RIP Donald Gorrie

Donald Gorrie, the former MP and MSP, has died at the age of 79.

Gorrie was the MP for Edinburgh West from 1997 to 2001, and MSP for the Central Scotland region from 1999 until 2007.  However, these raw facts do not tell the full story of his political life.  A long-standing member of the Liberal Party, Gorrie served as a councillor at either regional, district or city level from 1971 until his election as an MP twenty-six years later.  A tireless campaigner, especially in regards challenging sectarianism (he was fiercely opposed to faith schools) and the creation of a Scottish parliament, he was also persistent – standing unsuccessfully for the parliamentary seat four times before eventually winning it.

An inaugural member of the Scottish Parliament, Gorrie’s individuality and commitment to principle became quickly evident in his opposition to the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition at Holyrood.  While there were, at the time, strong working relationships between the two parties and the respective leaders (Donald Dewar and Jim Wallace) Gorrie was more suspicious of Labour authoritarianism and centralist tendencies.  He was also critical of Dewar himself and, in particular, the First Minister’s role in mismanaging the Parliament building project, claiming that Dewar has designed it as a personal memorial.  Gorrie remained irreversibly opposed to ongoing collaboration with Labour in spite of his strong left-leaning liberalism – opposition that would see him sometimes unfairly cast as rebellious and awkward.

He created some difficulties for his own party’s leadership.  In spite of his evident liberal instincts and commitment to party policy he would often find himself at odds with Jim Wallace and, later, Nicol Stephen.  He was particularly vocal in his support for environmental justice and the Third Party Right of Appeal, a Lib Dem policy that was not implemented by the party’s ministers.   Gorrie also supported (as, unsurprisingly, did I) the SNP’s policy of an independence referendum, arguing that the Lib Dems should “never say never” to either a referendum or coalition talks with the SNP – advice that was ignored in 2007.  This was partly motivated by a determination to avoid continued identification with a domineering Labour Party, but unquestionably he was also a pragmatist who recognised that Lib Dems should be willing to work with whichever party was more amenable to the prospect of implementing liberal policy in government.  He also foresaw that by ruling out a referendum the Lib Dems were weakening their political position and hoped that his party would support a two-question referendum.

Gorrie used his time in Holyrood to champion causes and issues in which he had a political interest, such as LGBT equality, tackling the problems associated with alcohol abuse and climate change.  He supported the controversial smoking ban and was implacably opposed to the introduction of HE tuition fees. 

Not always liked but respected by colleague and political opponent alike, Gorrie's greatest legacy appears to have been to inspire others.  Today, people such as Hugh O'Donnell and Alex Cole-Hamilton praised their former mentor.  Many more liberals owe a great deal to the man Cole-Hamilton described as "a liberal lion who liked to kick holes in the establishment".  Perhaps, in no small way due to Gorrie's influence, there are many such liberal lions roaming around Scotland today.

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie paid tribute to Gorrie:
“With a liberal backbone made of steel Donald Gorrie dedicated his life to challenging the establishment.  A highly effective councillor and parliamentarian he revelled in the battle for fairness, opportunity and justice.  Donald was never afraid to be a lone voice and his boundless energy was evident throughout his thirty six years of public service.  The Liberal Democrats will forever be grateful for the life of Donald Gorrie. We will miss him.” 
I did not know Gorrie personally, but I am more than aware of the huge contribution he made to Scottish liberalism and our country's politics more generally.  In tribute I will simply say this: he was my kind of liberal.