The independence movement has suffered an immense loss with the passing of Mike Blackshaw, the tireless and indefatigable organiser of the Yes Hub in the South of Edinburgh, in the heart of what he once described to me as ‘bandit country’, the No-voting constituency of Edinburgh South.
Mike was firmly of the view that it was not only vital for the wider Yes movement to have a visible presence in the streets of Scotland’s towns and cities, but it was even more important that that presence was in areas like Edinburgh South, the constituency of Scotland’s last Labour MP, who only keeps his seat thanks to the votes of douce Morningside Tories. Mike thought that it was vital for the yes movement to do ‘missionary work’ amongst No voters, to demonstrate both that Yes voters are not the anti-English racist monsters which the frothing angry Über- British nationalist social media accounts like to make us out to be, and also to show them that Yes supporters are everywhere, because supporting Scottish independence is a normal mainstream part of the Scottish political landscape.
Having such a visible presence as the Edinburgh Yes hub gave the Yes movement the opportunity to organise and host events which had a chance of reaching out to No voters and exopsing them to arguments for independence. Even if they didn’t change their minds it might get them to start to think more seriously about independence and not dismiss it out of hand.
I first met Mike in 2016 when he asked me – and the dug of course – to come to the Yes Hub to do a talk. It was always a pleasure, and the dug was always made especially welcome with treats and lots of love and attention.
Mike was also tireless in organising coaches to take Yes supporters from Edinburgh to marches and rallies across the country. He was also responsible for organising the event which brought Ginger the greatest happiness I have ever seen. Mike organised a debate night at the Queens Hall in Edinburgh in 2019 and I was honoured to be one of the speakers. Naturally the dug came too. We were sitting backstage awaiting our turn to go on, but someone left the door open and Ginger caught a glimpse of the packed audience. He was off, and within seconds was working the crowd like a pro, getting pats and hugs from the people there. He was in his element, lapping up the attention like the diva dug he was. It took a good twenty minutes to get him back.
Mike was born in Margaret Thatcher’s home town of Grantham but came to Edinburgh with his family when he was a teenager and made his life in the Scotland that he loved. There’s a statue of Thatcher in Grantham, if there was any justice there would be one of Mike too, he gave infinitely more to Scotland than Thatcher ever did.
Mike continued to keep busy, ensuring that the Yes Hub kept going despite his own failing health. He was an immense inspiration to me after I had my stroke, as he continued to work for independence even as he came to rely on a wheelchair. Right up to the very end he was campaigning and organising. He showed me that disability is not the end, it just means new challenges.
Mike was a force of nature, one of the giants on whose shoulders the Yes movement will stand. He will be much missed, but his legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of all those whom he inspired and continues to inspire even now. He will be missed.
We will honour Mike’s legacy by continuing the campaign that he devoted his life to.
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