Impact on elections

Rise of the Labour Party

In the 1918 election the Labour Party gained one-third of all votes cast in Scotland. By the mid-1920s the Labour Party had replaced the Liberals as one of the nation’s two major political parties.

Some argue that Labour's success in Scotland had much to do with Red Clydeside but there were several other reasons for the sudden rise in the popularity of the Labour Party. These include the Representation of the People Act of 1918 that gave the right to vote to all men over 21 and women over 30, who met minimum property qualifications.

Also, the ILP and the main Labour Party were closely linked in the minds of the new working class voters. Both the ILP and the Labour Party campaigned for reforms in housing and health after the war. Their focus on local issues was a major reason for Labour’s success in the 1920s.

The Labour Party also developed policies to deal with post-war problems, such as minimum wage and control of industry. This was popular with many in Scotland. They also benefitted from the growth in Trade Union membership.

Fall of the Liberal Party and the rise of the Conservatives

The Labour party also benefitted from the collapse of the Liberal Party, which had largely been caused by British participation in World War One.

The Liberal Party had certain core beliefs at its heart, one of which was that the state should intervene as little as possible in everyday life. However, as the war dragged on the government increasingly controlled what people could and could not do. The resulting arguments within the party weakened the organisation and demoralised party workers.

The Liberal Party was also split by rivalry between Prime Minister Herbert Asquith and his replacement in 1916, David Lloyd George. The election that followed the end of the war marked the end of the Liberals as a powerful, united party.

The Conservative Party benefitted from the fears of the Scottish middle and upper classes, suggesting that only they could protect their interests now that the Liberals were no longer an effective force. To a worried middle class the events of ‘Red Clydeside’ seemed to provide proof that a communist revolution was imminent.

Conservatives also benefitted from being viewed as the party of law and order, especially in the aftermath of the George Square riots.

Homes fit for 'heroes'

Another reason why the Liberal party declined in Scotland was due to their failure to deliver on a key promise. Towards the end of the war, Prime Minister David Lloyd George promised that returning soldiers would have ‘homes fit for heroes’. This meant more than just a good quality house; it meant that Britain would provide a higher standard of living for all.

The 1917 Royal Commission discovered that housing throughout Scotland was terrible. There was widespread overcrowding, many villages and towns had little sanitation, homes were poorly ventilated and lit, and many families lived in one-roomed houses.

Two laws were passed to try to address this:

  • 1919 Addison’s Act – promised funding for 500,000 homes, although only 213,000 were built.
  • 1924 Wheatley Housing Act – more houses to be built with indoor toilets, electricity and gardens.

However, generally Scottish housing remained poor and people were disappointed at the lack of progress made by the Liberals in this area.

Move on to Test
next