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Part of Pollok Seen from Crookston Castle
Part of Pollok Seen from Crookston Castle

James Maxton lived from 1885 to 23 July 1946. He was a socialist politician who became Chairman of the Independent Labour Party. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.

James Maxton was born in Pollok on the south side of Glasgow. His parents were both schoolteachers. He was educated at Hutchesons' Grammar School before going on to study at the University of Glasgow. He then became a teacher. Maxton's political outlook started to shift to the left while he was studying at Glasgow, and continued to do so afterwards. In part this was through his friendship with committed socialists such as John Maclean. His growing socialism was also a response to witnessing the grinding poverty experienced by many of the children he taught.

Maxton joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP) and went on to become one of its leading figures in Glasgow. He was a strong opponent of conscription during the First World War, and was imprisoned for a year as a result. As a conscientious objector he spent much of the rest of the war working on barges. In the 1922 general election Maxton was elected as the Independent Labour Party MP for Glasgow Bridgeton. He became chairman of the ILP from 1926 to 1931, and from 1934 to 1939. He played an important role in the 1926 General Strike, working closely with the Miners leader, Arthur Cook. After its split from the Labour Party in 1932 he was seen as the ILP's figurehead.

Maxton was considered one of the greatest orators of the time, both inside and outside the House of Commons. Winston Churchill, a political opponent, described him as "the greatest parliamentarian of his day". He died in 1946, while still the sitting MP for Glasgow Bridgeton. After his death the ILP stagnated and eventually ceased to be a viable independent political party.

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