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Bob Stewart, Edwin Scrymgeour, Communism and the Temperance Movement

John Simkin

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In November 1901, Edwin Scrymgeour established the Scottish Prohibition Party. He employed the trade unionist, Bob Stewart, as the party's full-time organiser on a wage of 27 shillings a week. One of his tasks was to edit the newspaper, The Prohibitionist.

Scrymgeour was eventually elected to Dundee Town Council. In 1908 he was joined on the council by Stewart. In his autobiography, Breaking the Fetters (1967), Stewart reported: "We certainly enlivened the Council meetings. The first night I took my seat we were both suspended for being offenders against decorum".

Later that year Winston Churchill stood at a by-election in Dundee. Scrymgeour stood as a representative of the Scottish Prohibition Party. At one meeting he said: "I feel deeply grateful to the Almighty God that has enabled the Prohibition Party to put me forward as the first British Prohibition candidate and look forward to another day when success will attend our efforts."

Despite the best efforts of Bob Stewart, who worked as his agent, he won only 655 votes. Stewart admitted "Scrymgeour and I had many differences in the election campaign. He dwelt too much on religion. He had a great advantage over all the other candidates because he had a mandate from God."

Stewart left the Scottish Prohibition Party in 1909 because he "could no longer stomach the religious prattlings of Scrymgeour and some of his adherents." Stewart and some of his left-wing friends now formed the Prohibition and Reform Party. Apart from the aim of achieving the complete National Prohibition its aims included: "The abolition of private ownership of the land and the means of manufacture, production and exchange, and the substitution of public of social ownership without compensation."

In April 1920, a group of revolutionary socialists attended a meeting at the Cannon Street Hotel. The men and women were members of various political groups including the British Socialist Party (BSP), the Socialist Labour Party (SLP) and the Workers' Socialist Federation (WSF). Stewart also attended as a delegate of the Prohibition and Reform Party (PRP).

It was agreed to form the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). Early members included Tom Bell, Willie Paul, Arthur McManus, Harry Pollitt, Rajani Palme Dutt, Helen Crawfurd, A. J. Cook, Albert Inkpin, J. T. Murphy, Arthur Horner, John R. Campbell and Robin Page Arnot. McManus was elected as the party's first chairman and Bell and Pollitt became the party's first full-time workers. It later emerged that Lenin had provided at least £55,000 (over £1 million in today's money) to help fund the CPGB.

Francis Beckett, in his book, Enemy Within (1995) described Stewart at the conference. "After the main resolution was carried, the stout, sincere man with a sober moustache walked solemnly to the platform to ask the new Party to come out in favour of suppressing the manufacture of alcoholic drinks. Few thought much of the idea, but they liked Bob Stewart, so they referred it to the executive for action."

Scrymgeour retained the support of the trade union movement in Dundee and in the 1922 General Election, the Labour Party only supplied one candidate in the two-seat constituency. In this way Scrymgeour and Labour candidate E. D. Morel jointly ousted Winston Churchill. Scrymgeour therefore became the first MP to be elected for a prohibition party. Churchill's well-known opposition to the women's suffrage movement was a major factor in his defeat.

Scrymgeour was re-elected in the 1929 General Election with with 50,073 votes. Bottom of the poll was Bob Stewart who represented the Communist Party of Great Britain. He lost his seat in the 1931 General Election election, finishing in 4th place with 32,229 votes.




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