This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

Reading some of the tributes to Gerry Fisher who died at the age of 94 last week, you’d think he was only ever greeted with cheers and applause when he made an appearance at SNP conference.

That was absolutely not the case. There was always a lot of love for the veteran activist in the room, but his arrival on stage was often met with groans from the delegates.

He was a stickler for the rules and the party constitution. Or, as Nicola Sturgeon pointed out in her salute this weekend, “his interpretation of the party constitution”.

Gerry, 94, had been a supporter of home rule since the 1940s, joining the Glasgow University Scottish Nationalist Association (GUSNA) at the end of the decade.

It was only in the late 60s when he joined the party proper after Winnie Ewing’s triumph in the Hamilton byelection in 1967.

At that point Gerry was living in London and became good pals with the new MP, having lunch with her every Tuesday and working on her supplementary questions to Harold Wilson.

In a move that I’m told is not uncommon in the SNP he was elected convenor of the London branch three weeks after he joined.

From then on he made all but one of the party’s conferences. He missed the 1988 gathering following a horrific accident when a Canadian tourist going south on the Pitlochry bypass crashed into his car.

Gerry lost his wife and ended up in hospital. His son, who was just three at the time, escaped without a scratch.

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It was at that conference that he missed that the party moved to back a position of independence in Europe, something Gerry, an arch-Brexiteer could never agree with.

It’s been fun looking back through the press cuttings about the activist. The Daily Mail once gave him the title of “unofficial leader of the SNP's awkward squad” while the New Statesman described him as a “legendary dissenter” and a stage-invading pensioner.

He was also a regular contributor of letters to The Herald.

In those missives, while often critical, he was never anything other than loyal to his party.

In 2000, he bemoaned the return of “infighting by means of anonymous smears and allegations”.

“You would think that we were full of power-seeking, leader-crawling, illiterate hacks when I would have sworn that Labour held the edge in that league,” he wrote.

When someone in 2002 claimed the SNP was afraid of internal debate, he told them they just weren’t doing it right. He also suggested they weren’t really trying.

“There are well-established procedures for forcing a debate,” he wrote. “As one who has fought and won many battles against the accepted wisdom, and lost many more, I might just have remembered others doing the same, and do not.”

The Herald: Gerry Fisher died last week at age 94, having been a supporter of home rule since the 1940sGerry Fisher died last week at age 94, having been a supporter of home rule since the 1940s (Image: Shutterstock)
But the Gerry golden years, as far as I’m concerned, were the SNP’s new age, shortly after the referendum when membership numbers reached record highs.

It peaked in 2018, during a debate on (of all things) CPR training in schools, when Gerry raised a point of order to reveal he had lodged a complaint alleging a series of rule violations at the last SNP conference in June.

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“Gerry, that’s not a point of order,” Derek Mackay the then business convenor said.

“It is a point of order,” he replied.

“It’s not a point of order, Gerry, it has to relate to the business before us,” he responded.

Gerry didn’t accept that. “It is a point of order”.

“It’s not, Gerry,” said Mackay. “You know I can rule from the chair.”

Mr Fisher replied: “It is a point of order. I am challenging the order on how this resolution got onto the agenda when it was placed there following at least 37 violations of the constitution and rules as to how you get items on debate.”

He then accused Mackay of lying to conference.

There was a murmur around the hall.

“Gerry,” Mackay near wept, “This is not a point of order. I’m sorry, this is totally out of order to do this to our party’s conference.”

The live feed being watched by hacks in the room next door abruptly cut off. I’m not sure what happened next, but Gerry was back soon enough, still complaining, still being a thorn.

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I spoke to John Swinney, who told me that while there was that visible, forthright side to Gerry, he was always someone who was friendly, and who cared deeply for his colleagues. 

At the 2017 conference, Gerry told delegates: “The leadership of this party has abandoned its belief in Scottish independence.”

Mackay chided him. Have some respect for your party colleagues, he said. 

“I've disagreed with and respected them for longer than you have, lad,” Gerry replied.