Bill Speirs (1952-2009), trade unionist, nominated
George Buchanan (1506-82)
Margaret Irwin (1858-1940)
Margaret Irwin was born in 1858, on board a barque in the South China Seas; but though a child of the 19th century she was a key figure in the 20th as far as Scotland is concerned.
When the STUC was founded a century ago, breaking away from the TUC over the issues of the unions' political stance and the need for distinctive Scottish institutions to meet Scottish needs, it was a very male organisation. No surprise there. What was surprising, perhaps, was that the first elections saw the poll topped by a woman, Margaret Irwin, who became my first predecessor as General Secretary of the STUC.
Margaret had been Secretary of the 100,000-strong Scottish Federal Council for Women's Trades, battling to improve the lot of grossly exploited women workers, in campaigns such as that to get laundries included in the factories' legislation in order to end such obscenities as women being expected to work 37-hour shifts – non stop.
She fought for women's suffrage and for equal pay, constantly pointing out that this was in the interests of both male and female workers, as when she told a mass meeting of mill and factory workers that 'a uniform rate of wages, for work of the same nature and efficiency, is the best safeguard against the present ruinous competition which exists and this can only be had by Trade Union effort.'
Margaret Irwin never became a fashionable figure: but her legacy as a social and workplace reformer has been immense, as a leader who rejected all forms of sectarianism, who saw that men and women could only ultimately advance as human beings if they did so together, and who saw those who create our country’s wealth as the real embodiment of that wealth.
George Buchanan was, like Margaret Irwin, educated at the University of St Andrews (where she obtained the degree of LLA – Lady Literate in Art, the only one available to women at the time): unlike her he went on to university in Paris, and in fact spent the greater part of his adult life in France, one of those Scots of the Renaissance who was at home in all of Europe while always knowing Scotland as home. That universality was aided by the use of Latin as the continent's tongue of learning, and Buchanan was widely regarded as the finest European user of the language in his day. He was also hailed as a brilliant poet, who a century after his death was described by John Dryden as 'a writer comparable to any of the moderns and excelled by few of the ancients.'
The struggles of the Reformation saw him return to Scotland, the man previously a Catholic humanist now become a severe Calvinist. Installed as tutor to the future James VI and I, his influence on the future course of life in these islands can be seen as profound. Also profound was his contribution to modern political and philosophical discourse, centrally in his immense work 'De Jure Regni apud Scotos,' justifying the overthrow of their monarch by the Scottish people. This book became one of the most influential – and in absolutist quarters, feared – well into the next century, shaping anti-royalist thinking before and during the English Civil War: 101 years after Buchanan's death it was burned by the University of Oxford.
He was never a one-dimensional man, though. Alongside the great philosophical tracts, Buchanan compiled several volumes of jokes and hilarious tales, including the legendary 'Daft Watty's Ramble from Ayr to Carlisle.' In the life he lived, a sense of humour was probably indispensable.
George Buchanan, Renaissance savant, died in poverty.