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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
9th April 2009

Professor Sir Neil MacCormick

Neil MacCormick passed away at the weekend.  Many tributes have been paid to him, and there’s nothing that I can add that is very new, but I felt that it was right to mark Neil’s passing.  He was a man who always had a joke and a good laugh ready for any occasion as well as being a man whose intellect was incredible and whose command of the subjects he spoke about was second to none. 

He was one of those people who always left you feeling better than when he met you, the kind of person who it was a privilege to know.  You didn’t have to be important to get time with Neil, nor did you have to be subservient or sycophantic – that would even work against you.  A more generous spirit you couldn’t hope to meet.

He was loved by the SNP, truly loved; he was an icon we all adored and ranks alongside every one of the greats of our party, like Winnie Ewing and Alan Macartney, he served Scotland in Europe, like his father before him he philosophised on how to take Scotland forward, like Donald Stewart, he used humour as a tool to bring people towards the cause.

His oratory was punctuated with jokes and stories that he would tell on himself, his speeches were always a delight to listen to as he took you from the depths of a philosophical debate to the heights of hilarity in just a few phrases.  He could discuss the intricate details of a European treaty and move smoothly into a joke about haggis suppers.

The genius of Neil MacCormick was not confined to politics (in many ways he a far too generous and kind man for the gristle of politics) – he was also a confirmed genius of Edinburgh University, he was Regius Professor of Public Law at Edinburgh University for 36 years – longer than anyone else has ever served in that post, and he was a world-renowned legal scholar, his theories on sovereignty and liberal nationalism are taught in law schools around the world today.

I can’t better George Reid’s summation of Neil’s academic career:

In 1965 he was appointed as a lecturer at Queen’s College Dundee, followed by a return to Balliol as a fellow and tutor in Jurisprudence. With his move to Edinburgh University four years later, and his subsequent publication of over a dozen books and hundreds of academic papers, he established an international reputation as one of the leading legal philosophers of his age.  In 1982 Edinburgh awarded him the research degree of LL.D;  in 1992 he was appointed QC, honoris causa;  in 2001 he was knighted in the Birthday Honour’s List; and in 2004 he received the Gold Medal of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. 

Along the way he served as Edinburgh’s Dean of the Faculty of Law, Vice-Principal for International Affairs, as a visiting professor in Europe, North America and Australia, and as a Fellow of the British Academy. 

I’m told his colleagues at Edinburgh University hold him in massively high regard and that he will be missed by them as much as he will be missed by SNP members.  He turned down the opportunities offered by US universities – Ivy League universities – to stay in Scotland, the country he loved and the country he dedicated his political life to.  Even when he was dying he was looking ahead and dreaming of a better Scotland.  He regretted that he wouldn't be around to see independence but was content that, like his father, he was a staging post in the long march to independence and along the way he had improved some things around him.

I’ll miss Neil MacCormick, just as I miss so many other friends who have gone before we restored our country to independence.  I’ll seek to do their memory justice by campaigning for a better future for the country they left behind.

Here are links to some of the tributes to Professor Sir Neil MacCormick – you can leave your own tributes on the SNP site and on the Edinburgh University site:;ID=1237;lID=1

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