Proudfoot’s father had been a member of the SDF and BSP, although Davie had been on army service in the First World War. He had continuing health problems as a result of experiencing a gas attack. He became a Communist a short while after foundation but sees to have been influenced by the Fife Communist League, which set up a bookshop in Cowdenbeath in 1916, as the result of the subscriptions of twelve workers subscribing £24 each. Most of the members of the League went on to become Communist Party activists.
Davie Proudfoot was a local miners’ leader in Buckhaven & Methil asn was promonent during the 1926 strike and lock-out. So much so that, when elections for the miners’ union in the Fife coalfield were held, Proudfoot was one of the lefts and Communists who won positions.
The two miners’ agents posts and seven local members of the Scottish Executive Committee, including Proudfoot, were filled by Communists.
He was the main force behind the establishment of `Spark’, the highly influential pit paper produced by the Methil Communist Pit Group, both Party and YCL. Its first issue in 1925 sold 240 copies and a year later it was up to a thousand copies. Initially a fortnightly and then a weekly publication from 1927, it ended its days as the `Wellesley Spark with the last issue in December 1931.
Interestingly, the increasingly vitriolic nature of the publication after 1926, in common with most Communist pit papers of the time, seems to have become an issue for Proudfoot. Contrary to those who image that Moscow orders forced an unwilling rank-and-file into issuing rancorous texts against less militant elements, ordinary miners relished the controversy.
Proudfoot appears to have thought that it all needed toning down, for he wrote to Allen Hutt at the end of 1928 expressing concern that local comrades were using the pit-paper to denounce some people as hypocrites and traitors because they had not supported Communists in a recent ballot. When he had challenged this, it had been said to him that the criticisms contained no personal reflections on individuals but and the aim had been to bring dissenters closer to the Party!
Proudfoot, like all Communist miners, in 1929 found themselves in a separate union, the United Mineworkers of Scotland, which grew out of an initially successful but, in the medium term failed attempt to reform corrupt union districts into a ‘Reform Union’. This really only gelled strongly in Fife, although it had members throughout the Scottish coalfield.
As the historian John Saville wrote many years ago; “The history of the Scottish miner’s after the General Strike is a grim record of crooked dealing by the Right Wing officials who, voted out of office by their members, refused to give up their positions to the Left Wing which had triumphed. Whether the Left was correct in allowing itself to be provoked into the formation of an independent union is quite another question…”
Proudfoot became the General Secretary of the UMS in early 1931 but only lasted seven months. He did not prove either popular or successful. He then withdrew from activity and Abe Moffat took over, making much more of a success of events and, in 1935 helping to lead the way towards unity of Scottish miners, in which Communists would play an outstanding part, by the dissolution of the UMS.
In the 1931 general election, Willie Gallacher stood against the incumbent Labour MP in West Fife, Willie Adamson, who was, in fact, the main culprit behind the snatching away from the militants of 1926 of the control they had partially wrested away from the corrupt right wing. Adamson stood again in 1935 but again failed to take the seat, losing to Gallacher.
Proudfoot appears to have stayed with the Party for the next decade or so. Nonetheless, his eventual break with the Communist Party became very public when he supported Labour Candidate Tom Hubbard in a by-election in February 1944 for the Kircaldy parliamentary seat when the sitting Labour Member of Parliament for Kirkcaldy, Tom Kennedy, announced his resignation in January 1944.
The wartime political truce agreed between the parliamentary whips meant that the sitting party should have a clear field. It is unclear what actually happened, apart from the fact that the Communist Party initially had Kirkcaldy in sights as a possible contest for itself. Proudfoot appears to have manufactured a reason to leave.
Hubbard faced opposition from Douglas Young, leader of the Scottish National Party, and a candidate standing as a Christian Socialist. Hubbard won by 1,647 votes but Young took 41.3% coming within 2,800 votes of unseating Labour. Subsquently, as an MP, Hubbard only rarely intervened in debate, concentrating on issues he knew well.
David Proudfoot was himself elected in 1945 as a Labour councillor in Buckhaven & Methil and was very prominent in the post-war planning and development matters; he died in 1958.
Be the first to comment