A Communist councillor for Cowdenbeath’s Ward 4 for 32 years, like many of the giants of Scottish Communism, Selkirk came from a family with a mighty tradition of dissent. His grandfather had been imprisoned in the 1850s under the Master and Servant Act for daring to leave his job without permission; he had become the first secretary of the Arniston miners’ union in Mid-Lothian.
Bob himself was born on the 29th May 1887 in the family town of Arniston. He first went down a pit to work at the age 12 in Slamanan, Stirlingshire "yoked to a heavy sled by a rope around his child's shoulders, his job was to drag it laden with coal along a narrow 2ft seam, sometimes through cold, black pit water. He stated `I don't know the weight of it, but it seemed a heavy load’, he recalled with characteristic under statement. His rebel spirited mother worked as a domestic servant for the aristocracy and knew and hated their parasitic life from the inside. Imbibing his socialism at his mother’s knee, Bob Selkirk's political understanding and class outlook were forged before he was in his teens.” [Daily Worker 3rd June 1961]
By the age of 17, he had joined the Edinburgh branch of the Socialist Labour Party; he was also involved in a branch of the International Workers of the World (IWW), the American body that had established sympathising groups amongst some Scottish miners.
By the early 1930s, Communists had established a formidable base in the pits that surrounded Cowdenbeath. The Party became to dominate the “4th ward”, winning first one and then two and all of the seats in the council elections for over a thirty year period.
Bob was first elected from 1935, one of two Communists elected on that occasion, and was then re-elected every three years thereafter. He only once lost when, beset by illness, he was unable to properly campaign; but he bounced back again the following year. He was made the first Communist Bailie in Scotland and, in 1968, a Honorary Burgess of the Burgh of Cowdenbeath. Again, this freedom of the borough was a first for a Communist but others were to subsequently receive such honours.
Selkirk was always affectionately known in his times to all in his town as `Auld Bob’ (Old Bob); his son, also a Communist, who himself only narrowly failed to win election as a councillor was always `young Bob’ no matter how old he was!
The Cowdenbeath Communist election committee rooms in 1929
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