When Dundee delivered the highest “Yes” vote of any council in the 2014 independence referendum, Dundonians were following in the footsteps of generations from the “Radical Toon”.
It was in my constituency that, according to legend, William Wallace committed his first act of defiance, killing the governor’s son following an altercation and setting him on a path that would ultimately see him lead Scotland into battle.
However, it was not until the late 18th century that Dundee earned its nickname, as the city’s residents took up the cause for universal suffrage, led by the “Radical Laird” George Kinloch. It is estimated that 10,000 Dundonians, then a third of the population, descended on the city’s Magdalen Green in 1819 to hear Kinloch speak – a speech that would see him banished to France.
Pity the moderate politicians who faced Dundee’s radical elements. First elected as one of Dundee’s MPs in 1908, Winston Churchill had to contend with 27 national suffragette leaders descending on the city in opposition to his campaign. Famously, Irish suffragette Mary Maloney followed him around loudly ringing a dinner bell to drown out his electioneering.
In the end it was not suffragettes that ejected Churchill from office in 1922 – in a city famous for its multitude of pubs, it was Neddy Scrymgeour, the only person ever elected to Parliament on a prohibitionist platform, who unseated him. The future PM, who racked up three-figure alcohol bills on his rare visits, would surely see the irony.
More recently Dundee has continued to live up to its reputation, serving as the birthplace of the Scottish anti-apartheid movement and being a key site of antipoll tax marches and action. With a referendum on the horizon, you can be sure that Dundonians will continue to lead the way for years to come.