Today, the 12th of May, marks the anniversary of the execution of James Connolly in Kilmainham prison, Dublin. He was a trade unionist, a socialist, a republican and a member of the (original) Scottish Labour Party.
His acrimonious debates with William Walker, leader of the Labour Party in Ireland, led to Connolly and Larkin forming the independent Irish Labour Party in 1912. Then, as now, the Labour Party (uk) was controlled by an Executive Board in London and then, as now, it was essentially a Unionist party.
At the very first Labour Party conference in 1907 (in Belfast) William Walker, at that time a Labour Party executive, was at pains to point out that;
“…. the interests of Labour (uk)… are subservient to the interests of Unionism”
(In that same conference there was a motion to abolish the House of Lords. Yes, over a hundred years ago. The next time Labour get in it’s definitely going to be abolished – don’t hold your breath.)
Walker was later invited over by the Scottish delegates to contend the now defunct Leith Burghs constituency as an official Labour candidate. Walker was essential a skilled Belfast shipyard worker and a trade unionists; a member of a group that left wing commentators fondly refer to as “the aristocracy of the working class”. Of course, its worth remembering that the Trade Unions then were not quite the inclusive organisations that they are today. In 1916 you would be hard pressed to find a Catholic – or a woman – working as an artisan in engineering or shipbuilding industry on the Clydeside. The powerful Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU), whose members were all highly skilled, provided the vanguard of the labour movement in the West of Scotland; and they shared Walker’s views on British unionism.
(By 1922 things changed, many Irish Catholics had assumed the Irish Question had been solved and started moving from the Liberals, the party of Home Rule, to Labour. The more cynical might add that the quiet dropping their abstinence stance in Glasgow helped… many of the influential Irish political class in Glasgow were well-to-do public house proprietors. They were, as my father once pointed out, keener to be Publicans than Republicans)
However In 1916, when they heard of the Easter Rising, the Labour Party dismissed it as a pointless “blood sacrifice”.
Their Scottish members were the most vociferous in their condemnation of their fellow Scot, James Connolly. He was born and brought up in Edinburgh; he had a strong Scottish accent throughout his life, something that embarrassed his fellow Scots even more. The ‘Scottish Cringe’, it seems was as alive then as it is today.
Then they had plenty to say – they called him a foolish, romantic nationalist and a traitor to the (British) labour cause. Some even, in view of the Great War, viewed the rising as treacherous.
Later, when he was taken out and shot, they said nothing…
and they have said nothing since.