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Skinner Mabs

Mabs Skinner

 

Mabel Mabs Skinner was a leading Communist Party member at Inverness, Scotland and was elected as a Communist Councillor.

 

Mabel Phyllis Parrott was born on November 17th 1912 in London. She moved to the North of Scotland in the mid-thirties to work as a cook at Castle Leod, near Strathpeffer, Ross-shire, the seat of the Earl of Cromartie, the clan chief of the MacKenzies. It was at that time she met Tommy Skinner, her sheet-metal worker husband, a union activist.

 

Mabel herself became a committed radical socialist and joined the Communist Party when she saw the reality of ``upstairs, downstairs'' conditions in big houses in the Highlands. She was even more moved by the plight of the farm workers in the North of Scotland. At that time, farm servants were hired for six-month periods and received a pittance, while their very homes were tied to their jobs.

 

In the 1950s Mabel was employed for a lengthy period as the fish counter attendant in Lipton's store in the centre of Inverness where she became a shop steward for the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. At the same time Tommy was active in the Amalgamated Engineering Union and for many years he held senior offices in the Inverness and District Trades Council. During the sixties and early seventies Tommy and Mabel became a well-known husband and wife team to trades union activists throughout Scotland, as they often were able to attend the STUC together.

 

Mabs started her political campaigning at local level in Inverness during the sixties, but, at first, having a Communist Party ticket during times when the cold war was at its most frigid, seemed to pose an insurmountable hurdle. Being a woman, and an English one at that, was an added disadvantage. . In her first forray in a local government election in 1961 she polled only 31 votes.

 

 But as electors saw Mabs' caring campaigning for improved public services and better housing conditions were bearing fruit, and as they started to realise Mabel's abiding humanity and decency, her vote started steadily growing. Her vote crept slowly up - 57, 89, 114 and, in 1967, reaching 252 she was just 20 votes short of winning. Finally, Mabs was elected to Inverness Town Council under the Communist Party banner at the seventh time of trying in 1968, with 286 votes.

 

Hugh MacDiarmid celebrated her Inverness Town Council win with a poem dedicated to her: `A Glowing Light Against the Tory Snaw’.

 

Mabel Skinner’s campaign team included the Cymbalist family (see separate entry), and Mabel’s two daughters - both YCL members. Inverness Communists were realistic about election work, Mabel once said: “We did not expect every member to canvass on the grounds that everyone has his own special talents and contribution to make. So some sold the Morning Star, some took charge of leaflet printing and distribution, others were splendid canvassers. I was particularly keen to win the seat in 1968 as it was the 50th anniversary of women winning the vote, and I mentioned this in my leaflets …”

 

The ward was festooned with Communist posters, which remained untouched throughout the campaign and beyond. The most import leaflet, Mabs thought, was a `knocker-up’, small slips with just “Vote Skinner”.

 

“When I saw woman turning in at the gate I knew I had won before we went to the Town Hall”, You don’t work among people as closely as we have all these years without knowing their mood….Always our leading members have said `take up the local issues’ and it has always proved the correct line to take. Win the people’s confidence by really doing positive things, then they will be ready to listen to some more of our Party’s policy”

 

Mabel’s election as a Communist was even more incredible given that according to Mabel “in Inverness we have little in the way of industry, it is a small marketing area” and that “(t)he local ward branch of the Scottish National Party claimed a membership of 200”.

 

Mabel became a well respected member of the Council until the local government re-organisation of 1974, when she narrowly lost her seat. As well as successfully pressing for much-needed improvements to council houses, in the Merkinch, the poorest area of Inverness, as a councillor she played a key role in obtaining for the public a lovely piece of land alongside the banks of river Ness as the site for the first municipal theatre in the Highlands. With her abiding interest in the arts, Mabel was an apt choice as a governor of Eden Court Theatre, when it was completed in 1976.

 

She also campaigned successfully and also persuaded her fellow councillors that an all-purpose community centre was a necessity for Merkinch.  When it was completed in 1977 Mabel was no longer a councillor, but it was perhaps her proudest day when she was invited to perform the honours at the opening ceremony. She remained chairwoman of the Merkinch community centre's management committee from 1977 until 1992.

 

Mabs died from cancer on 9th August 1996 died at the age of 84. She did not want a religious funeral service with a priest or minister presiding and asked that a piping and singing send-off be arranged. Mabs was survived by her husband Tommy, then also 84, and their two daughters (she was pre-deceased by a son).

 

 

Michael Walker

Sources: Comment n.d. 1968

Glasgow Herald 15th Aug 1996