigners; there were not even any English apart from Paul Foot.
I was living in Blantyre, and yet belonged to the Springburn branch; no doubt sinister reasons were read into this fact. No good could come of this state of affairs. I was one of those on whom she pronounced anathema and soon after I received word that I had to depart Springburn and join my local branch in Hamilton, which I did for a short time.
The last word on Queen’s Park, 1962, should lie in another Morris Blythman song, sung to the tune of ‘The Ould Orange Flute’.
‘Ye a’ ken how Gaitskell got shelled at Queen’s Park
Roasted and salted as well
He cried the folk peanuts but a’body kens
The only nut there wis himsel’
For he said that Polaris should stay in the loch
An’ Scotland should bow tae the Yanks,
An back Adenauer an the hail NATO shower,
Wi’ sodgers, bazookas an’ tanks.’
Stuart Christie hite raincoat/black polo
May Day 1962 – Queen’s Park, Glasgow The only names here I can remember are: Veronica McGowan (on the left with a fag in her mouth), Kenny Sutherland (in the row behind scratching his head and smirking), behind him there’s me (in the white shortie mac), on my right Roddy Cameron, and on my left John Samson* (in the black pvc – the acclaimed film director, now sadly deceased), not sure who’s beside him, but Alex Howie is at the end of the row. Directly behind me is Bobby Campbell* (face obscured) and Gordon McCulloch… (Photo by Ross Flett)