James Maxton

Posted in Scottish Political Figures

Member of the group known as Red Clydesiders and recognised as an outstandingly principled Scottish politician who finally moved away from the moderate Labour policies of the 1930s.

The finest gentleman in the House of Commons, yet he was jailed for sedition as a life-long pacifist.

Born in Pollokshaws, Glasgow, in 1885. Both parents were schoolteachers and true to Scots character put education high on the list, persuading their son to be educated first at Hutcheson's Grammar School, then Glasgow University, where he took an M.A. and joined the teaching profession.

Exposed to poor housing conditions through his pupils, and being exposed to Marxist economics as preached by John Maclean, he was soon converted to a revolutionary brand of socialism. He joined the Independent Labour Party, becoming one of its best speakers, and becoming involved in the formation of teachers' unions in Scotland, including the Educational Institute of Scotland and the Scottish Socialist Teachers' Society.

By 1912 he was a leading figure in the ILP, opposing the war movement during World War I and being jailed for a year in 1916. In 1918 he stood for Glasgow, Bridgeton, winning it in 1922 and becoming one of the famous 10 Red Clydesiders who irritated the more sedate members at Westminster. He represented Bridgeton for the next 24 years, and although never holding office or receiving any honours, he gained a considerable reputation and was held in considerable standing and even popularity in the house.

Rapidly onsetting disillusionment with the more placid policies of Ramsay MacDonald led Maxton to break away from the Labour Party in 1932. During and before World War II, he was just as pacifist and international in outlook as he had been in the earlier war, and he frequently walked to the voting lobby alone. And yet he retained his charm and gregarious nature throughout his long political career, prompting Churchill to describe him as 'the finest gentleman in the House of Commons.' He died in 1946.

Tags: Red Clydeside