Political row reaches fever pitch at election

The municipal building in Buccleuch Street, Dalkeith
The municipal building in Buccleuch Street, Dalkeith

Tuesday, May 3 
saw the Dalkeith Town Council elections. There were four vacancies and when Provost Tom Lean announced the results at 11 pm, there was a thunderous burst of applause from the patiently waiting crowd.

The successful candidates were – Dr R Robertson (Independent), 2209; Robert Hutchison (Independent), 2061; Walter Dickson (Dalkeith Independent Labour Party), 1998; Thompson Laidlaw (Dalkeith Independent Labour Party), 1948.

All four were sitting councillors and they got around 2000 votes each.

The unsuccessful candidates were – Stan Rawsthorne, James Cummings, Mrs Bryson and Robert 

All four were Labour candidates, who gained less than 2000 votes in total.

When I tell you that Labour had controlled the council from 1935 to 1959, when the Dalkeith Independent Labour (DILP) took over, you might begin to realise that something unusual was going on.

There had been political turmoil in Dalkeith since November 1958, when two of Dalkeith’s representatives on the Midlothian County Council had criticised Midlothian for the way it gave out building contracts, either by not having competitive tendering or by not accepting the lowest tender.

Although it was never mentioned publicly, David Smith and William Moffatt were alleging a corrupt relationship between the County Council and a building firm.

For their “behaviour to other party members and statements appearing in the Press”, they were expelled from the Labour Party. They were not allowed to appear in person to put their case, or to appeal against the decision.

In February 1959, all but two of the Labour councillors resigned from the party and formed the DILP, and they were followed by most of the other members of Dalkeith Labour Party.

Councillor Hutchison, an Independent, also resigned from the county council after being told that he wasn’t there to represent Dalkeith.

At the May 1959 elections, DILP members Wm. Moffatt, James Quinn and Mrs Pat Neilson won the three available seats by a huge majority and Mrs Neilson became the first woman Socialist councillor.

Every week, arguments between the opposing factions took place in the pages of the Advertiser, with David Smith at the forefront. During the year, the rebels consulted the Procurator Fiscal and the Secretary of State for Scotland, to no avail. QCs’ opinions were sought and court cases were threatened by the county council.

The week after the Burgh School fire, David Smith wrote a letter to the Advertiser headed “Not Guilty”. He said, “In view of the fact that I am blamed for everything that happens in Dalkeith, I would like to assure the county council that I was in no way responsible for the burning down of the school. It is a pity that it wasn’t destroyed ten years ago, the dark, drab and gloomy place that it was.”

The arguments went on for another three years. In 1961, the DILP again took the vacant council seats, and by 1962 the official Labour Party saw the light and T. Laidlaw and W. Dickson were re-elected, unopposed.

Did you remember the April song was Anthony Newley’s second big hit of the year? Who sang the top song in May (an easy one) – Cathy’s Clown?