Librarian wins dispute over Willie Gallacher’s papers

A librarian has won a legal battle over the private papers of Scottish political firebrand Willie Gallacher.

Willie Gallacher remains a working-class hero among the Left. Picture: TSPL
Willie Gallacher remains a working-class hero among the Left. Picture: TSPL

Audrey Canning, who has run the Willie Gallacher (1881-1965) Memorial Library for almost 40 years, went to court over a threat to remove the collection from her control.

Legendary trade unionist “Red Clydesider” Gallacher was a founding member of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and served two terms as the last Communist MP, representing West Fife.

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Following his death his collection of more than 2,000 books, pamphlets, photographs and other documents relating to Scottish working-class history and left-wing politics was donated by his family to the CPGB.

Mrs Canning, 79, became the voluntary librarian of the collection in 1979 and it has been based at Glasgow Caledonian University since 1997.

However, in 2013 a dispute arose over the ownership of the library after a political organisation called Democratic Left Scotland claimed it was rightfully their property.

The group claims to be the political successor to the CPGB, which disbanded in 1991. Following a hearing Glasgow Sheriff Stuart Reid ruled that while neither party can claim ownership, Mrs Canning should be the custodian of the library. He said: “In these proceedings neither the pursuer nor the defender has established that the library belongs to them.

“In my judgment, while the pursuer has failed to prove ownership, she has established a lesser right as depositary to the custody, control and management of the fund.

“She discharged her custodial duties with distinction for over 25 years.

“On her own initiative, she identified a sanctuary for the library within the STUC premises; with her own hands, she packed, flitted and then reassembled the entire collection there; a decade later, she repeated the exercise, securing refuge for the library within GCU; and throughout the entire period since taking custody she has been the constant guard and keeper of the collection for no financial reward.

“I would observe that how the pursuer chooses to exercise her rights as depositary… is a matter for her judgment.”

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Douglas Chalmers, convener of Democratic Left Scotland, claimed in court that ownership of the library had been transferred to the organisation by the CPGB.

The library, which is housed in the university’s special collections department, has been closed to the public since May 2013, when the dispute arose.

The sheriff said the closure had been to the “dismay” of academics and said he wanted to bring the row to a close although no owner had been established.