1919 – Westminster declared martial law over the destitute citizens of Glasgow and confined Scottish soldiers to their barracks then illegally deployed an English army battle group to police Scots in lockdown – Yes it is true!!!

The Battle of George Square

Scotland’s – Claim of Right Act 1689 states: “That the sending of an army in a hostile manner upon any part of Scotland in peacetime is contrary to law”

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The Birth of Red Clydeside

Before and during the First World War, there was no statutory standard working week in the UK although it was generally accepted that the norm was 54 hours.

During the war the coalition government attempted to impose, “the Munitions Act,” “the Dilution of Labour Act” and the “Defence of the Realm Act,” upon workers providing the government with draconian powers to negate long-fought-for pay rates and conditions for skilled work, and to crack down on opposition. The measures were resisted strongly by the Clyde Workers’ Committee (CWC) in Glasgow.

At the war end the armed forces were demobilized and returned home to the labour market. The infusion of the large body of new workers seeking work in an rapidly shrinking economy base resulted in a steep rise in the unemployed and resultant hardship and discontent.

In the absence of any initiative from the government in Westminster a number of Trades Unions in Glasgow addressed the issue and brought forward proposals which if accepted by the government and employers would reduce the working week to 40 hours expanding the labour market and reducing unemployment.

After weeks of negotiations a provisional agreement was achieved, between government, employers and some Union officials, providing for the introduction of a 47 hour week, (applicable to shipbuilding and engineering trades only) at some time in 1919.

Shop Stewards of the (CWC) in Glasgow rejected the offer and tabled a counter bid supported by limiting the standard working week to 40 hours with paid tea-breaks (removed under the 47 hour week offer) restored.

Battle of George Square 100 years on that saw British troops suppress  striking workers - Daily Record

1919 The Battle of George Square

A strike meeting (over 3,000 attended) was held at the St Andrews Halls on Monday 27 January. Immediately after which 40,000 workers downed tools, answering the call to strike. By Friday 31 January the number of workers on strike had risen to 60,000 plus. United action by workers, (on this scale) had not been seen in Scotland since the Weavers of Glasgow’s, Calton District had engaged their employers in a long and bitter dispute over wages and basic justice in 1787, which ended with the murder of a number of weavers by government forces. A later insurrection in 1820 again ended in the death of protestors and deportation to the colonies of many activists and their families.

On Friday 31 January the strikers were invited to a meeting in George Square at which it was intended that the Lord Provost Sir James Watson Stewart would issue the official response from the Westminster government to the unions’ request for government intervention in the dispute. A large crowd of strikers (marshalled by a large police force) gathered in George Square to witness the statement. But faced with a noisy crowd the Lord Provost instead invited representatives of the CWC (led by David Kirkwood) and the Glasgow Trades Council (represented by Emanual Shinwell) into the Glasgow City Chambers for a briefing.

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Not long after the start of the briefing the Lord Provost was alerted to trouble outside the City Chambers and asked Kirkwood and Shinwell to intervene and establish order. They agreed, left the meeting and ventured outside, to be immediately ambushed by a group of police who knocked Kirkwood to the ground and arrested the delegation on a charge of “instigating and inciting large crowds of persons to form part of a riotous mob. What sparked the riot has never been formally established but many witnesses (independent of the incident) blamed the actions of mounted police, who it is alleged (acting on secret government orders) had launched a baton wielding charge on the crowd without provocation.

What is fact is the impact of the confrontation between the protestors and the police. The crowds attempts to get away from George Square were thwarted by “night stick” wielding police who had deployed forces at each of the potential escape routes effectively “Kettling” the protestors. This resulted in pitched battles between armed police and unarmed demonstrators. The folly of precipitating the confrontation dawned (too late) on the police as a riot then ensued, over which they had no control. Iron Railings, cobble stones and bottles were used in defence against the police truncheons and dispersing the crowd proved to be beyond the police presence. The fighting between the police and protestors spread to other parts of the city and throughout the day and well into the evening many men women and children suffered injuries inflicted by an out of control police force. There were many arrests and Duke Street Prison was filled to capacity. Many strikers were later tried at the High Court in Edinburgh and sentenced to varying jail terms.

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English soldiers posing with their tanks Glasgow 1919

The Bolshevist Uprising in Glasgow

An uneasy calm returned to Glasgow, over the weekend but the intervention of the “Scottish Secretary” who described the rioting as a “Bolshevist Uprising” proved to be the catalyst for deploying the armed forces to the streets of Glasgow.

The Coalition government (led by David Lloyd George) over-reacted, sending 10,000 English soldiers (heavily armed with heavy machine guns, howitzers and Tanks) to Glasgow.

The “Battle Group” (the largest deployment of English soldiers on Scottish soil since the Battle of Culloden) arrived on Friday 7 February 1919.

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Tanks at the Cattle Market  Glasgow 1919

Martial Law was imposed on Glasgow and this was strictly enforced on the public by zealous English soldiers who took control of the City Centre positioning heavy machine guns on the top of the Post Office building and The North British Hotel.

A large howitzer was placed at the entrance to the City Chambers. City-wide English soldiers were deployed in force patrolling the streets, completing stop and search and ID checks on Glaswegians and guarding the docks, power stations and other key installations.

An eyewitness said ‘the whole city bristled with tanks and machine guns’.

The force was withdrawn from Glasgow on 16 February and located, for a time in barracks elsewhere in Scotland.

