Frank McArthur, SNP activist

Born: January 31, 1924;

Died: April 21, 2020.

IT was the Govan by-election of 1988, and SNP activists had been hard at work, campaigning and leafleting on behalf of their candidate, Jim Sillars.

One evening, as the local SNP group were recovering in a cafe, the conversation turned to what they would do when prominent figures such as Alex Salmond were no longer there to lead the party. Frank McArthur pointed across the room and said, “See that wee lassie o’er there? Keep an eye on her.”

On every occasion from then on, he promoted and pointed out the “wee lassie”, who was then in her late teens. Her name was Nicola Sturgeon.

Frank McArthur, who has died at the age of 96, was a lifelong member of the SNP. Tributes to him have been paid by MSPs Alex Neil – “a true patriot and a great nationalist” – and Sandra White, who described him as “a wonderful man dedicated to the cause of independence and the Scottish people”.

When news of his passing reached Sturgeon and her deputy, John Swinney, they discussed him at length, and agreed that he and his late wife, Elsie, had epitomised the SNP at its best.

Francis (Frank) Pollock McArthur born in Crieff, on January 31, 1924, to Hugh Wylie McArthur and Catherine Oliver Pollock. He was followed by brother Hugh and sister Catherine. Hugh snr was a jobbing gardener, and life was rarely easy. In 1939 the family moved to Killearn and the boys attended Balfron Academy. During the war Frank had a lucky escape when the blast from a bomb dropped by a stray German plane knocked him off his feet.

In 1941, the family moved to Airdrie, Hugh going into farmwork, and Frank getting a draughting apprenticeship at SMT Airdrie. In 1942 their father died of cancer. With his mother and sister living in Crieff Frank continued his apprenticeship in Glasgow, sending what he could to help them. Completing his time, he worked as a draughtsman but an economic downturn saw him working temporarily on a farm.

A man of independent mind and honest soul, he joined the SNP in 1947. He attended meetings and took a pro-active approach to Scottish politics, always willing to be the foot-soldier who would go on to deliver tens of thousands of leaflets.

Returning to engineering in Glasgow in 1948, his life took a decisive turn. At a dance in Killearn in 1950 he spotted a local nurse and told his brother, “I’m going to marry her.” Elsie Olive Davidson agreed, and in time they married. They lived in Kelvindale, and had two children, Janice and Hugh.

Frank rose to become head draughtsman at the Harland and Woolf yard but as shipbuilding on the Clyde declined he did contract work before a mid-1960s spell in insurance. With his open, enquiring mind, when the government offered incentives for teacher training, he saw his chance.

Making his way to Glasgow University, he gained a BSc in maths and geology in 1968, getting his teaching diploma at Jordanhill before teaching at Bearsden Academy. Some still remember ‘the Mighty Mouse”, a reference to the strength that accompanied his 5’2” stature.

In 1975 he became Head of Maths at Balfron High School, and his reputation as a talented and sympathetic teacher continued. He retired in 1989.

His family remain convinced that his remarkable fitness, which lasted into his eighties, came from running up and down stairs; he regularly challenged younger activists to “leaflet races” and invariably won.

The family home was for three long decades a hive of SNP activity. Campaigns were strategised, elections and by-elections were fought, and numerous fund-raising parties and pool tournaments were held alongside Burns Suppers. Come election time, even the family dog was pressed into service, with SNP stickers adorning his ears.

Frank and Elsie ran the SNP shop in Dumbarton Road throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In the SNP office at 203 Hope Street, Glasgow, opened by Salmond in the mid-1990s, the meeting room was named the McArthur Room in recognition of their efforts. Around this time Frank was appointed as Clan Arthur High Commissioner for the UK.

They attended Bannockburn rallies and made a pilgrimage to the SNP’s own island, Eilean Mòr of the MacCormaig Isles, at the entrance to Loch Sween in Argyll. Raffle tickets were sold, and conferences and weekly meetings were attended.

In 1997, Frank and Elsie moved to Netherblane, Blanefield. They quickly fitted in with the village community while continuing to campaign for the SNP. In retirement they got to see more of the world, travelling throughout Europe.

Elsie died in February 2002 after a long battle with cancer. She and Frank had been married for 49 years. The funeral service was attended by some 500 family, friends, neighbours, SNP members and MSPs. Later that year, the couple received the SNP President’s Prize awarded by Dr Winifred Ewing MSP at the SNP conference in Eden Court, Inverness.

Frank McArthur was one of Scotland’s most active freedom fighters for over 70 years. He never lost hope, never lost his temper and never struck a physical blow. He worked hard, taught many and convinced more. A truly inspiring figure who will be missed by many.

He did not live to see his dream of an independent Scotland fulfilled, but the dream we now share is closer than ever.