From 1845 the area which was to become the burgh of Clydebank was administered by the Parochial Board of Old Kilpatrick. Parochial boards, renamed parish councils in 1894, were responsible for public health, water supplies and poor relief.
By 1886, the growing population of the Clydebank area had become increasingly dissatisfied with the Parochial Board's attempts to deal with problems of drainage and sewage disposal, and campaigners succeeded in having a police burgh set up under the General Police and Improvement (Scotland) Act 1862.
The elected Burgh Commissioners dealt with matters such as water supply and drainage, lighting, cleansing, paving and policing. In 1892 their powers were extended, particularly in relation to public health and building control, and, in 1900, the commission was renamed Clydebank Town Council. In the new century the council took on further functions such as housing and, following the abolition of parish councils, between 1930 and 1934 it was made responsible for the provision of additional support to the poor and unemployed under the Poor Law. The 1975 reform of local government brought the establishment of Clydebank District Council as part of a two-tier system within Strathclyde Region and with responsibilities now extending beyond the boundaries of the old burgh. The most recent change to local government, in 1996, saw the abolition of Strathclyde Regional Council and the transfer of its functions, such as education and economic planning, to unitary authorities. One of these authorities was West Dunbartonshire Council, formed by amalgamating Clydebank and Dumbarton District Councils.
The first Burgh Commission was elected in December 1886. Most of the successful candidates were connected with major local employers or were small businessmen, and chose James R Thomson (1844-1903), of J & G Thomson's Clydebank Shipyard, as the town's first provost. In this early stage of the burgh's political life candidates did not stand as representatives of particular political parties - though in fact many were involved with the Conservative or Liberal Party organisations in the Dumbartonshire Parliamentary constituency. For many years, there was a significant belief that local government should be non-political.
Party labels only began to be associated with election candidates from the very end of the 19th century, at about the same time as the Labour Party (or the organisations from which it was formed) appeared on the local political scene. The first successful workers' candidates were elected in 1906, representing the Independent Labour Party (ILP), but control of the council remained in the hands of Moderates or Independents, the successors of the first burgh commissioners, for many years. Apart from a brief period in 1924, Labour did not gain control of the council until the mid-1930s. That control has continued largely unbroken into the 21st century.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) gained control of the district council 1977-1980 - a development which was perhaps a reflection of national concerns and the difficulties facing the local economy during the 1970s. SNP representation on the council had begun in 1967 and, with the exception of the 1980s, has continued since.
Representatives of other political parties have also played a part in the council's deliberations. From the later 1930s until the early 1970s the Communist Party held between one and three council seats, while in the years following local government re-organisation in 1975 the Conservative Party and, briefly, the Scottish Labour Party were represented.
Pressure groups have also been involved in the political process in Clydebank, lobbying the council to respond to expressions of local concern. For example, the temperance movement exerted some political influence in the years around 1900, nominating or approving candidates at the municipal elections. Prior to the First World War the Tenants Protective Association and the Housing Committee were involved in the political process through petitioning and attempts to secure election to the council.
The most successful of these groups was the Clydebank Housing Association of the 1920s which was the organising force behind legal challenges to landlords' attempts to raise rents at the time of the Rent Strike. For three years in the first half of 1920s an Association representative won election to the town council. However, little was done by the council to help the rent strikers except for the provision of temporary accommodation for evicted families in the later stages of the Rent Strike.
In the depressed periods of the inter-war years, organisations representing the unemployed were also active in local politics. In the early 1920s the Clydebank Unemployed Workers Committee and from the mid 1920s the local branch of National Unemployed Workers Movement (NUWM) organised deputations, marches, demonstrations and petitions seeking improvements to the local authority's treatment of the unemployed. These efforts had limited success and, though the council refused the NUWM demand not to operate the Means Test, in 1932 it did at least petition the government to scrap the Test.
In the later 1950s and in the 1960s the Independent Ratepayers Association was able to gain up to three seats on the council, on a platform which included keeping party politics out of local government and improving housing, transport and shopping facilities. In 1972 the council, along with several others in Scotland, gave support to groups opposing the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act which would have raised rents. The council went so far as to refuse to implement the act locally for a number of months, an action which resulted in the imposition of a substantial fine.
In the later 1970s, with the loss of thousands of local jobs, the Clydebank Campaign for Employment was set up. It was made up of trade unionists, traders, clergy, district councillors and the local MP and was formed to campaign for action to bring about economic regeneration in the town. The group played a part in persuading the Secretary of State for Scotland to establish a Working Party on Clydebank, made up of representatives of the town council, the regional council, the Scottish Development Agency (SDA) and others. In its turn, this group brought about the establishment in 1980 of an SDA Clydebank Task Force with a budget of £15 million to stimulate small business in the town. It also played a part in the setting up by the Government of the Clydebank Enterprise Zone, the first in Britain, in 1981. The development of new businesses in the zone was to be encouraged by the reduction of red tape and the provision of various financial incentives.
Clydebank alone has never formed a Westminster constituency. It has always been part of a larger constituency with part or all of Dunbartonshire or with another town. From 1886 until 1918 it was part of the Dumbartonshire constituency. Between 1918 and 1950, along with Dumbarton, the town formed the constituency of the Dumbarton Burghs. From 1950 until 1974 Clydebank was part of the Dunbartonshire East constituency, switching to Dunbartonshire Central between 1974 and 1983. Since then the burgh has been part of the Clydebank and Milngavie constituency.
From 1886 until 1922 Clydebank was represented at Westminster by a Conservative or a Liberal MP, with the Conservatives holding the seat for a slightly longer proportion of the period. The Labour Party breakthrough came in the election of 1922, and the townspeople have been represented by a member of that party ever since. Probably their best-known MP was David Kirkwood (1872-1955), from 1922 to 1951. Kirkwood had been a trade union activist and ILP member during the First World War, which he opposed. He became well known at Westminster for his robustly-expressed radical views. It was the election of Kirkwood and the problems associated with the Rent Strike of the 1920s which, in large measure, led to Clydebank gaining a reputation for left-wing activism as part of "Red Clydeside". In reality, the town and its MP were less radical than claimed - the council remained under Moderate/Independent control until the mid-1930s, and, with the passage of time, Kirkwood moderated his views, eventually, in 1951, moving to the House of Lords as 1st Baron Kirkwood of Bearsden.
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