Combined Scottish Universities by-election, 1936

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The Combined Scottish Universities by-election, 1936 was a by-election held from 27 to 31 January 1936 for the Combined Scottish Universities, a university constituency of the British House of Commons.


The seat had become vacant when the Unionist Member of Parliament (MP) Noel Skelton had died at the age of 55 on 22 November 1935, 3 days before being returned posthumously at the 1935 general election. A lawyer, journalist and Conservative intellectual, he had held the seat since being elected unopposed at the 1931 general election.


The Unionists and their Conservative allies were the dominant group in the National Government, whose parties did not usually stand candidates against each other. A by-election in a Unionist-held seat would therefore normally have been contested by a Unionist candidate, but in this case there was a need to find a seat for Ramsay MacDonald of National Labour, who had been defeated in his Seaham constituency at the 1935 general election. He had led the National Government from 1931 to 1935 and remained Lord President of the Council, so the other government parties agreed that he should contest this by-election, the first since the general election.

The Labour Party, which formed the official opposition at Westminster, fielded David Cleghorn Thomson. As a Liberal candidate, Thomson had contested Willesden West in 1923 and Edinburgh South in 1924. After joining Labour, he stood as the Labour candidate in Leith in 1935.

The third candidate was Andrew Dewar Gibb, of the Scottish National Party. Gibb, who was Regius Professor of Law at Glasgow University, had also contested the seat in the 1935 general election.


The result was a clear victory for MacDonald, who won over 56% of the votes.[1] However his physical and mental health collapsed later in the year; a sea voyage was recommended to restore his health, and he died at sea in November 1937, triggering another by-election.

Combined Scottish Universities by-election, 27–31 January 1936
Party Candidate Votes % ±
National Labour Ramsay MacDonald 16,393 56.5 N/A
SNP Prof. Andrew Dewar Gibb 9,034 31.1 +16.9
Labour David Cleghorn Thomson 3,597 12.4 N/A
Majority 7,359 37.4
Turnout 54.8 +3.6
National Labour gain from Unionist Swing N/A

See also[edit]