Electoral truce and party politics in Scotland during the Second World War
Moxey, Sarah Anne
This thesis focuses on Scottish politics during the Second World War and argues that the electoral truce, which was agreed at the outbreak of war, had a significant impact on the dynamics of party-politics in Scotland. As Scottish branches of the main political parties were some of the largest regional branches and in peacetime fairly autonomous, they provide an excellent insight into the difficulties regional and local parties faced in managing their organisations under the shadow of the truce. This thesis will articulate the struggle faced in managing the truce at a regional and local level and the tensions this raised within political parties around their operations. The electoral truce is an under-explored aspect of wartime politics, and this thesis provides an in-depth study which offers many new insights to the field of both Scottish and British wartime politics. This is the primary theme throughout the thesis, namely the consequences to the operation of electoral and party-politics in Scotland as a result of the electoral truce agreement, which restricted normal peacetime political activity, and forced political parties to operate in much narrower parameters. This was compounded by parties conflating unnecessary restrictions into their understanding of the truce causing further impediments to political operations. The main focus of the first two chapters will be the impact of the misinterpretation of the electoral truce agreement by all political parties, which began as an unintentional result of poor communication, but soon became more calculated. The eventual use of the electoral truce as a convenient political tool to avoid tackling endemic organisational difficulties or to smooth over problematic inter-party relations by political party members, the media and central government, is a key factor explored throughout this thesis. Particular attention will be paid to the language and interpretation of the electoral truce agreement which allowed these misinterpretations to become entrenched. The consequences of the electoral truce restrictions when electoral politics tried to function is then considered. By adapting a model of studying wartime by-elections proposed by Paul Addison, the difference between the British and Scottish experience will be shown most clearly. Chapters three and four will offer an in-depth examination of nine by-elections held between 1939 and 1945, to provide examples of where political issues in Scotland diverged from British trends. It also considers the importance of minor political parties in maintaining some form of political competition, and will argue that the spirit of party-political contest was more prevalent in Scotland for the duration of the war. The final chapter of the thesis will examine the impact of the truce when electoral politics returned to peacetime operations. There will be a particular focus on the how much the electoral truce had impacted on political parties’ operational abilities through a detailed study of the 1945 general election in Scotland. The attempts of parties, both major and minor, to ready their organisations for full-scale political contest will be one of the foremost considerations. Also, the landslide victory achieved by Labour in the rest of the UK was not as successful in Scotland, it will be argued that this was as a result of long-term organisational issues which had been compounded by the war. This thesis will show the importance of examining the way the electoral truce agreement was interpreted, as it is a crucial element in better understanding the tempestuous fortunes experienced by Scottish political parties during the Second World War.