Gordon Wilson 34

I am saddened by the death of my old friend and mentor, and predecessor as Rector of Dundee University, Gordon Wilson. It is nigh on 40 years ago that he converted me to the cause of Scottish Independence (though not then to the SNP), much aided by Edith’s magnificent potted Arbroath smokie. To this day I have never enjoyed a food more. The last time I spoke with him he was criticising a passage from Sikunder Burnes as insufficiently precise in its expression. I think every conversation I ever had with him contained a caution of some form or another. He was very – lawyerly.

But those who knew only his public persona did not realise how much fun he was in private. A permanent twinkle in his eye, a dry wit, and the ability to find the exact word about someone to be scathingly funny without being unfair. Some of his best stories related to running the pirate Radio Free Scotland station in the 60’s, moving the equipment from tenement to tenement in Edinburgh as detection drew near, and occasionally getting tip-offs from the odd secret nationalist in the police force. Radio transmission required bulky units in those days, and the techniques developed for strapping transmitters under coats were deployed to good effect when they liberated the stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey. I have written before that if I could have one evening of my life again, it might well be the dinner in Gordon and Edith’s house in Broughty Ferry with all those involved in that escapade.

Gordon took a religious turn in late life and I was saddened to see his comparatively recent stance against gay marriage. Certainly, to me as a student he was one of the most socially liberal of an older generation I had ever met, and he treated members of the gay student community exactly as he treated anyone else, at a time (and place) when that was not something you took for granted.

His commitment to Scottish Independence was absolute, on grounds of national self-determination. He was concerned that a central belt, socialist oriented nationalism would alienate the traditional supporters of the North East, and this actuated the bitter disputes in the party while he was leader. Sadly some of the bitterness of this lingered, and combined with his latter-day socially conservative views, the result was he was not given the personal respect by members of the greatly expanded SNP which he deserved. At a party conference in Perth a couple of years ago I was really saddened to join him for a while as he cut a rather forlorn and unacknowledged figure wandering in the fringes. This was a sorry return for a lifetime completely dedicated to the cause. He stood reference for me when I applied to be a SNP parliamentary candidate, and wryly remarked to me after my rejection that if it were anyone else, he would have fretted that it was his name that had caused the veto from the leadership, but in my case he did not have to worry!

I agreed with Gordon that the 2014 referendum campaign lacked an emotional charge from the leadership to counter the powerful Gordon Brown led unionist media onslaught of the closing week, and we should be less shy of rousing what he called cultural nationalism. I still think that is the case and that it is not incompatible with civic nationalism sometimes to stir the blood about our culture and our history.

I attended Gordon’s installation as Rector of the University of Dundee and I was delighted thirty years later that he attended mine. Edith and he danced at my first wedding. I shall look to pay my respects at his funeral to a great Scotsman, who kept the passion for Independence burning at some of its most difficult moments, and who was an integral part of its first big parliamentary breakthrough.

Here’s to you Gordon.

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34 thoughts on “Gordon Wilson

  • Republicofscotland

    If only we had more in the SNP as comitted to the cause as the Govan man was.

    • reel guid


      That is so. Also Gordon Wilson’s ability to repeatedly win Dundee East in an era when the SNP couldn’t win any other urban seats in general elections was iconically very important.

  • Peter Beswick

    A moving tribute

    to someone that was a very dear friend.

    And possibly one of the most sincere of friendships, nay the most, where one can voice vehement disagreement without causing offence.

    To maintain a untrammeled opinion and yet encounter a polar view that you respect. This is a bit grown up for here.

    And when each and everyone can accept a view that is fundamentally at odds with our own, when acceptance of the view as equally meritable as our own (based on our individual experiences and core beliefs), that both views are entirely correct (logically speaking), then we will not only find peace with ourselves but the world will be at peace with itself.

    A big ask? I think so!

  • Brianfujisan

    Sounds Like Gordon W was a good Solid Soul..May his Spirit rest in Peace..

    He sounded in Tune with a Dr John Davies, Re civic nationalism –

    ” Scotland is, I think, For the Whole of Mankind an inspiring example of a Country inhabited by people basing their nationality on civic rather than ethnic identity ”

    Dr John Davies,

  • John Macadam

    If you remember, Craig, after he had just been elected Rector he went up to the Main Bar of the Union to buy his campaign team a few drinks, but waited patiently in line for his turn to be served. He was an egalitarian man without any sense of self-entitlement. He was also the only leader of the SNP to help push start a car of my wifes when the battery had gone gone quite flat.

