Glasgow, City of Rebellion

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From the days of Wallace, Scotland has always had a revolutionary movement. At one time fighting for religious liberty, at another for political equality, more recently for economic and industrial freedom and freedom of the individual. In all of this Glasgow has always played an important part and been home to radical reform movements.

1706 The Union

Glasgow gained in wealth because of the Union, when its tobacco trade rapidly expanded and later the sugar and cotton trades. Surplus wealth began flowing into mining, textile, iron and railway industries. By 1885 ten Scots firms produced 20% of Britain’s steel output. After 1870 the Clyde replaced the Thames as the centre of British shipbuilding, and this, in association with the expanding railway and heavy engineering industries in Glasgow, created a new force, the 'Industrial Working Class'. By 1892 two thirds of all Trade Unionists in Scotland worked in Glasgow. Rebels of Glasgow and the West of Scotland shared the problems of the Northern English industrial population and also shared the hopes of the English Radical Reformers.

1706 Against the Union

In spite of this the Union was not universally accepted throughout the country. Glasgow saw popular but violent reaction to this arrangement. On one occasion a large crowd lead by Finly and Montgomery took control of the Bishop’s House. The local forces could not remove them and the Dragoons were called from Edinburgh to dislodge them. Finly and Montgomery were duly arrested. The crowd took it upon itself to seize the City’s Magistrates and dispatched a few of them to Edinburgh with the strictest mandate to obtain the release of the prisoners. However the Privy Council in Edinburgh rejected the request and sent the Magistrates back to Glasgow with the instruction to take better control of their city.

== June 1725 - The Malt Tax Riots ==.

Due to the gross dislike of the 'Malt Tax' there were wide spread riots across the country. The most serious of these was June 1725 in Glasgow. When Revenue Officers arrived to assess the Maltsters, they were met by large angry crowds who barred their way. On June the 24th a large crowd decided to attack the house of Duncan Campbell of Shawfield believing that he had supported the tax in the Houses of Parliament. The angry scenes prompted the Lord Advocate Duncan Forbes to call in troops from Edinburgh. The Provost was not in agreement with this decision and refused to use them against the rioters. However the crowd, unhappy with the presence of the troops attacked them. The troops retaliated, at first with powder and then with shot. This resulted in the death of 8 civilians. The Provost ordered the troops to withdraw. The Magistrates spent most of their time investigating the civilian deaths rather than pursuing the leaders of the attack on Shawfield House. It was obvious that the town council had no more love of the 'malt tax' than the angry crowds. Their thoughts would also be on the fact that they had to live in the city after the massacre by the troops. The Lord Advocate somewhat alarmed at the events in the city went himself to Glasgow and arrested the City Magistrates and took them to Edinburgh. There was a failed prosecution of the Magistrates in Edinburgh and they returned to their City of Glasgow to a boisterous welcome from the crowd.

15th February 1800

Unemployment and high taxes during this period caused wide spread demonstrations which culminated on the 15th. of February 1800 when angry and hungry crowds took to the streets. They marched along Argyle Street attacking meatsellers and grocers’ shops. Meanwhile vast crowds in the districts of Townhead and Calton were also smashing into similar types of shops. The authorities felt compelled to call out the troops to disperse the rioters.

1812 Weavers Strike

1812 saw in Scotland until that date. The weavers were on strike in an attempt to protect their living standards. The strike was on the whole a peaceful protest, though the Magistrates and the Government claimed otherwise in an attempt to become heavy handed with the strikers. The strike lasted three months and eventually run out of funds and collapsed. Because of this strike Trade Unionism was declared illegal in Scotland and remained so until 1824. Seven of the strikers were arrested and charged with 'illegal combination' and were each sentenced to 18 months in prison.

6th March 1848

There was a serious riot in the city of Glasgow on the 6th of March 1848. It came about when the unemployed operatives had expected a distribution of provisions. The provisions never appeared and the starving and angry crowds set off up Irongate and other main streets of the city centre breaking into food and gun shops. Business in the city came to a stand-still and all city centre shops closed. The people continued to march through the streets shouting 'bread or revolution'. Eventually the 'riot act' was read. Other groups marched off in other directions entering food shops and demanding bread. The authorities, alarmed at the events sent to Edinburgh for more troops. The following day crowds again gathered at Bridgeton where 'out-pensioners' were under arms. A young boy threw an object at the troops and was arrested but the crowd stormed the arresting group and rescued the boy. Police Superintendent, Captain Smart gave the order to fire: five of the crowd were shot. The Military continued to patrol the streets and the crowd still lined the streets for some days. All public offices were securely guarded.

1915 Rent Strikes

1915 saw Glasgow and Clydeside districts gripped by a massive grass roots movement against large rent increases imposed by landlords. Over 25,000 tenants refused to pay rent increases. The struggle spread to the Clydeside engineering workshops and shipyards, forcing the government to introduce the 1915 Rent Restriction Act.

1919 'Forty Hour Week’ Strike

In 1919 the struggle for a shorter working week came to a head with a strike which had the support of practically all the workers in the area. Marches and demonstrations were organised. One massive demonstration in George Square caused the authorities some concern and the police baton charged the crowd creating mayhem. The government fearing revolution sent English troops with tanks into the city.

Posted by John Couzin

The book Radical Glasgow

Radical Glasgow website