Activist and coordinator of Scottish CND

Born: 5 May 5, 1954;

Died: October 21, 2016

JOHN Ainslie, who has died aged 62, was widely known and respected for his work on behalf of the campaign for nuclear disarmament.

He took up his post as coordinator of Scottish CND at the end of 1991, having previously served in the army from 1971 until 80 and with the Church of Scotland in the 1980s. His exit from the army was as a conscientious objector, which involved paying back some of their sponsorship of his degree at Keele University. As his knowledge of nuclear weapons grew, given his deep respect for all living things, it became impossible to remain in a nuclear-armed force.

At Keele University, he studied international relations, including Nato nuclear strategy. The son of a minister, his own route to the ministry then followed, first as a Church of Scotland youth worker in Glasgow’s Easterhouse, before a degree in divinity at the University of Glasgow resulted in work as a community minister. He continued to build his knowledge of nuclear issues while working to engage the wider public with the issues. The depth of his knowledge was recognised and respected by the media, friends and foes alike.

By the end of the 1980s he was very involved with protests against plans for Trident submarines being built to fire US Trident missiles armed with British nuclear bombs, replacing the Polaris system. On the occasion of his first arrest for protest action, the Presbytery of Glasgow invited him to explain his actions. When interviewed later by Bernadette Meaden for her book Protest for Peace he said: "They were trying to say I shouldn’t do anything which breaks the law … they wanted an assurance I wouldn’t do it again. I said, ‘No. I can’t do that.’’

Mr Ainslie went on to express his relief that Scottish religious leaders developed a solid consensus against nuclear weapons. He also discussed how troubled he was by navy requirements that chaplains patrol with the nuclear armed submarines, seeing this as a way of legitimising the possible use of nuclear weapons by having a man of God on board.

By the time he took up his post in Scottish CND he was a kent face at the Faslane peace camp as well as in CND. As the new sole paid worker, he was an advocate of campaigning on all fronts, direct action, political lobbying, education and media work.

His efforts for nuclear disarmament were unstinting of his time and energy for the rest of his life. He played a key role in Scottish CND for 25 years, writing many authoritative reports, taking part in direct actions, as well as day-to-day administration.

In 1992 and 1993, he produced reports on Polaris, Trident and nuclear weapon convoys. They set the pattern for work, carefully collating information from multiple sources to build an evidenced case against nuclear weapons for a wider public.

When Vanguard, the first of the submarines, sailed up the Clyde, he helped maximise the visibility of CND opposition in a canoe as part of the flotilla of about 50 small craft and swimmers in the water. With the second submarine he was again in the water, and this time was more violently arrested as the military police rammed and capsized canoes, charging the protesters with breach of the peace. A photograph of his action became an iconic image - a tiny canoe against the football pitch sized submarine.

Mr Ainslie's direct action was also frequent on land whenever word came of nuclear convoys travelling the length of the UK from Burghfield. In his car with Nukewatch, he was tracking and publicising, also seizing whatever opportunity arose to safely impede its progress.

Not everyone agreed with the choices he made between being an office-based administrator versus being part of the action. Yet his quiet commitment and resolve made them learn to respect the careful balancing act that he chose to perform.

From 1999 to 2001, he helped CND support Trident Ploughshares in a series of major blockades of Faslane. He also played a key role as Scottish CND coordinated opposition to the Iraq War in Scotland from 2001 to 2003 and when the focus then shifted to campaigning against the Trident replacement.

Recently he advised the Scottish Government with detailed studies into what the devolved administration might do about nuclear weapons. He helped Scottish CND in supporting the Yes Scotland campaign, a strategy adopted at the 2012 annual conference as an opportunity that could lead to British nuclear disarmament.

The dogged determination was part of what made him remarkable. He remained steadfast despite searing personal tragedy, the loss of Duncan, his only child, a young man who was also very much part of Scottish CND.

He provided continuity by working through the sad losses of other key Scottish CND officers to premature death, and by continuing after his own diagnosis with cancer. The extent of his impact will only be fully known in time but it is already clear that he will be enormously and immeasurably missed.

He is survived by his wife, Alison Ainslie, and siblings Margaret, Catherine, Alan, Eric and Andrew.