John McAllion (b 1948), politician, nominated
Sir William Wallace (c1270-1305)
Mick McGahey (1925-99)
My abiding memory of Mick McGahey is of him speaking to a packed meeting in Dundee during the miners' strike of 1984-85. He finished his speech that night with a quote from Shelley's 'The Mask of Anarchy':
Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number –
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you
Ye are many – they are few
Coming from most other speakers I have heard in my time in politics, such a finish would have caused embarrassment and unease. Delivered in Mick's gravely working-class accent, it brought the packed hall to its feet cheering and clapping.
That audience, of course, was applauding more than a well-deserved speech. They were giving recognition to that rare phenomenon in politics – a political leader with one hundred per cent integrity.
In my view Mick was always much more than a leader of the Scottish miners and a member of the Communist Party. In a very real sense he represented the best of the organised working class in the 20th century.
He never deserted his working-class roots. He was of the people and remained so throughout his life. He feared no boss, no political or class enemy. It could truly be said of him that he wanted to rise with his class. Mick kept faith with the socialist vision which others used to get a start in politics and then cast aside as they rose out of the working class.
For me Mick McGahey represented the kind of socialism which inspired millions around the world but which was never put into practice in this most terrible of centuries. He stands alone for me as the great Scot of that century.
So what does he have in common with William Wallace, whom I have chosen as the Scot of all time? In truth, little is known about the life of the real William Wallace other than – as one historian has accurately observed – 'the last bitter month of it, and glorious year when he was twenty-six and the leader of his country.'
Most of what we know about that time is myth rather than reality. But sometimes myth matters more than reality. Like every other nation, Scotland is an imagined community. We are who we think we are and the myth of William Wallace is central to our sense of ourselves.
Wallace, like McGahey, is of the people. He is hated by his feudal superiors in England and Scotland alike. He too is feared by the establishment of his day. He threatens the very basis of feudal society. With him the people rise and demand freedom. No one questions his integrity or courage.
In the story of William Wallace we can see this little country begin to fight for its own identity and its own vision of a fair society. Almost 700 years after his death that struggle is still going on as it has gone on in every generation since that time.
Nowadays, of course, we are told that globalisation will undermine and destroy the very idea of nations. Our freedoms are being restricted to those which are allowed by the diktat of an all-powerful market place. The class war is over because those who own and control capital have won. For me this is all 'globaloney'. People can still take control of their own destinies. They can still decide for themselves the kind of society they wish to live in. Socialism is still the best hope for mankind. Democratic nations are still vehicles for building a socialism in which nations can live together in peace.
I'm grateful to Michael McGahey and to William Wallace for making it possible for me to hold to these beliefs in 1999. They truly are great Scots.