Labour MSP Richard Leonard was in Stirling this week to tour the Cunninghame Graham Library at the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum. Robert Bontine Cunninghame Grahame was a writer, politician, journalist and adventurer who became the first ever socialist MP when elected in North Lanarkshire in 1886. He went on to found the Scottish Labour Party in 1888 with James Keir Hardie and, much later, the Scottish National Party in 1934.
The library, which opened in 2016, houses the collected works of, and about, this giant of the early socialist movement in the United Kingdom. Whilst the library is free and available to visit by appointment at any time, every Thursday it is staffed by volunteers who are on hand to answer questions from visitors.
As Secretary of the Keir Hardie society, Richard was keen to reinforce the ties with the Cunninghame Graham society. He toured the library and the museum with Cunninghame Graham Society Convenor Gerry McGarvey and Smith Art Gallery and Museum Chairman Colin O’Brien.
“Keir Hardie and Cunninghame Graham were there at the very dawn of the Labour movement and without them, our political landscape would be very different. I am passionate about ensuring people have access to history so we can learn from it and I wanted to meet the volunteers here at the Stirling Smith who are doing so much to keep the legacy of Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham alive. My visit reminded me of the Great Dock strikes of 1889, which Cunninghame Graham supported and stood alongside the dockers fighting for a minimum wage for their work. These were also the docks which operated a policy where men would gather at the gates, sometimes two or three times a day, and hope to be called on to work. The dockers knew this the “call-on policy”, but today we might describe it as a zero hours contract. Each generation fights for what is right, but the similarities of what has gone before can provide context and help focus today’s efforts.”
“Cunninghame Graham is such an amazing character. In his day he was such a dynamic figure as a politician and a writer. But he was also an Argentinian cattle rancher and a British aristocrat. He travelled to Morocco disguised as a Turkish Sheik and he prospected for gold in Spain. He befriended Buffalo Bill in Texas and taught fencing in Mexico City. He founded the forerunner of both the Labour Party and the Scottish National Party. The more you find out about Robert Cunninghame Graham, they more you want to know.”
Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham died in 1936 in Argentina, but is buried at Inchmahome Priory on the Lake of Menteith, near to his family’s estate at Gartmore. For more information on the Cunninghame Graham Library, log onto www.smithartgalleryandmuseum.co.uk. The Museum also has items related to RBCG on permeant display as part of the “Stirling Story” exhibition.
For more information on the Cunninghame Graham society, check out their Facebook Page.
For more information on the Keir Hardie society, log onto www.keirhardiesociety.co.uk