The government fearing that Scottish soldiers might not obey orders to take action against their countrymen issued orders that they would be confined to barracks for the duration of the deployment of the English force to Glasgow.

The Highland Light Infantry (almost exclusively Glaswegian) were disarmed and detained in Maryhill Barracks.

1919 – Westminster Placed Scottish Troops on Lock-Down in …

English soldiers being transported to Glasgow  1919

After the Riot

Manny Shinwell, William Gallacher and David Kirkwood were jailed for several months. The striking workers returned to work with the guarantee of a 47-hour week, ten hours less than they were working beforehand.

Three years later, in the 1922 GE, Scotland elected 29 Labour MPs, (including the 40 Hour Strike organizers and Independent Labour Party members Manny Shinwell and David Kirkwood.). The epithet of Red Clydeside was established.

Battle of George Square 100 years on that saw British troops suppress  striking workers - Daily Record

110 years later – Are there parallels to be drawn?

Scottish society has changed little in the last 110 years. Much of the poverty that existed at the time of the riot is still present today. Unionist governments in Westminster have taken Scotland’s young men to war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Serbia and other countries, without justification, spending obscene amounts of money whilst imposing massive cuts in key services such as education, welfare, infrastructure, and the NHS.

Social housing building in Scotland has been stagnant under successive Unionist Tory & Labour) governments and this has placed many families at the mercy of greedy landlords who raise rents without justification.

In Glasgow there are many hundreds of newly refurbished flats lying empty, the cost of purchase being well beyond that of the typical Glaswegian.  A situation that forces many families onto the streets. Where is the affordable housing promised by successive Tory and Labour governments?

The banking crash of 2007/8 brought with it many job redundancies and house repossessions as the resultant depression impacted on the economy. Yet not one UK banker went to jail for participating in the biggest banking frauds in history. Instead they were rewarded for their efforts, being allowed to operate much as before including awarding themselves and their fraudulent colleagues with undeserved massive multi-million pound bonuses whilst many thousands of Scots were thrown of society’s scrapheap never to work again.

Ten years later the Unionist government in Westminster was still asset stripping the poor through the use of an “Austerity Plan” put in place by the Tory Party. A plan which took on debt from the Labour government of around £800 billion and increased it to nearly £2 Trillion.

Iceland meantime jailed the bankers, imposed massive restrictions and returned their economy to balance within 5 years.

Churchill rolled the tanks into the crowd': mythology and reality in the  military deployment to Glasgow in 1919


7 thoughts on “1919 – Westminster declared martial law over the destitute citizens of Glasgow and confined Scottish soldiers to their barracks then illegally deployed an English army battle group to police Scots in lockdown – Yes it is true!!!

  1. Why have you got a picture of London Buses in France? Is the story not good enough to stick to the truth.
    I would draw your attention to
    31 JANUARY TO 17 FEBRUARY 1919
    Abstract. On 31 January 1919 a demonstration in Glasgow in support of an
    unofficial strike for a 40-hour working week descended into violence, the ‘Battle
    of George Square’, probably set off by an ill-judged police baton charge. Troops
    called by the Sheriff of Lanarkshire began to arrive late that evening, and six
    tanks arrived on the following Monday. The ‘Battle’ and the subsequent military
    deployment have entered the mythology of Scottish socialism and, more recently,
    of Scottish nationalism. The strike had an overtly political aim: to force the
    Government to step in to regulate industry. Many in government believed that it
    had a more profoundly political, or even revolutionary aim. No detailed account
    of the troop deployment has yet been written, and in this gap mythology has
    flourished. This paper is intended to fill that gap and to challenge the myths.

    The article which appears November 2018 Journal of Scottish Historical Studies 38(2):261-292 can be downloaded at.
    While I disagree with Barclay’s politics, his history can’t be faulted



  2. The problem is that I have been an avid follower of yours. However when you write what is historically rubbish I then have to decide whether what you are writing about the trans scandal is true


  3. Where to start? This post is largely fictional, insofar as it refers to the Battle of George square.
    The army was called into Glasgow by the Sherriff of Lanarkshire, as ‘military aid to the civil power’, in the middle of a riot. It was entirely legal. The troops deployed came mainly from bases in Scotland: Royal Scots, King’s Own Scottish Borderers, Gordon Highlanders, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, Seaforth Highlanders. A battalion of the East Surrey regiment was sent, from Bridge of Allan, and one battalion of the Durham Light Infantry was sent up from Northumberland. All the tanks in the UK were based in Dorset, so that’s where they came from.
    The Scots soldiers ‘confined to barracks’ myth was invented by Willie Gallacher in 1936.
    The delegation never met thew Provost on 31 January and the Provost certainly did not ask Shinwell and Kirkwood to intervene. No evidence whatsoever has been offered to support the story that there were ‘secret government orders’, nor was the baton charge ‘without provocation’: part of the crowd blocked the trams in the SE corner of the square and the police intervened. The police did not block the exits to the square.
    The ‘howitzers’ are mythical – they don’t appear in the narrative until the 1970s.
    The first troops arrived at 10pm on the 31st, the tanks on 3 February.
    The Highland Light Infantry was not based in Maryhill Barracks in January 1919 – the nearest HLI men were in Haddington.
    The picture of buses is from the western front during WW1. The picture of ‘English’ soldiers and their tanks was taken in 1921.

    Click to access Barclay_1919_Scottish_Affairs_published.pdf


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