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The national British Socialist Party (BSP) was founded in late 1911, after a Socialist Unity Conference, and out of the ashes of the Marxist Social Democratic Party (previously called Social Democratic Federation (SDF)). The Aberdeen party had its first meeting in January 1912 when Glasgow socialist John Maclean spoke at the Picturedrome on behalf of the BSP leadership.

There were initially 2 branches in Aberdeen (north and south following the Parliamentary divisions). The local party rooms were at 173a Union Street. Individuals involved included William King (President), George Cooper (Secretary) and members included John Crombie Christie, John Donald, Christian Farquharson-Kennedy, John Mathieson Fraser and Alexander Skakle. Another prominent individual in the BSP was Tom Kennedy, who was husband of Christian, former SDF organiser in Aberdeen, and who stood for Parliament in North Aberdeen on two occasions.

The party’s local election programme in 1913 stated the aims of the party: evening meetings, direct employment, taxation of land values, stop expenditure on public money on useless deputations, municipalisation of liquor traffic, supply of coal and milk and erection of municipal slaughterhouses, public baths and laundries.

The start of World War One proved a crisis for the national party as it split into pro-war and anti-war factions. The pro-war faction split in 1915/16 led by former SDF leader Henry Hyndman, calling the new group the National Socialist Party. The BSP remained active and following the revolution in Russia, the party became one of the founding organisations of the new British Communist Party in 1920.

Related entries: Aberdeen Communist Party, Christian Farquharson-Kennedy, National Socialist Party and Social Democratic Federation.

References: Aberdeen Daily Journal and The Aberdeen Trades Council and Politics 1900-1939 (C. W. M. Phipps, University of Aberdeen thesis, 1980).

Sources: unknown. Some papers of the national party are held at the People’s History Museum, Manchester.

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The national Fabian Society was founded in 1884 with the aim of developing political ideas and public policy on the political left. The Society is still active and affiliated to the Labour Party.

There is a vague reference to a local Fabian Society existing in 1892 but it has not been proved. An Aberdeen branch though was established in 1924 and a key member was Robert Raffan (he was a trade unionist and Labour councillor) who was Secretary for 40 years, from the late 1920s. It was reported that in the late 1930s Aberdeen was the largest branch in Scotland. The branch was very active organising meetings, many with visiting speakers.

Related entries: Aberdeen University Fabian Society.

References: Aberdeen Daily Journal and Trade Unionism in Aberdeen 1878 1900 (K. D. Buckley, Edinburgh, 1955).

Sources: papers of the national Fabian Society are held at the London School of Economics.

A Northern Socialist Society was active between January 1916 and April 1917 and had a hall (‘The Socialist Hall’) in Mealmarket Street. The Society hosted many discussions and guest speakers included the veteran socialist James Leatham, Helen Crawfurd (former member of the Women’s Social and Political Union, member of the Independent Labour Party and soon to be part of the new Communist Party), Joseph Forbes Duncan (trade unionist and former President of the Aberdeen Trades Union Council), Robert Stewart (from Dundee and soon to play a key role in the Communist Party), and also men who had been deported from Glasgow for involvement in strikes on the Clyde (April 1916). There were discussions on The Military Service Act and conscientious objection, amongst others. Presiding were: George A. Cooper, Andrew Gay, James W Gordon, parish councillor William McIntyre and William Morrison. Attending meetings were Mr Beattie, Mr Greig (perhaps William Greig) and William Sim. Many of these members went onto become involved in the Socialist Labour Party and Aberdeen Communist Party.

The last meeting appears to be in April 1917 and by September of that year the hall at Mealmarket Street was being used by the newly formed Socialist Labour Party.

Related entries: Aberdeen Communist Party and Socialist Labour Party.

References: Aberdeen Daily Journal.

Sources: unknown.

A group mentioned in a press report about May Day in 1905. There were Marxian clubs in the rest of Britain around this time, often hosting speakers from the Social Democratic Federation.

References: Aberdeen Daily Journal.

Sources: unknown.

The League was formed nationally in November 1907 after a split from the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). The split was led by full time organiser Teresa Billington-Greig and Charlotte Despard, who along with many others were concerned about the control the Pankhurst family had over the Union and its local branches. There was also disagreement about the militant actions of the WSPU and the new League favoured non-violent forms of dissent such as non-payment of taxes and refusing to take part in the national census.

The branch in Aberdeen was established following a meeting in May 1908 with activists Teresa Billington-Greig, Amy Saunderson (from Forfar) and Aberdeen socialist Christian Farquharson-Kennedy. It was Kennedy who would become the new branch President, with Miss Third (Vice-President), Miss Scott (Secretary), Lily Lippett (Treasurer) and Miss McLeod (Literature Secretary).

The Aberdeen branch was still operational in 1918. The national organisation was still active as a pressure group until 1961.

Related entries: Women’s Social and Political Union and Christian Farquharson-Kennedy

References: Aberdeen Daily Journal, The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866 – 1928 (Elizabeth Crawford, Routledge, London., 2001), The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Britain and Ireland: A Regional Survey (Elizabeth Crawford, Routledge, London, 2006), A Guid Cause: the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Scotland (Leah Leneman, Aberdeen University Press, Aberdeen, 1991) and Bajanellas and Semilinas: Aberdeen University and the Education of Women 1860 – 1920 (Lindy Moore, Aberdeen University Press, 1991), The Conciliatory Suffragette (Sarah Pederson in History Scotland, vol.5:2, 2005) and Caroline Phillips: Aberdeen Suffragette and Journalist (Sarah Pederson, Aberdeen, 2018).

