Alex Massie

Jimmy Reid, 1932-2010

Text settings


If Jimmy Reid, who died overnight aged 78, hadn't existed he might have had to be invented. For 40 years now he has been the image of a certain Scotland. The "dignity of labour" is a much abused phrase that often drips with sentimentality, but you didn't have to share Jimmy Reid's political views to recognise his virtue*. Nor did you need to be there at the time to appreciate, even all these years later, that there was something noble about the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in back in 1971.

The work-in and Reid's famous speech have assumed almost mythic status, representing all that was best about the Scottish, and specifically the west of Scotland's, industrial tradition. Much of it has gone now, of course, and in some respects the UCS dispute was the zenith of this Scotland's image of itself: hard-working, dignified and proud. The famous lines, complete with their presbyterian caution against succumbing to human frailty, are still powerful:

“We are not going to strike. We are not even going to have a sit-in strike. Nobody and nothing will come in and nothing will go out without our permission. And there will be no hooliganism, there will be no vandalism, there will be no bevvying because the world is watching us.”


So you don't have to be from Jimmy Reid's Scotland to appreciate his record and recognise that he's part of your own Scotland too. As MacDiarmid always reminds us: Scotland small? Our multiform, our infinite Scotland small?/ Only as a patch of hillside may be a cliche corner/To a fool who cries "Nothing but heather!"

*The contrast between Reid and a charlatan like Arthur Scargill or a pygmy like Bob Crow is total and entirely in Reid's favour. If nothing else, one wonders how the National Union of Mineworkers might have fared had they been led by men such as Reid and Airlie rather than a demagogue like Scargill.

UPDATE: John McTernan's piece in the Telegraph is excellent.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articlePoliticsscotlandtrade unions