Former SNP MP and priest

Born: September 11, 1928.

Died: December 23, 2016.

FATHER George Thompson, who has died aged 88, was a teacher and a former MP at Westminster for the SNP who later dedicated his life to the Roman Catholic church in his native Galloway. Whether as teacher, MP or priest, his priority was his Roman Catholic faith, with his country, Scotland, a very close second. He was a passionate believer in Scottish independence.

The elder of two sons of a gamekeeper, he was born on September 11, 1928, in The Glenkens, Galloway, a rural area which runs north to south in the valley formed by Loch Ken, from Carsphairn in the north almost to Castle Douglas in the south. He is believed to have attended Castle Douglas High School. After his two-year National Service, he followed his vocation and went to Rome to study for the priesthood.

"He was a reader and a thinker and was very aware of the history of Scotland," Bishop Maurice Taylor, Bishop Emeritus of Galloway, told The Herald yesterday. "He joined the SNP as a matter of principle as he supported independence for Scotland. His initial career choice was to be a Catholic priest. For this, he was sent to the Pontifical Scots College in Rome to study at the Gregorian University there. As a student there in the early 1950s, he was a very popular member of the community, affable but with serious, even highbrow, interests.

"In particular, he became very interested in the various oriental, non-Roman rites of the Catholic Church and in relations with the Orthodox Church," Bishop Taylor went on. "Sadly, his father died and George, the elder son, felt he had to be a financial support for his mother. So he abandoned his studies and returned to Scotland where he got work with the Forestry Commission for seven years and then, after studying at the University of Edinburgh and graduating, he taught modern languages at Kirkcudbright Academy."

He taught French and German at Kirkcudbright, where the historical knowledge needed to explain the roots of those languages, and their inter-connection with English and particularly Scots, reinforced his Scottish consciousness.

After his mother's passing in 1973, he decided to should take his belief in Scotland into politics. He was chosen as SNP candidate for Westminster in the October 1974 General Election and won the seat as Galloway's first-ever SNP MP with a slender majority of 30 votes over the Tory candidate.

In his maiden speech in the House of Commons on October 29, 1974, Mr Thompson started as he planned to go on, by expressing pride in being a Gallovidian, a son of Galloway. "I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor, Mr. John Brewis, for his quiet unobtrusive work in the constituency which is remembered by many of his constituents. Mr. Brewis was a Gallovidian by adoption and by choice. I am a Gallovidian by necessity, because I was born there. But I venture to think that, if I had been consulted beforehand, I should still have chosen to be born a Gallovidian..." he said.

"Galloway is called the cradle of Scottish Christianity because Ninian came to Whithorn in the fourth century to preach the gospel there to the British tribes which then inhabited Galloway. Galloway is also called the cradle of Scottish independence, because in the fourteenth century came Robert the Bruce who in 1307 began in Glentrool the campaign which he was to bring to a successful conclusion at Bannockburn seven years later ... Galloway is a microcosm of Scotland." he added.

"I am bound to mention the A75, which runs in the constituency from Dumfries to Stranraer," Mr Thompson also told the Commons. "During the election campaign I stayed in an hotel in Glenluce into which a juggernaut lorry had run by crossing the road and mounting the pavement. As the proprietress said, she had no objection to people coming in for refreshment but she preferred them to come in by the door.

"Finally, I should like to mention the matter about which my constituents have written to me most, namely, television reception. In my home village I have no television set because the reception is so abominable that it is not worth having. That means that constituents in my native village do not even get a look at me on the occasions when I appear on the television. Indeed, I cannot get a look at myself."

In 1979, when he was defeated by the Conservative candidate Ian Lang (now Lord Lang of Monkton), Mr Thompson decided to return to teaching and to the Church.

"George and I were fellow-students in Rome in the 1950s and by now I had become bishop of the Diocese of Galloway," Bishop Taylor told The Herald. "It was no surprise when George told me that he had not lost his longing to be a priest. I gladly accepted him as a candidate for the priesthood and, to complete his studies, interrupted 30 years previously, he went to St John’s Seminary at Wonersh, near Guildford, Surrey. There, his personality soon became a welcome addition to the community. In particular, a Scotsman was a rarity there; and a very articulate Scot who spoke with an accent different from people in the South of England. He used words ‘foreign’ to their ears, he who had been a member of parliament and, above all, was a fervent advocate for Scottish independence.

"George was ordained to the priesthood by me in 1989 and served successively in three parishes – St Teresa’s, Dumfries; St Margaret of Scotland (he insisted on those last two words) in Irvine; and St Peter’s, Dalbeattie. Aware he was ageing, he retired in 2005. Thereafter for several years he returned to The Glenkens district and lived in his own house in St John’s Town of Dalry until, for his final few years, he resided in Senwick House, a residential care home in Borgue, Kirkcudbright, where he died peacefully."

Father Thompson is survived by a younger brother.

Bishop William Nolan, the current Bishop of Galloway, said: "Father George Thompson was a man whose life was inspired and motivated by a deep faith in Jesus Christ, a faith he put into practice by embracing three vocations: teaching, politics and the priesthood. In each of these he sought to serve God and to serve others. We give thanks to God for all the good that he did throughout his life."