Mining tycoon and major funder of the SNP

Born: November 7, 1939;

Died: April 26, 2019.

DENNIS MacLeod, who has died aged 79, was a crofter’s son from Sutherland who became a mining multi-millionaire and major funder of the SNP.

Donald (Dennis) MacLeod was born in Helmsdale, a descendant of people cleared from the nearby Strath of Kildonan. After graduating as a chemist, he began his career at the Dounreay nuclear plant in Caithness.

He left Scotland in 1965 and went on to become a successful businessman and entrepreneur, first in Africa, then in Canada. From his Canadian base he conducted business in the mining industry in a dozen countries, before retiring from active participation in the management of his mining companies in 1995.

Throughout his career, he maintained links with his homeland as well as retaining a keen interest in Scottish culture, political affairs and history. Tellingly, his favourite band was Runrig. He focused much of his attention on the contributions of the Scottish diaspora to the development of the modern world and was dedicated to strengthening the bonds between Scotland and the descendants of Scots.

He loved Scottish music, poetry and art. He and his wife Glynis were the joint patrons of Feis Rois, one of the most successful organisations devoted to the preservation and teaching of Highland music and song. They also encouraged and supported the efforts of Canadian musicians in preserving the links between Scottish and North American folk music.

He campaigned for official recognition for the Highland Clearances and for the commemoration of the remarkable achievements of those who were cleared. His initiatives resulted in the erection of two statues of a cleared family, one in Helmsdale and the other in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

In 2008, he received the Citizen of the Year Award from the St Andrews Society of Winnipeg, which is given "to honour persons who have performed exemplary service to the public and thus brought honour and prestige to the Scottish community in Winnipeg and Canada."

Mr MacLeod also helped found the department of history of the University of the Highlands and Islands in the early 2000s at Dornoch in his native Sutherland and provided ongoing sponsorship. In 2009, he received an honorary fellowship in recognition of his support for the institution.

In the political field, he supported the Scottish National Party. He was the co-author with Cabinet Secretary Mike Russell of Grasping the Thistle, a book portraying an independent Scotland as a citizens’ democracy guided by the principles of Adam Smith capitalism and modern environmental ethics and practice.

Mr MacLeod knew at an early age the anguish of losing a parent. His father was killed just three weeks before the end of the Second World War, and he and his two siblings were raised in poverty by his widowed mother. Dennis took strength from, and never forgot, his humble beginnings. He was a self-made man, known for his integrity, generosity, his practical and shrewd business sense, his quick wit and his kindness.

His role as founding chair of Business for Scotland in the late 90s was politically very important. He was a pioneer of serious business support for both the 1997 referendum and then for the SNP.

When he bought and renovated Scatwell House in the mid-1990s he turned it into a centre of employment and a hub of the artistic and social life of Strathconon and indeed across the Highlands.

He was a regular driver around the North Coast 500 long before it became a tourist attraction and he would point to every deserted strath, explaining how many people each glen used to support and how potentially they could be repopulated with access to the great mineral wealth of the hills. One of his contributions to political debate was proposed public mineral policy legislation for an independent Scotland.

The former First Minister Alex Salmond paid tribute. “As a lad and a crofter’s son Dennis bridled at the Duke of Sutherland statue at Golspie and once told me he even entertained thoughts of toppling it over. As a man he decided the best answer was to be the guiding light in the erection of the clearance memorials in Helmsdale and Winnipeg, a tribute to the achievements of those who were cleared from the land, as opposed to the nobleman who ordered the clearances.”

Dennis MacLeod is survived by his wife Glynis, his daughters Kirsten, Ceilidh, Heather and Sharon, his son Warren, and six grandchildren.