Another part of my past has gone with the passing of Jimmy Reid; I was in my twenties when Reid came to prominence. He rose from relative obscurity as one of the leaders of the takeover of the shipyards by the workers to prevent closure by the Tories; out with the coal disputes the greatest political upheaval since before WW 11. Reid was not the leader of the shipyard workers as some lazy journalists are now saying he never claimed to be and never would, there were people beside him and behind him who were every bit as important particularly the razor sharp mind and iron will of Jimmy Airlie, Reid was their spokesman and what a spokesman he was. He was inspiring at the time of the “work in” and he made the period burst into flames as he challenged the Govt. As a young activist these were heady days; we learned a lot and it stayed with us, as William Wordsworth said about the French Revolution, “Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven”
Throughout my life in politics I have always enjoyed public meetings where you could hear great speakers or orators to give them their due and he was one of the best, among those I have heard and met were him, Tony Benn; Norman Buchan; Gordon Brown; Mick McGachey; Reid’s nemesis Arthur Scargill; Lawrence Daly and still way out in front Michael Foot. I even had the great fortune to hear The late legendary Rev. Donald Soper at Hyde Park Corner and spoke to him after his address to the crowd; he was a frail old man at the time but his voice carried far, he was inspirational.
Jimmy Reid rose like a lion; blazed brightly for a couple of years and like Icarus he fell and never rose again, I remember my late great friend Davie Speirs saying to me when I asked him if he had seen Reid on the Parkinson show; “that was the end of Jimmy Reid the revolutionary” and as was so often the case Davie was right because it was the end. His new found celebrity made it possible to “get aff the tools” as we say here and his life changed entirely. So much so that his former comrades in the Communist Party who were tough men and women devoted to their cause never saw him in the same way again and neither did I. I still met him a few times after those days although I couldn’t say I knew him but he was a different guy by then he was Jimmy Reid the TV star every establishment show’s favourite socialist.
“Every political career ends in failure” (Enoch Powell) and Enoch was right you don’t hear me say that often but, Powell was referring to political failure when they eventually lose and stand down, that wasn’t Reid’s case he lost a lot more than a political credibility and he became very bitter, leaving the Communist Party where he belonged but couldn’t get elected; Labour where he tried and failed again; then the SSP which was a cruel joke on him considering his past and finally to the SNP, the great International Socialist fetching up with a bunch of narrow minded hidebound nationalists. As a young communist he crossed swords with the young Arthur Scargill and Arthur beat him in an election for an important post, Reid never forgot or forgave.
So it was that decades later when the miners were locked in their desperate struggle with the Thatcher Govt. he turned on Scargill publicly saying that if “Kamikaze pilots had a union Scargill would be their shop steward” that comment finished him with his former comrades and admirers. Nothing more needs to be said about that but, the old warrior McGachey called him “broken Reid” a terrible state of affairs.
Jimmy Reid made his mark and he rightly enjoys a high place in Scotland’s Labour movement, my cousin in Chicago recently sent me this quote and I now paraphrase him and F.Scott Fitzgerald “the golden cup was broken but it was golden and no one can take that away” I will look back fondly on him, he was not the first and won’t be the last to be led astray by the acclaim and bright lights, he learned the hard way what “the system” can do to someone whom they consider to be dangerous.