One of the lesser-known aspects of British democracy was the status of the ‘University seats’, which ceased to exist in 1950. Arguably an electoral anachronism the University seats were abolished by the Attlee government, so that they ceased to exist, on mainland Britain, at the 1950 General Election.
So, the by-election for the Combined Scottish Universities, on 27th November 1946, was the last ever election in any of the University seats. It saw a genuine clash of political giants, present and future, in Scottish, and UK, politics.
The winner, by a massive margin, was the former Conservative Secretary of State for Scotland, Walter Elliot, who won with 68%. C.E.M. Joad, a philosopher of the same rank, and fame, as Bertrand Russell and George Bernard Shaw, was the Labour candidate, who increased the Labour vote and John Bannerman, was the Liberal candidate.
In many ways the contest was very clear-cut, but the characters involved would have a clash of political titans that we just do not see these days.
John Bannerman, a former Scottish rugby international, later Lord Bannerman, father of former Lib Dem MP, Ray Michie, became a leading light in Scottish Liberalism and arguably began one of the major turning points for the Liberal Party at the Inverness by-election in 1954.
But, for one, I slightly lament the loss of the University seats. Although they were not based on the premise of universal suffrage, and gave the Universities a special, heightened status, they would have been centres of incredible political debate and a battle, more based on political ideas than local agendas.
Perhaps, in the future, when looking at creative ways of electing the upper house, rather than another direct set of elections to a fully elected second chamber some thought might be given to more employment and institutional representation. Geography does not have to be the only measure of delivering universal suffrage.