On 30th June 1917, Scottish socialist politician John Maclean was released from prison following a high-profile public campaign to secure his release.
Born in Pollokshaws and a schoolteacher by trade, John Maclean was a prominent figure in the Red Clydeside movement and a staunch opponent of Britain’s involvement in the First World War – and it was this vocal opposition that landed him in prison under the Defence of the Realm Act in 1916.
Maclean was freed in the wake of the February Revolution in Russia. And having lost his position at Lorne Street Primary School, he became a full-time Marxist lecturer and organiser aiming to gather support among the Glasgow working class.
His time in the public eye would not last long though. In April 1918 he was arrested, tried and imprisoned for sedition. Choosing to conduct his own defence during the trial, Maclean’s legendary speech in the dock – which lasted more than an hour – is still fondly remembered among Scottish socialists and left-wingers.
“I am a socialist, and have been fighting and will fight for an absolute reconstruction of society for the benefit of all,” he famously remarked.
A full transcript of the speech can be found here.
Although sentenced to five years’ penal servitude, Maclean would later be released after the November Armistice marking the end of the First World War.
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In the years following, Maclean went on to stand as a Labour Party candidate for Glasgow Gorbals and later established the Scottish Workers Republican Party, which promoted both Marxist teachings and Scottish independence.
Despite much activity in the years following the First World War, Maclean’s health deteriorated significantly – largely due to the terrible conditions he endured during his second stint in prison, which saw him force fed during hunger strikes.
Maclean collapsed while giving a speech in Glasgow in 1923, and on 30th November that year he died at the age of 44. Thousands lined the streets of Glasgow to see his funeral procession and pay their respects, and it has been claimed that his funeral was one of the largest Glasgow ever saw.
Today, Maclean is widely regarded as a towering figure in Scottish political history, and is revered among nationalists and socialists alike.
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