Monday, 27 April 2015

Local Election Result: Stornoway, May 1955

(How it went for one man in one place 60 years ago)
Calum Smith’s last appearance as a member of the StornowayTown Council, his “account of his stewardship”, and how news of his election defeat was received at the post-election meeting.       

Calum kept cuttings from the Stornoway Gazette and added the notes and dates; the 6th and 13th would have been Fridays, publication day. The paper’s editor, James Shaw Grant, regularly reported council meetings in detail, and had quite often quoted Calum (Malcolm) Smith at length. 

Question Time

Stornoway Gazette May 1955
  When one questioner alleged favouritism in the repair of fences at Council houses, Dean of Guild Langley advised him to complain to a member of the Council, if he did not get satisfaction from the official concerned.
  Baillie Smith disagreed. “Put your complaint in writing and send it to the Town Hall,” he advised. “Then every Council member will be apprised of it, and action will follow – whether for you or against you will depend on the results of the investigation.”      […]
  In the course of a series questions about housing allocation Baillie Smith said he had never come away from a  housing allocation meeting really satisfied that the job had been properly done, and he felt the same could be said of all the other members.
  “The difficulty is to achieve unanimity among nine people as to who are the most deserving cases,” he said, showing by concrete, detailed examples, the difficulties confronting the council.
   The Council sometimes sat from about 7 p.m. until midnight at allocation meetings, said Hon. Burgh Treasurer Matheson. Every case was minutely scrutinised, and very often the members were at a loss what to do.
  Dean of Guild Langley said the Council for many years, had to try to re-house not only the inhabitants of the town but of the whole island. There was also the pressure of those coming into town for local industries. “If you don’t house the key workers in your industries, you can’t have industries,” he said.
  Recalling that six years had passed since he was last called on to give an account of his stewardship in a ratepayers’ meeting, Baillie Smith said, “In the past six years, the situation in the Council has altered considerably. The membership has altered drastically, and, on occasion, tragically. That is why a person like myself, who is only serving his apprenticeship in the Council,  has become a veteran of local politics under the necessity of accepting very important office.”

Stornoway Second to None
  Stornoway, he claimed, bore comparison with any burgh in Scotland for its housing record. At the time of the last census 50 per cent of the population of the burgh was housed by the Town Council. There were 600 Council houses now occupied, more were nearing completion, and the site preparation for still more was in hand.
  In designing houses to fill in the gaps on Newton the architects had been asked to design houses which would not clash with that beautiful front, and they had gone to considerable trouble to design a suitable cottage type of dwelling house.
  He spoke of the completion of the water scheme, providing “an excellent and ample supply”; the comprehensive sewage scheme of which two instalments had been carried out; the improvement of street lighting from “the dim, the very dim days of not so long ago”; road improvement schemes and the demolition of derelict properties.  
  “We have been building beautiful houses where formerly there were slums. We have been planting trees and trying to beautify the town in a great many ways.”
  They were endeavouring, he said, to get the County Council to build a learners’ swimming pool in the school area.
A Better Place to Live In
  “I don’t want to create the impression that I think that all these things are being done because I am on the Council,” he added. “I can assure you that it is not so. Everything that is done by Stornoway Town Council, whether for good or ill, is done by the majority vote of the Town Councillors.
  “If you send me back to Council, I will not solve all your problems, but I will continue working in the future, as in the past, to try to solve some of them.”
  Their aim should be to get a well-knit team on the Council working towards one end and one end only – to make the town of Stornoway a better place to live in.

An ink-stained photograph of 38 Kennedy Terrace, Stornoway, in one of the town’s council housing schemes of the 1950s, as it was in 1959

After the Result                    


A Great Loss to the Council
At the annual statutory meeting of Stornoway Town Council on Friday [… ]
Expressing regret that ex-Baillie Malcolm Smith had not been returned, the Provost said “he was a man with a very wise and shrewd appreciation of the many problems, and varied problems with which the town council had to deal.”
Ex-Baillie Smith had always been concerned with the living standards and general welfare of the ratepayers of the burgh, and he thought it right that they should place on record their appreciation of his services.
A Poor Reward
“I must say frankly that the Council will be a lot poorer for his absence,” said Baillie Stewart1, joining in the Provost’s tribute.
“I must also say that I think he got a very poor reward for his able, efficient and devoted services to the community. But as has already been said that is the wish of the electorate and their wish must prevail.”
“I quite agree that the community has lost the services of one of its foremost men,” said Ex- Provost Smith. “Ex-Baillie Smith was one of our ablest representatives and there is general regret in the community that he is not with us again.”
Re-iterating what he had said about Baillie Smith on the night of the poll, Dr Matheson said he would be missed not only for his efficiency but for the very happy times they had on the Council.
A Man of Parts
Councillor Langley said he always had a very high regard for ex-Baillie Smith. “If it were possible to change the circumstances and place ex-Baillie Smith where I now stand, I would be very happy for the change, but the will of the electors is what must prevail, and I am perfectly sure that the first one to bow to that will is ex-Baillie Smith himself.”
It was a pity that a man of undoubted ability should not be returned to the Council, said Councillor John Macleod. On many occasions ex-Baillie Smith had deputised for the Provost, and had fulfilled the duties faithfully and well.
Speaking as one who knew ex-Baillie Smith as a pupil and as a councillor, Councillor Nicoll said, “he is a man of very considerable parts, and his absence will be a serious loss to the council.“ He expressed the hope that his absence would be purely temporary.
First Council meeting
after election, May ‘55
1. Donald Stewart, later MP (Scot. Nat.) for the Western Isles.  

“Malcolm” was Calum’s registered given name, used in formal or semi-formal contexts; the Gaelic “Calum” was customary among family and friends, along with his nickname, “Safety” (which he used to say had been bestowed due to his – alleged – habit of leading other children into danger). He never returned to public political life as a candidate for election, but was able almost at once to continue expressing his views and trying to influence opinion through the Gazette column which J. S. Grant – not agreeing with the (Bevanite Labour) politics of “M.S.”, but considering he was worth listening to – invited him to write as a result of this defeat.

1 comment:

  1. Stornoway Historical Society - Winter Series of Lectures (5) 25 March 2019. LOCAL GOVERNMENT BEFORE 1975
    The Annual General Meeting of the Stornoway Historical Society will be held on Monday 25th March 2019 at 6.30pm in the Council Chambers, Sandwick Road. All members are invited.
    >This will be followed at 7.00 p m., at the same venue, by the final public lecture of the current winter series featuring Sandy Matheson and Malcolm Macdonald talking about “Local Government before 1975”.
    Entry is by donation. All welcome.
    The Society aims to record its lectures and make them available on YouTube.