      • John Macadam

        Deeply upset, but agree with much of what you say. We have lost a good man and a good friend.

    • Trowbridge H. Ford

      Too bad he didn’t push start a murder investigation of Willie McRae’s death after he expected Winnie to settle for a suicide verdict, and when she didn’t, he should have gone bonkers over the refusal of her to see the relevant official papers since she was going to make a big stink over it.

      • glenn_uk

        Knock it off for once, Trowbridge. People are mourning the loss of a friend, please can this crap just for the occasion eh?

        • Trowbridge H. Ford

          When politicians stop murdering one another all the time, and stop covering it up, I shall stop.

          Chalk McRae’s up to ‘Madd Maggie’ who was not tolerating any nationalists of any kind in the UK at the time.

          • J Galt

            So why did the rest of the SNP leadership not get shot?

            McRae knew something specific – I’ve no idea what.

            But I agree with the rest, this is neither the time nor the place.

          • Trowbridge H. Ford

            McRae was enough, and he probably knew NATO was testing its subs outside his windows for a non nuclear showdown with the USSR.

            And when people die in today’s world, they are forgotten in about three days.

  • Sharp Ears

    Scottish Political Archive

    Dr and Mrs Gordon Wilson and Winnie Ewing visit MEP Jack Vandemeulebroucke in Strasbourg on 11th June 1990.

    (The Scottish Political Archive is housed at the University of Stirling. The archive is home to the oral interviews, personal papers and associated material from prominent Scottish politicians. For further information about the work of the archive please visit our website http://www.scottishpoliticalarchive.org.uk )

  • Dave

    I suspect Gordon Wilson considered ‘independence in UK’ closer to independence than ‘independence in EU’, the later being a tactic rather than a goal.

  • Alf Baird

    Gordon Wilson must surely have been amazed that we did not finish off the union of parliaments for good with 56 SNP MP’s. I suppose that is what some call ‘civic nationalism’.

  • Paul Barbara

    @ Craig
    ‘..Here’s to you Gordon.’
    I’ll drink to that: Nazdarovya!, or in this case, RIP.
    Sounds like a great guy. I totally agree with his abhorrence of same sex marriages, whilst being totally against repressive policies against ‘Gays’.
    As you get nearer to your ‘Day of Judgement’, you too may(?) come to your senses, hopefully.
    In the interim, you’re doing a great job.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    I find uncritical obituaries useless, as they leave out the really good and bad about the person for just pleasant thoughts.

    My father’s obits were so unrealistic about who he was, and what he really did that I am still inclined to write a biography of him.

  • Sharp Ears

    A SNP MP quoting ‘I Daniel Blake’ holds a DWP minister to account on the exorbitant cost of telephone calls to the DWP and the length of time taken to answer. It was a short adjournment debate.

    eg ‘In the opening scene of “I, Daniel Blake”, the character is on the phone for more than an hour. I am sure I am not the only Member of Parliament who has had constituents telling them about similar cases. Here are just some of mine: a jobseeker’s allowance claimant who has told me of a phone call that cost £9; an employment and support allowance claimant who has told me of a phone call that cost them £16; and a constituent pursuing a disability living allowance claim on behalf of his daughter who has told me of a phone call that cost him £18. I ask the Minister and the House, is it right that a JSA claimant receiving £73.10 a week needs to make a phone call costing £9 to receive their entitlement? Is it right that an ESA claimant receiving £73.10 a week needs to make a phone call costing £16 to receive their entitlement? Is it right that a DLA claimant receiving a weekly entitlement of £76.90 has to make a phone call costing £18?’

    It’s outrageous.

  • Krief

    “cultural nationalism”

    Interesting concept, which you might need to elaborate on.

    Isn’t that what the EDL support?

  • Stan Smith

    I’d like to add my tribute to Gordon Wilson. I was Students’ Assessor on Dundee University Senate while Gordon and Craig were both in office. The office was actually, despite the title, held by an academic voted by students to sit in on Senate to represent the students’ cause. Although I was a socialist and Labour Party member we worked well together and I never found Gordon one to discriminate politically, unlike some of his SNP colleagues, on matters concerning the students’ interest, or individual students. True to his lawyerly training, he was scrupulously fair in all his dealings, and did not allow his political allegiances to interfere with his responsibilities. I concur with Craig’s account of him as a good and serious person, and I am sad to hear of his death.

  • Jim Finlayson

    I too have more than a few memories of Gordon Wilson; all of them good. To say that Gordon was a tireless worker for the SNP is no exaggeration. He was also one of the most genuine and honest individuals I have ever known.

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