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INSIDE TRACK: Referendum intervention that merits a place in the history books

With the recent focus on the potential of independence for Labour supporters, memories stirred of a rainy night on Skye 26 years ago when the same issue was raised.

It sent shockwaves through the party at the time but has been effectively airbrushed from the annals of the national debate. This was when a Labour "aristocrat", John Pollock, stunned many by announcing he believed that only independence within an integrated Europe could protect the interests of the Scottish people. Devolution wouldn't be enough and only Labour could deliver.

His Labour credentials were peerless. He had been, quite literally, bounced on the knee of Red Clydesider and legendary Independent Labour Party (ILP) MP Jimmy Maxton, and had also sat at Nye Bevan's feet.

He chaired the Scottish Labour Party twice, the STUC once and was influential within the TUC. He had turned down one of safest Labour seats in Scotland to become general secretary of the EIS teachers' union in 1975.

He oversaw its transformation with membership at 50% of the teaching profession in Scotland rising to 80%. It had become the largest purely Scottish affiliate of the STUC and one of the most successful teachers' unions in Europe. It led the fight that made Scottish teachers the first public-sector group to force the Thatcher Government to turn.

Pollock was an outstanding public speaker who was described as the greatest Labour Secretary of State for Scotland never had. His face was known throughout the country.

He had just stood down from the EIS and had been invited to speak by Skye and Lochalsh Labour Party. However only 22 turned up that night in Broadford. Various explanations were given - the Proclaimers were playing Portree; Seamus McGee and his six-piece Irish Showband were at Kyle of Lochalsh; and apparently there was a "big wedding" on in Edinbane.

Had more turned out, they would have heard him publicly challenge many of Labour's sacred cows.

He pointed to a catch-22 for the then leader Neil Kinnock in his attempt to make Labour more attractive to the voters in the south-east of England, which meant Labour supporters had ask: "Will a transformed Labour Party with policies relevant and attractive to the voters in the affluent south of England have any direct relevance to the needs of Scotland?"

Even if Labour came to power in Britain through economic crisis, he doubted that Scotland would be a priority. But Europe presented Scotland with the opportunity of independence without the isolationism previously preached by the SNP.

Many thought this was the start of something. But Pollock's public profile remained low and he died while on holiday with his family in Majorca in 1995. He was 69. His speech on Skye was forgotten, his subsequent silence unexplained.

He didn't live to see Labour returned to power, the Scottish Parliament established, Europe in turmoil or the independence referendum. But he would have had a take on it all, which probably would have surprised us.

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