Andrew Liddle thought he knew the story - that on being defeated in 1922 Churchill never returned to Dundee, refusing the Freedom of the City in 1943 - but found that there was much more. 


In 1908 young heir to a political legacy Winston Churchill was promoted to the Liberal Cabinet as President of the Board of Trade. In those days that meant he had to find a byelection in his NW Manchester constituency, and Conservatives intent on revenge for his crossing the floor of the House in 1904 got their revenge by securing his defeat. 


One MP in the two-member Dundee constituency had just been elevated to the House of Lords, and Churchill agreed to stand there in a city that was very industrial with its jute industry and a large Irish population normally sympathetic to the Liberals. He won, and held the seat in four subsequent polls despite visiting only once or twice a year, often for just a few days. In those days it was quite difficult to get there from London other than by a long journey by overnight train, and he found the hotels rudimentary to one who liked his creature comforts : the Queens Hotel in Dundee has preserved a letter in which he complained about a maggot crawling out of his kipper. He could be abrasive, returning to a constituent a letter that he found "wanting in charity", but lobbied for Dundee to get a telegraph station and was an advocate of jute. The city's deprivation relative to that in his previous constituencies made his mark on the radicalism of his political outlook, and he explained that progressive policies such as the establishment of minimum wages in sweat-of-the-brow industries and of labour exchanges stemmed from his Dundee experience.


He also favoured devolution, supporting Irish Home Rule, and in 1911 produced a vision for a federal Britain which stayed with him until the 1950s. However all was not plain sailing, and turbulent times as Home Secretary were followed by a shift to First Lord of the Admiralty just as Europe was about to become engulfed in the Great War. He carried the can for the disastrous Dardanelles campaign, resigned and, believing his political career to be over, redeemed himself by going to the Western Front. 


Now he found himself in charge of the 6th Battalion, the Royal Scots Fusiliers whose men were initially in consternation at the cavalier conduct of their new Colonel. Nevertheless he won them round, using his connections with Regimental HQ to secure them steel helmets and allowed them to use his bath, and despite being an SNP supporter his biographer Andrew Dewar Gibb reported that there was no more popular officer. Soon he was back at Westminster, and when Lloyd George replaced Asquith as Prime Minister returned to the Cabinet as Minister of Munitions, which meant having to fight another byelection. He won that and scored one of the biggest majorities in the country at the 1918 "coupon election", but from now on it was downhill. 


Churchill's belligerent anti-Bolshevik stance, supporting the White Russians and arranging for British troops to fight, did not go down well with jute workers, who became entrenched in their support of the new Labour Party. In 1918 Sinn Fein won the general election in Ireland, setting the scene for the Anglo-Irish War, and by this time Secretary of State for War he sent in the "black and tan" irregulars whose atrocities inflamed tensions in both islands.


Edwin "Neddy" Scrymegour was a Christian Socialist and leader of the Scottish Prohibition Party, who had contested Dundee in 1908, twice in 1910 and in 1917 and 1918 when he turned in his best result yet. Labour candidate E D Morell also a highly principled man had campaigned against atrocities in the Belgian Congo.


Churchill was suffering life-saving surgery to deal with appendicitis, being bedbound in Dorset Square just as the 1922 general election was called. This was a turning point in British history when Lloyd George's Liberals faced a rump of the old Liberal Party still led by Asquith. Churchill's wife Clementine was sent north to bolster his campaign, and childhood holidays with her Airlie kinsmen near Kirriemuir served her well despite daughter Mary being but a few weeks old. However he was let down by his friends including the Earl of Kimberley who was out of his depth and F E Smith whose inebriation made him no match for the heckles of jute-workers - The Courier declared that a speech at the Caird Hall had been delivered with "great heartiness"  but was "completely devoid of any constructive policy for getting the nation out of its present mess".  With 33,000 votes to Churchill's 20,000, Scrymegour pushed Churchill into fourth place, though he still did well to get so many. Noting that the victor would be a useful representative for Dundee, Churchill boarded the Sleeper never to return, and when in 1943 the City offered him by now Prime Minister its Freedom by a majority of only 1 he took the advice of Scottish Secretary Tom Johnston to decline as it was not unanimous - thus fuelling Churchill's supposed hatred of Scotland which was also supported by a myth that in 1918 he had sent tanks into Glasgow's George Square.


The influence of his Dundee years had proved vital not only for Churchill's political survival but also for his compassion towards poverty and deprivation, while the leading role of women in the jute industry had prepared him for their dominance in munitions factories. For Scrymegour the journey to Westminster would prove more exciting than the destination, and failure of his Prohibition Bill was matched by rejection of Dundee going dry at veto polls, thus demonstrating that what Dundonians were seeking was socialism not teetotalism. After defeat in 1931 he returned to the Christian ministry, while beset by ill-health Morel died in 1924 and the seat was won by Johnston.