OUR mutual friend Stuart McHardy could not have put it better when he said that “we lost a braw fechter for Scotland in Ivor Birnie”, when Ivor saw his final Hogmanay, leaving this world just after the 2022 bells. Ivor’s brother Stewart had died in 2015, so he leaves the remaining three of his five siblings, Anne, June and Ron. He was remembered this week at a post-pandemic “cheeky wee glass” in Wilkies Bar.

Ivor was born in Orkney with cerebral palsy, which meant long hospital stays for various surgeries – a lonely experience for a wee boy with a big family, but in those times the necessary travel was by no means a trivial consideration in terms of time and money, both being in short supply.

Nonetheless, Ivor’s loving family made sure he never let his physical difficulties limit his participation in things that mattered to him, even running a marathon with his brothers in the 80s. He worked in markets, talking to people up and down the country, and I met him in Edinburgh where he settled, latterly living on the north side where he was a weel-kent face in sunny Leith, especially in Wilkies Bar which he ran for the past decade afore his untimely passing. He once told me that when he was 18 he had been offered disability benefit but he didn’t follow that up: “Nah... that’s no fer me! I just went and got a job.”

I met Ivor at the Vigil for a Scottish Parliament that sat on Edinburgh’s Regent Road from 1992-97 when I dropped off wood for the brazier from time to time, and like so many others, found him great company. I always came away with a smile on my face after a blether with him. His politics were always about what we could do better, how we could make Scotland fairer, and of course he was dead set against nuclear weapons here or anywhere. He was an absolute institution at the Vigil, with an irrepressible cheeriness regardless of weather and political opposition.

Ivor was an unwavering supporter of independence (and the Dons)

Stuart McHardy was another friend who helped to maintain the Vigil. He notes that, “like many others at the Vigil, Ivor committed himself to the cause of working for the establishment of Holyrood, seeing it, as most of us did, as one step on a longer journey to independence”.

Ivor’s commitment to nuclear disarmament was no half measure. He joined Trident Ploughshares in non-violent direct action, pledging to take practical action to disarm the UK’s nuclear weapons based in Scotland. I got to know him better during this time and we both undertook training in non-violence together, under the guidance of David Mackenzie, now my partner in life who got to know Ivor during the midge-infested action camps at Coulport on the Clyde, where the warheads are stored. David has memories of Ivor’s voice, audible across the camp, in conversations with his tentmate which were very uninhibited when most of the rest of the camp were asleep! He also took part in the Scotland For Peace Walk from Faslane to the Scottish Parliament in 2006 to protest nuclear weapons.

Ivor lived for a while very close to the new Scottish Parliament in a flat that was a base for parliamentary visits and he was generous in allowing and encouraging campaigners and parliament visitors to use it for meetings or even to stay there during various intrigues around the parliament. These included the setting up of a huge model submarine full of activists across the Royal Mile outside the MSP entrance. Ivor managed to combine this sort of activity with the very different work of acting as an SNP election agent and maintaining a close rapport with government ministers. But Ivor’s politics were about people and how they live, and he was also involved in social projects in the Dumbiedykes, the inner city scheme beset with poverty, including the Dumbiedykes IT Centre, created to give local people the benefits of the internet before the millennium.

He had been a regular at the Royal Oak, Edinburgh’s famous “folkie” bar in Infirmary Street, and did a few shifts as a favour. This morphed into Ivor virtually running the place, much loved (and when necessary feared) by many regulars on both sides of the bar.

During this period the downstairs lounge was frequently used for Trident Ploughshares trainings and indy-supporting meetings. As a backdrop to his committed activity for Scottish independence and the removal of nuclear weapons from the world, after the Oak, Ivor worked at Wilkies Bar in Leith where he made new friends and became near to indispensable until the second lockdown, when he retired.

Ivor had followed Aberdeen with fervour and loyalty all his life, and put his energy as a fan into more than watching the game.

During his retirement he stepped up when Edinburgh Yes Hub manager Mike Blackshaw became ill, and volunteered at the hub on Lasswade Road for one day a week. We had a fair bit to reminisce about. I was impressed but not surprised to hear that through Aberdeen Football Club, he was travelling to Aberdeen every week to spend time with kids in hospital who did not have visitors there – something he empathised with on account of his own experience as a wee boy.

Ivor was an unwavering supporter of independence (and the Dons) and his life was colourful, committed and interesting. He will be remembered for many things, especially his no-shit can-do attitude, and he really did make the world a better place.

Ivor Birnie, November 9, 1955 – January 1, 2022