Glasgow Labour councillor. An appreciation by Frank McAveety

THE Labour councillor Alistair Watson, who has died suddenly from a heart attack aged 59, was a formidable presence in Glasgow City Chambers – not just in a physical sense but in terms of experience and knowledge of the workings of local government.

Alistair had represented the Cardonald Ward since local government re-organisation in 1995 and served in a range of roles in the Labour group from heading up land and environmental services to his final role as business manager for the Labour administration before the recent 2017 council election.

Known to his friends as Big Al, he may have looked formidable and dominating due to his size but he was more often a gentle giant of a man.

He was born in Govan (in his office he retained a school photograph of the original Govan High)and started off his working life as an apprentice electrician before working as a railway labourer. Encouraged by workmates he applied for training to take on the role of a train driver from which his love and fascination for transport was born.

As a son of Govan it was no surprise that representing his fellow workers was woven into his being and he became active in ASLEF, the train drivers union. Alongside his trade union responsibilities Alistair began to take a keen interest in Labour and Co-operative politics.

He established himself quickly within the robust and frequently turbulent Labour group in the City Chambers and his twin passions of his local ward and transport were the key hallmarks of his activities. As chairman of the powerful Strathclyde Passenger Transport Executive, he provided drive and energy to the role and was full of ideas and imagination. His role in SPT was derailed due to controversy over a visit to Manchester in 2008 in pursuit of one of his other great passions in life – Glasgow Rangers.

In the crucible of the debating chamber Alistair was a formidable defender of Labour values and a fierce opponent of the Scottish Nationalists. His occasional mauling of the rules of spoken English were more than compensated by his passion, humour and political acumen. He owned the classic Glasgow term of “youse lot” to describe his nationalist opponents and on one memorably funny occasion claimed he loved to bite the head off yellow jelly baby sweets to encourage the defeat of SNP candidates.

One of his council adversaries, Alison Thewliss when elected to the House of Commons in 2015 gained her revenge when she sent him jelly babies from the House of Commons shop. He took the response in good humour as he rarely carried disagreement in the chamber to discourtesy in his every day dealings with colleagues across the political divide.

Like many of his colleagues Alistair fought to retain the City of Glasgow for the Labour Party in the 2017 council election but despite ending up being in the main opposition he was determined to take forward his new role as Labour’s lead on transport and infrastructure. His motion on the business paper for the final council meeting before the recess was his opposition to the plans to abolish the British Transport Police. Sadly Alistair never made that contribution on a topic he knew so well.

As a city, Glasgow creates big characters and personalities. Alistair was firmly of that type and his contribution to public life was recognised in the sombre but thoughtful reflections of all the party leaders at the full council held on the day that he passed away. As one of his trade union colleagues from his time as a union rep at Corkerhill Station said “Alistair Watson: he was one of the good guys.”