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Alan Rae: “The boy wis’nae blate”

December 20, 2016

We are pleased to publish this tribute to Alan Rae from Stewart Maclennan

Stewart writes:

Alan Rae and I were close contemporaries in age (he being six weeks older) and in our early political evolution, both being Vietnam Solidarity Campaign activists who joined the IMG in 1970.   A flavour of Alan’s character is given in the Glasgow Red Circle leaflet published earlier this year on ‘Mole’.   Its bare details given do not reveal that here is a working class kid from Clydebank, just turned twenty, presenting on the ‘New Soviet Opposition’ on the doorstep of a faculty of Soviet Studies of international eminence.   Many of the left’s leading lights in the field taught or studied there, and several would have been present for Alan’s talk.   To employ a Scottish idiom, “the boy wis’nae blate”!

Alan was an outstanding example of what that dry phrase about the “youth radicalisation” of the sixties really meant.   He committed, researched and prepared meticulously: once resolved upon his argument, he was absolutely rigorous in its pursuit.   A fine example is his work during the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in.   Alan, a shipyard shop steward, prepared much of the material used in Red Mole’s coverage, though this frequently appeared under others’ by-lines.   The presentation of this coverage under the strapline ‘First Step to a Scottish Workers’ Republic?’ was a Rossite effusion from London rather than the considered expression of the Scottish comrades, but it reflected the IMG’s early commitment to Scottish self-determination, later presented in more nuanced form in articles in International and in the pamphlet ‘Scotland, Labour and Workers’ Power’.

Neil Davidson, in a fine tribute, reveals that Alan in his last years developed a position of hostility to the Scottish Independence Referendum of 2014.   This must have been a recent change of position for Alan, whose later political alignment was with the SWP and the Scottish Socialist Party, whilst the former was a faction within it.   However, the referendum ran faultlines through all the traditional groupings of the left, and former IMGers were no exception to that process.   It rather tends to confirm that Alan was as thoughtful in determining a position as he was passionate in its advocacy.

Alan was a good comrade and a great companion, but his company was not for the faint-hearted.   A Saturday night out in Glasgow could typically involve an “eat-and-run” raid on a restaurant, followed by the careful selection of the most promising party to gatecrash, and a staged punch-up between us if the event proved insufficiently lively.   As may be imagined, outcomes could be unpredictable, and effects upon participants occasionally as severe as might be expected from the real thing!   When I met Alan several years later in Brighton (he at Sussex University, me at union conference), we staged a spontaneous re-enactment and nearly precipitated mayhem in a crowded club.

A questing intellect and high technical competence took Alan first to university and thereafter to New York, where he developed his career as an IT consultant.   Returning home to Scotland, he made his home in Edinburgh in the ’90s.   Neil Davidson’s memoir provides a thorough account of his political involvement there.   I occasionally bumped into Alan and had the odd pint, chat and argument with him, and then met him at a labour history conference shortly before his diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease was confirmed.   Even then, the effect on his vocal communication was marked, and we shared a grim laugh about the problems of mutual comprehension caused by his condition and my deafness.

The effects of MND are devastating for any victim, but particularly so for one of Alan’s relentless vitality.   I admire unreservedly his action in hastening his end when his last means of communication seemed to be slipping from him, and applaud his courage through the literally unspeakable suffering he endured for the last years of his life.   His Marxism and materialist outlook held firm throughout his life, and in the manner of his passing.

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