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Dr Robert D McIntyre

The Father of the SNP has passed on

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Robert McIntyre’s adult life was that it contained two parallel careers, each requiring enough energy, devotion and ambition as the other for any normal single lifespan.

As a doctor, he worked in general practice in Warwick; as a house surgeon in Stirling Royal; house physician at Bangour; and as a resident at Glasgow Ruchill Hospital, where he began to evince an interest in public health. His first professional campaign was as a senior resident at Hawkhead, in Paisley against the dreaded diphtheria. His target of the immunisation of every school child brought almost immediate benefits for the whole area.

As the War progressed, Robert became port boarding medical officer at Greenock, with the task of ensuring that ships and their crews were free of infection before reaching Glasgow. After a short spell in North Uist, he became a tuberculosis officer back in Stirling and, on the introduction of the National Health Service, he took up the post of consultant chest physician for Stirling and Clackmannan.

The measure of the success of his diligence and devotion during his subsequent distinguished medical career —between 1951 and 1979 — was the virtual elimination, by him and others like him, of the scourge of tuberculosis from the land. In recognition of that, Stirling Royal Infirmary appointed him an honorary consultant chest physician in 1974.

So much for that distinguished career. For relaxation the family sailed their converted Loch Fyne 35-foot skiff, the Violante, offshore of the Highland village of Plockton. And all the rest of his waking hours were taken up with the promulgation of his political goal, the self-government of Scotland.

He undertook the task of national organiser of the Scottish National Party. Between 1929 and 1942 the national secretary was John MacCormick, who was the key figure of this period of the cause's development.

The Party had been rocked by the hostility of many of its leading figures to England’s war. The security forces retaliated by rounding up Arthur Donaldson, Douglas Young, Muriel Gibson and Roland Muirhead. Then Dr MacCormick persuaded the Party to adopt the role of an "agent to unite Scottish opinion, irrespective of Party differences, behind an agreed measure of Scottish Home Rule".

That effectively split the Party. John MacCormick, concluding that there had to be a consequent "parting of the ways", stood as a Liberal candidate while masterminding the breakaway Scottish Convention.

Robert McIntyre, with Arthur Donaldson, soldiered on and kept the Party together, in the strong conviction that it had to be a "totally independent political party fighting for a Scottish Parliament".

Then history took a hand. The Labour MP for Motherwell & Wishaw, James Walker, was killed in a car accident. He had had a majority of 430 over the Tories. With the wartime coalition pact still in operation, the Tories did not field a by-election candidate against Labour’s Alex Anderson.

In 1944 Secretary McIntyre had set out the political stances of the SNP in a pamphlet entitled "Some Principles for Scottish Reconstruction". Those who believe that the SNP did not concern itself with politics half a century ago would do well to read the document which also formed the basis of the SNP’s by-election address. This covered the range of social and economic concerns (in the policy areas of housing, transport, mines, land, fisheries, agriculture, emigration, environment ...) which a self-governing Scotland free of the "centralised bureaucratic shackles of absentee government".

"A selggoverning Scotland", he wrote, "would depend on the natural organisation of the family and local community for its stability. Rejecting the "vested interests of the Right and the Left", McIntyre also refused to discuss politics in terms of the English political agenda. His programme was no fudged compromise between the two polarised tyrannies. His was a clearly defined Nationalist agenda.

And it was with this manifesto that, in a straight fight, he defeated his Labour opponent by 617 votes.

The story of his refusal to be "introduced" to the House by two sponsors from any British party is told elsewhere. His brief tenure until the General Election later in the year rocked the Establishment and at a stroke injected electoral credibility into the independence movement. While it is true, as opponents claim, that a generation had to elapse before Winnie Ewing became the second SNP Parliamentary victor, Robert McIntyre had unlocked the door to independence which has opened progressively wider as the Party grew and grew. If he did nothing else subsequently, that feat would have been enough to earn him his unique place in the history of the cause.

It was in fact fortunate that he lost the seat at the General Election because that freed him to set about building up the modem political Party which he, with Arthur Donaldson and Tom Gibson, were to design and construct.

He was Party Chairman from 1948 until 1956 and its President thereafter until 1980. At the same time he was applying the principles of Nationalism to local government which resulte in his being elected as the burgh’s first SNP councillor, town treasurer and then planning convener. Achievements directly attributable to him include the restoration of the Top o the Town, the shopping centre, swimming pool, much new housing and a key role in the foundation of the University. In recognition of all of that he was made a Freeman of the Royal Burgh and an honorary doctor of the University.

All this time he was directing the development of the Scots Independent — even, from time to time, undertaking onerous editorial duties.

All political parties betray schismatic tendencies and the SNP, as it grew, was no exception. So Dr McIntyre, even in his latter years, had to undertake unifying locum duties once again. In the mid 1970s the SNP had risen to its, still unsurpassed, Parliamentary peak of 11 MPs and inevitable frictions grew between the Party in the country and the Party at Westminster. Significantly, the NEC turned to Dr McIntyre to act as liaison representative, with considerable effect.

Then the strategy conflagrations of the late Seventies and early Eighties made a further call on his therapeutic talents. While the looming, Media-fanned split was formally, averted by a truce — drafted, ironically perhaps, by John MacCormick’s son, Neil — it was Robert McIntyre who more than anyone else helped to smooth most of the ruffled feathers on both sides and brought the young turks gradually back into the philosophical fold.

He remained an intellectually and physically active elder statesman, as well as Party worker on the streets, throughout the 1990s, the Westminster Parliamentary group recently electing him as their first-ever Honorary President.

The Scots Independent salutes him



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