Dr. Robert McIntyre, the first Scottish National Party Member of the Westminster Parliament, was born on the 15th of December, 1913.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) won its first electoral victory on the 12th of April, 1945, when Dr. Robert McIntyre won the Motherwell and Wishaw by-election for the SNP in a straight fight against the Labour Party, by a majority of 617 votes. McIntyre took 51.4% of the vote on that occasion, but his victory was short lived as he lost the seat at the next General Election; three months later. It was twenty-one years before the SNP’s next electoral breakthrough came, in November, 1967, with Winnie Ewing’s famous victory at the Hamilton by-election.
The SNP has had its ‘bravehearts’ – those who toiled for Scotland in the wilderness years and sacrificed their energies for the cause. One of those was surely Dr. Robert McIntyre, known to the Party as ‘Doc Mac’ and regarded as the ‘father’ of the SNP. Not only did he have the distinction of being the Party’s first MP, McIntyre was its Chairman between 1948 and 1956 and President from 1958 until 1980. During the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, McIntyre built up the SNP throughout Scotland, standing as a parliamentary candidate in every General Election from 1945 to 1974 and in a by-election in 1971; a grand total of thirteen times. As Gordon Wilson wrote for the preface to Dick Douglas’ biography of McIntyre, “He laid the ground for the expansion that was to come. Lesser men would have given up long before since it is particularly difficult for some-one who has made a major unprecedented break-through only to have his hopes dashed”. McIntyre was instrumental in encouraging others, such as Winifred Ewing, to stand as candidates. Winnie’s first political speech was given in McIntyre’s constituency and this led to her being put forward for the Hamilton by-election she won in 1967.
McIntyre later became Provost of Stirling and was admired by thousands of Scots for his struggle for independence. Long before that, his first appearance in the Parliament at Westminster caused quite a stir and led to the press at the time wrongly accusing him of refusing to take the ‘Oath of Allegiance’ to the Crown. In the House of Commons on the 17th of April, 1945, McIntyre was called to the ‘Table’ by Mr. Speaker, D. Clifton Brown, along with other “Members desiring to take their seats”. The record in Hansard shows that McIntyre, Member for the County of Lanark (Motherwell Division), hadn’t been “introduced”. The problem was, that coming from a Party of one, he didn’t have any colleagues to do the honour. At the time, the satirical magazine ‘Punch’ carried a cartoon of him brandishing a sword and the caption, “McIntirely Alone”. In reality, the situation was more absurd than amusing and what happened next reflected badly on the ‘Mother of Parliaments’. The Speaker called the attention of the House to its resolution of the 23rd of February, 1688 – yes, 1688 – and pointed to an “ancient Order and Custom” whereby new Members had to be “introduced to the Table” so that they “may be better known to the House”. Three hundred years before McIntyre’s debut, the resolution was designed to prevent impostors taking a seat, but in 1945, custom and practice were bizarrely intent on denying a seat on a chair to the lone SNP Member.
After some protest, a full scale debate ensued. On the one hand, there was Winston Churchill putting aside the important matter of winning the War to use his not insubstantial oratorical gifts to advise the House of Commons to keep to its ancient traditions. On the other, there was Aneurin Bevan eloquently stating that any “regulation, custom or usage of this House” should not be set against “the [constitutional] rights of the citizens of this country to be represented here by any person whomsoever they select”. Arthur Woodburn, the Labour MP for Clackmannan, suggested that the rule should be put aside in the case “of a unique party, a person who had nobody associated with him”. A vote to waive the rule went against McIntyre by 273 votes to 74, with both Attlee and Churchill on the “nay” side.
McIntyre later noted in the ‘Evening Citizen’ that 1688 was well before the ‘Treaty of Union’ and he also suggested that “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”. It also came to light that a variation had been sanctioned once before, on the 18th of February, 1875, when Dr Edward Vaughan Kenealy sought to be introduced as the MP for Stoke-on-Trent without sponsors. Unlike Churchill, the then Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, ensured the dispensation was carried without a division. After the vote, McIntyre conceded, suggesting that he was now “sufficiently kenspeckled” and “under protest”, accepted the ‘sponsorship’ and introduction by fellow Scots, the Rev. James Barr and Alexander Sloan.
Robert Douglas McIntyre was born in Dalziel, in Lanarkshire, on the 15th of December, 1913. He was educated at Hamilton Academy, Daniel Stewart’s College, and the University of Edinburgh, where he studied medicine, qualified as a doctor and was chairman of the University Labour Party. He graduated in 1938 and worked as a general practitioner in England and Scotland, and also worked at Stirling Royal Infirmary. He later developed an interest in the area of public health and studied at the University of Glasgow to gain a Diploma in Public Health. McIntyre joined the SNP in the 1930s, when it was headed by John MacCormick. When his successor, Professor Douglas Young, who served as leader from 1942 to 1945, was first imprisoned for refusing to be conscripted during the Second World War, McIntyre, then Secretary of the SNP, organised a procession, complete with bagpipes, to serenade Young at the prison gates on Sundays. After he lost his Westminster seat in 1945, McIntyre returned to his medical practice. He later worked in Stirling Royal Infirmary, specializing in the treatment of tuberculosis, and he went on to become a consultant chest physician for Stirlingshire and Clackmannan from 1951 to 1979. Dr. R. D. McIntyre died in Stirling, ironically, of a chest complaint, on the 2nd of February, 1998.