Sources: Archives of the national body are held at the Women’s Library, London School of Economics.

The League was founded in 1910, with the aim to supplement the work of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) and the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), which it is claimed were in decline. The League issued a magazine in 1912, carrying the same name as the organisation. The group held discussion nights on topics such as the vote, motherhood, temperance and terms and conditions at work, and events were addressed by speakers such as Lady Ramsay (wife of Sir William Ramsay, University of Aberdeen Professor of Humanity) and Louisa Innes Lumsden (pioneer of female education). As well as meetings, the group worked with others in promoting women to be elected the School Board. The President was a Mrs Rhind.

References: Aberdeen Daily Journal, Aberdeen Women’s Social and Franchise League magazine (1912), The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866 – 1928 (Elizabeth Crawford, Routledge, London, 2001) and The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Britain and Ireland: A Regional Survey (Elizabeth Crawford, Routledge, London, 2006).

Sources: Aberdeen Women’s Social and Franchise League magazine 1912 (held at Aberdeen University Library).

The Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) was formed nationally in 1903 by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, Adela, Christabel and Sylvia. The WSPU, in comparison to the moral force of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, soon adopted direct action (the Union motto became ‘Deeds not Words’), as their main tactic. Members became known as suffragettes as opposed to the older term which was suffragists.

An Aberdeen branch was formed in the spring of 1907 with Lady Ramsay (wife of Sir William Ramsay, University of Aberdeen Professor of Humanity) as President and Caroline Philipps, journalist with the Aberdeen Daily Journal, as Secretary. The branch headquarters were at 41 ½ Union Street (Crown Mansions). Another interesting connection is that when the Pankhurts and other activists visited Aberdeen, they were hosted by Rev. Alexander Webster, veteran of the socialist movement of the 1880s. It was Rev. Webster as well, who in 1908, during a rather raucous visit by Herbert Asquith as part his University of Aberdeen rectorial installation, spoke in support of Emmeline Pankhurst as she tried to move a motion on women’s suffrage.

Aberdeen for a brief while became notable in the votes for women campaign, and was often visited by member of the Pankhurst family and activists from Edinburgh/Glasgow and London. There were a few reasons for this: firstly, Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire was a traditional Liberal heartland and after the Liberals took power nationally in 1906 the WSPU campaign was directed squarely towards the party, secondly, the 1907 South Aberdeen by-election which occurred after the sitting Liberal M.P. vacated his seat thereby triggering an election campaign and thirdly, the 1908 campaign for the University of Aberdeen Rectorship which saw opponent of woman’s suffrage, the Liberal Herbert Asquith, nominated.

Direct actions undertaken in the name of the suffragettes included pouring corrosive liquid into letter boxes, putting letter boxes on fire, smashing windows, and in the specific case of Aberdeen, replacing the flags on Balmoral golf course with WSPU colours and cutting the words ‘Release Mrs Pankhurst’ in 12 foot high lettering in the turf in Duthie Park (this last action was apparently undertaken by male medical students). Aberdeen Train Station was also the scene of a whipping incident in December 1912 when Emily Wilding Davison (later to be killed under the King’s horse at the Derby in 1913), came up from London to protest against Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd George who was speaking in Aberdeen. Davison mistook an elderly Baptist Minister for Lloyd George, and whipped him across the face.

The WSPU based in London required militant campaigning. The Aberdeen branch did not appear willing or able to comply with this and Honorary Secretary Caroline Phillips was ousted in January 1909 by the arrival from WSPU in London of Sylvia Pankhurst and activist Ada Flatman. The local branch was now essentially directed by the central office in London and managed by a series of organisers dispatched north.

The national WSPU suffered a major split in 1907, when many of its leaders and members left in protest at the Pankhurst family autocracy and militant tactics, to form the Women’s Freedom League. More splits followed, with Sylvia Pankhurst expelled in 1914, and eventually in 1917 the organisation was eventually disbanded.

Related entries: Women’s Freedom League (Aberdeen) and Rev. Alexander Webster.

References: Aberdeen Daily Journal, The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866 – 1928 (Elizabeth Crawford, Routledge, London, 2001), The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Britain and Ireland: A Regional Survey (Elizabeth Crawford, Routledge, London, 2006), A Guid Cause: the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Scotland (Leah Leneman, Aberdeen University Press, Aberdeen, 1991), Bajanellas and Semilinas: Aberdeen University and the Education of Women 1860 – 1920 (Lindy Moore, Aberdeen University Press, 1991), The Conciliatory Suffragette (Sarah Pederson in History Scotland, vol.5:2, 2005) and Caroline Phillips: Aberdeen Suffragette and Journalist (Sarah Pederson, Aberdeen, 2018).

Sources: Correspondence of Caroline Philipps (Watt Collection) is held at Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums. Archives relating to the national body are held at the Women’s Library, London School of Economics.