3rd December 1918

Socialist campaigner John Maclean is released from prison

John Maclean was a parliamentary candidate, Bolshevik consul in Scotland, and teacher, who lost his job teaching in schools when arrested in 1915 under the Defence of the Realm Act because of his opposition to British involvement in the First World War. Giving speeches outside recruiting stations was seen as contrary to the terms of the Act, and he was sentenced to three years’ penal servitude in 1916.

A statement by the British Socialist Party, published in the 20 April 1916 edition of Justice said that it “views with deep concern the brutally vindictive sentence passed at Edinburgh against John Maclean and calls upon the Labour members of the House of Commons to raise vigorous protest with the object of getting the sentence quashed, and hopes that the organised workers will also use every means in their power to this end.”

Severe sentence

It wasn’t only the British Socialist Party who supported his cause, though. A printed letter in the Aberdeen Press and Journal seven days later said that “the severe sentence… discloses the drastic coercive powers vested in the Executive Government by the Defence of the Realm Order in Council. There is the ominous fact of a sentence of penal servitude being obtained in a political prosecution wherein not a single independent witness was produced by the Crown [despite the fact that] the police evidence showed that the six meetings addressed by Mr Maclean were attended respectively by audiences ranging from 150 to 5000 people.”

As the letter-writer described it, the judge and jury had been put in an impossible position. Either they could convict Maclean, or they would, in effect, be passing a verdict of guilty on the 23 police who had testified against him of having concocted false evidence.

Released and rearrested

He was released in 1917, but arrested on charges of sedition the following April, on the basis of the contents of speeches he had given. He was tried in May and sentenced to a further five years’ penal servitude and, when he went on hunger strike, was force-fed by tube while in prison. Although he was released on 3 December 1918, his health was irreparably damaged, and he died of pneumonia, aged 44, in November 1923.

On 4 December 1923, The Scotsman reported that 3000 people had attended his funeral at Glasgow’s Eastwood New Cemetery.



Other events that occured in December

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