One of the outstanding figures during the 20th century in the Vale of Leven (see below for more detail on the Vale) was Dan O’Hare. He was a man of many parts: a Communist tool-maker who was victimised and embargoed by the employers for his trade union and political activities. (See foot of post for a picture of O’Hare leading a local march.)
With, no doubt, a local whip round, he became and independent fruiterer with a barrow and then a shop in Main StreetAlexandria. An amateur flautist – but definitely not of classical style music – he had his own “Dan O’Hare’s Flute Band” which took to the streets as the occasion demanded. O’Hare is described as an outstanding raconteur and wit; a charismatic figure, of whom few had a bad word.
He was elected a Communist councillor for Bonhill, firstly on the Bonhill Parish Council from 1922 onwards, and after 1930, the Vale District Council until his death in the late 1940s, by which time he was wheelchair bound.
Given his contribution to the improvements in the Vale, particularly in the field of housing, it was appropriate that not just a street but a whole Estate was named after him, when it was built in the early 1970s – the O’Hare Estate, Bonhill.
Like all of the other council-built estates on the hillside in the area, the estate has no street names, each house being numbered and called O’Hare in a display of social solidarity and lack of elitism of which O’Hare would have greatly approved.
The Vale of Leven
The Vale is somewhat north-west of Glasgow, on the north bank of the River Clyde, running from Dumbarton on the coast almost to Loch Lomond. The locality was marked for the dominance of the Communist Party in local politics in the half century period from the early 1920s. The Vale was not a coal mining area, which made this an unusual red belt. Its District Council was for much of the middle of the 20th century an unofficial elected dictatorship of a United Front between the Communist Party, which dominated, and the Labour Party, which did not resist.
The Vale is part of Scotland’s West Dunbartonshire and work there in one of the main industries of textiles was particularly physically demanding, with over-long hours, poor conditions and low pay. It was not until 1912 that union recognition, of a sort, was conceded.
Possibly one of the most decisive of local events to propel the Communist Party into a position of hegemony came in 1931. Not that the Party had been a minor force during the 1920s. During that period as many as five communist councillors had been elected to Bonhill Parish Council. Rentonvillage, south of Alexandria, also had mainly only Communist councillors.
Another long-standing Communist councillor still remembered today was George M Halkett (see below for picture; Halkett also leads the march with O’Hare). Halkett was first elected in Alexandria East in 1932 and sat until 1947, shortly before his death. An academic trophy in his name is still presented annually in a local school.
Labour activists had not seen themselves as fundamentally separate from the Communists up to then. But the expulsion of Communists from the Labour Party and then the betrayal by a Labour Prime Minister in 1931, in establishing a national government with Tories and Liberals was followed by a profoundly affecting industrial dispute local in the Vale.
One of the biggest employers was United Turkey Red, a textile company. In common with other Scottish textile companies, UTR imposed an additional wage cut on top of a nationally agreed one in 1931. This provoked a major strike in the locality, which saw a mere two days after the strike began, a crowd of five thousand descend on Dalquhurn. Struggles with police did not stop the heavy stoning of the blacklegs’ bus, which did not arrive the next day. A massive picket remained at Dalquhurn to ensure that no-one entered any of the UTR works for several weeks. Nonetheless, the employers were heartless and, despite all, a return to work was eventually agreed.
Even so, an unalterable red period that lasted a full forty years was ushered in as Communists and Labour forged complete unity, led by the Communists. Only rarely did any Labour activists seek to breach the unofficial unity that made the Vale of Leven the reddest borough in Britainfor so long.
The district is replete with instances of things Communistic being marked into posterity, most notably many streets named specifically after long-standing Communist councillors. However, Engels Street, in Levenvale, running between Hardie Streetand Burns Streetin Alexandria, was built in the mid 1930s and named then. It is of course, named after Frederick Engels, who with Karl Marx, wrote the Communist Manifesto, published in 1848, and who also edited the 2nd and 3rd volumes of `Capital’ after Marx’s death, as well as producing a voluminous body of work of his own.
Many of the roads in Levenvale have a left-wing connection but there is no corresponding “Marx Street”. This is because Marx had no local connections, unlike Engels, who frequently holidayed in the area. He definitely spent some summers at a house in Helensburgh, the nearby rather posh sea-side town – although the less militant area never found space to celebrate the connection with Engels!
The council disappeared in the reorganisation of local government in the early 1970s that did so much to undermine the localised basis of the British Communist Party. But one thing distinguished the local council – despite there being many small towns, villages, and parishes with a dominating Communist presence in that period, the Vale was probably the only place in Britain where the Communist Party was ever the largest single party.
Main source: http://www.valeofleven.org.uk/scottishplacenames/ and other material