Born: February 5, 1948;

Died: June 23, 2022.

IAN McCormack, who has died aged 74, was a campaigning journalist who began his working life on the Herald, in Glasgow, but went on to spend the bulk of his career on Skye, where he edited the West Highland Free Press for 44 years of its 50-year history.

The paper was born in the early 1970s as a radical left-wing alternative to its rivals and Ian enthusiastically embraced its ethos. During the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, he produced a Ban The Monarchy edition (the circulation initially took a hit but recovered) and came to national attention for his campaign against high tolls on the bridge to Skye.

His long career on the island also made him a popular and essential part of the community, and he was particularly known for his passion and support for shinty. Although not athletic himself, he was a regular presence on the touchline of the King George V playing fields in Portree.

His decision to make his life in Skye came about almost on a whim. He had heard about the establishment of the West Highland Free Press by, among others, the future Labour minister Brian Wilson, and popped in to see them in 1975 while he was on holiday from Glasgow.

“I had seen the paper and its radical approach appealed to me,” he told The Herald in 1992. “I went along to the old schoolhouse in Breakish where the paper was then and explained that I was a journalist and wanted to get away from the city to bring up my kids. Basically they just laughed and said ‘sorry’ but two weeks later I got the phone call to say, ‘can you start?’.”

Having secured an extra £5 a week because he had a wife and two daughters, taking his wages to £25 a week, he started almost straight away and within a few months was promoted to editor, a job which he took immensely seriously. He would spend long hours reading the back issues to get a sense of what the paper had been doing and, especially after his marriage broke down, spent his life in the “Broadford Triangle” of home, pub and work.

Born in Kilmarnock in 1948, the only child of a plumber, Ian showed an interest in writing from an early age, keeping a diary and writing pieces at school. Having left school, he joined the Glasgow Herald’s training scheme in 1965 before being seconded to the Kilmarnock Standard and then returning to The Herald where he worked as a reporter and music critic. He also started studying English and drama at Glasgow University, although he never finished the degree.

His first connection to the islands was when he married Beth, a girl from Lewis, and by the mid 70s he was looking for a different kind of life. After the marriage break-up – his wife and daughters moved to Wales – he threw himself into his job. In the early days, he didn’t like to go home much – he was a living in a caravan and would wake up with cutlery frozen to the draining board.

Before long he had become an essential part of the operation and the community and for the next four decades, he and the paper were at the centre of the biggest stories to affect the community in Skye, Lochalsh, Wester Ross and the Western Isles. Among the issues that motivated him were land reform and ownership, transport and in particular the Skye bridge, and better recognition for Gaelic. He never spoke the language but came to learn how to edit it for the paper.

Although a well-liked figure on Skye, the radicalism of Ian’s paper was not popular with everyone, as he remembered when he spoke to The Herald about that Ban the Monarchy edition. “Initially, we intended just to publish an anti-monarchy poem. But it was a very last-minute thought to put the Ban the Monarch stamp on it. We lost some circulation but it came back up again.”

One issue which did make him a popular figure was his passion for shinty. Having grown up in Kilmarnock, he knew virtually nothing about the sport but was an enthusiastic convert and covered the game throughout his career.

His friend and former colleague, Ross Cowie, who joined Ian on a shinty excursion to Nova Scotia in 1991, said that Ian probably did not really know what an enormous contribution he had made to life in the West Highlands over the last few decades.

Ian was profoundly happy in his job on Skye – he would tell his family that he would have to prised away from it – and it was proved in 2009 when he was part of an employee buy-out of the paper at a difficult time for local newspapers. He was one of ten employees who took the decision to purchase the paper. The duration of Ian’s editorship was also remarkable in newspapers or any other industry. Having started as editor in 1976, he didn’t retire until January 2020, meaning he had overseen 2,290 editions.

Following his retirement, he was given a Special Recognition Award at the Highland and Islands Media Awards and a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Scottish Press Awards. Throughout his career, he took a keen interest in the progress of young journalists who had started at the West Highland Free Press.

His hobbies were shinty, reading and watching documentaries. He enjoyed taking his grandson Ethan to training at South Skye Shinty Club (juniors) and sometimes the under-14s at Skye Camanachd.

Ian McCormack was pre-deceased by his former wife Beth and his daughter Mariana and is survived by his daughter Bronwyn and his grandchildren Miya, Caleb, Ethan, Harry and Olivia.