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Going to the potatoes

Roma Ritchie remembers that, for some people in communist households in Dundee in the early 1960s, there was no home but the struggle

Being 13, 14, I was absolutely plagued with joining the Young Communist League, and the people responsible for that were Sandy Constable and Edith Reid … Sandy was the head of recruitment for the YCL. It was nag, nag, nag until I would join: ‘when are you going to join the YCL?’ My mum and dad never interfered. I got left to make my own decisions – I was fortunate that way.

There was definite pressure – not so much on me, but on others my age, where their mothers or fathers were in the Communist Party, to join the YCL: it was expected of you. It’s a bit like being at church. As a youngster, I didnae see it that way, I was just self-willed and did my own thing, but as a more mature adult, thinking back, it was dreadful, it was really bad, the putting pressure on youngsters to join the YCL.

That’s a political decision that’s like a religious decision: that’s something you should come to yourself, I think … and I’ve never ever influenced my own son … although he has followed in his grandfather’s footsteps (he did have his own battles, because he was the Communist Party’s organiser’s grandson), but he’s made his own way …

They used to have these socials … musicians played. Because there wasn’t any other entertainment was the reason people went – it was nothing to do with politics! At these social events they organised, with music and singing – Edith Reid was one of the singers – the idea was to haul the young blood in.

When I think about it, for some people, it’s like there was nothing outside the communist party. The communist party – that was the ultimate goal. But when I think about discussions I had with my dad, who was the party’s secretary and area organiser, he didn’t see it like that …

Through the school, we got off October holidays to go to the potatoes. My mum was from Edinburgh, and she said ‘you are not going to any potatoes’.

‘Ah, mum, I want to go to the ‘tatties’.

‘No! You’re not going’.

My father said: ‘let her go’. It wasn’t like him to say this to my mum.

And I said, ‘yeah, I want to save for a new bike’.

Oh, my father, he latched onto that right away. He said, ‘all right, you can go to the potatoes on the proviso that you save your money for your bike’.

The whole idea was, if I stuck out the potatoes, he would help me with my bike. So, I got a lovely new bike, a Duncan sports bike, it was gorgeous … on the proviso that I delivered the Daily Worker, because at that time the newsagents wouldn’t handle the Daily Worker, he had to pick them up from the train station and we had to deliver them personally.

So that was how I got my first bike. I used to deliver them for years, just on weekends … it used to be the Daily Worker, Soviet Woman, and I think the other one was the Soviet Weekly. I didn’t do all round Dundee, he wasn’t that cruel! We lived on Fintry, the new housing scheme, where my dad built up a lot of contacts. When we first went there was only a few houses – no transport, no shops, no school, no community centre, no library, and he was the instigator of getting these things, and built up the Fintry Tenants Association. He was secretary of that, as well. He being the nice man that he was, he got some of these people to take the Daily Worker. He even managed to recruit some of them into the party …

Published August 2023.

Roma was interviewed for the Democratic Left Scotland website in May 2023.


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