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Solidarity in dark days

It was easy at the time to see the granting of the freedom of Glasgow to Nelson Mandela in 1981 as little more than a provocative stunt.

It certainly was portrayed as a piece of leftist tokenism by some, at the time, in a climate where Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher felt able to dismiss the African National Congress (ANC) as a "typical terrorist organisation" a few years later.

Yet how must it have appeared from a prison cell on Robben Island? Jailed and with South Africa's racial segregation looking unshiftable, this gesture of solidarity was the first of its kind anywhere in the world and it mattered. We know that because Nelson Mandela confirmed it, when he danced at a rainy reception in George Square in 1993.

Another piece of Glasgow mischief was the renaming of Nelson Mandela Square, placing the ANC leader's name on every letter delivered to the South African Consulate. This, surely, was a stunt - of a deliciously cheeky kind.

Aberdeen and Edinburgh, too, gave Mandela the freedom of their cities. Scotland had a special relationship with him and sorrow at his passing can be mixed with gratitude for any small part Scots may have played in sustaining hope in his darkest days.

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