TWA, three year syne, when ah wis claucht up in the flude o nationalist fervour that grupt us aa in the lead up tae the independence referendum, ah wis askt tae a meetin in Bute Hoose. Wi a bunch o ithers ah wis ushered intae the big fantoosh sittin room (that ye aye see in FM interviews) an we sat an chewed the fat wi Alex Salmond fir twa/three hours. Aa the fowk there, including masel, wir conseidert MSP/MP material, sae ah guess we wir aa bein weichtit up! Some o thae fowk are MSP/MPs nou.

Oan the wa in the sittin room hung an imposin muckle portrait o a man claithed in a 1940’s period suit an bow tie. Ah dinnae ken gin ony o the ithers recognised the portrait, but ah kent at aince wha the man wis. He wis Tom Johnston. A man firgotten nou bi maist fowk, but Tom Johnston desairves tae be nemmed an ranked in the pantheon o great Scots frae ony age.

Raicently Johnston cam back intil ma mind an ah hae bin re-readin his wunnerfu memoir o his life an times, titled simply Memories. Johnston wis born at Kirkintilloch in 1881, the son o a local grocer. His bairntid years an early adulthood wir spent durin a time o ‘strife an schism’ (as he himself terms it) whan thair wis michty social unrest throu-oot the UK. Young Tom fell unner the spell o the nascent ILP an Socialism. He wis an aamaist exact contemporary o the great John Maclean, wha e’en aiblins as the greatest socialist Scotland e’er produced, supported the idea o Scottish independence. Aged 21, Tom Johnston wis takkin pairt in his first poleetical forays, staundin fir elections at a local government level. He tramped the streets o puir areas, chappin doors tae try an get desperately puir fowk tae come oot an vote fir better social housing. Then, as nou, thair wir mony detractors, warkin cless tories wha hudnae the sense tae support schemes that wid hae impruived their loat in life. Ae anecdote, in a buik fou o great anecdotes, tells o yae sad chiel wha’s slum biggin cuid anely be accessed bi a rickety auld ladder an a hole in the wa! The occupant telt young Tom, when asked gin he wid vote fir the new housing scheme, “Aye, ah’ll vote the nicht - but it wull be agin ye!”. Tom’s response wis tae pu doun the ladder maroonin the auld vratch – wha later when the votin wis ower goat liftit fir breach o the peace!

Politics then, as nou, wis riven wi dirty tricks, an oan ae parliamentary campaign the capitalist press duin their best tae smear Tom as a wife beater. His agent managed tae persuade Tom’s wife tae appear oan the public platform wi him, whaur twae auld men wi ear trumpets wir heard tae comment; “Ah kent yon wis a dampt lie!” – “That bluidy man cuidnae bash that bluidy wumman!”.

He wis first elected as MP fir the constituency o Stirling and Clackmannan West in 1922. A man o byordnar veesion, talent an energy he swipper rose throu the ranks o government. He wis involved an aye active in the Glasgow Friendly Society, which in its day wis a kindae parochial precursor o the welfare state. During the General Strike, when strikin miners cuidnae pey their stents, Tom bailed thaim oot an they ne’er loast a single miner wha wis a memmer. As a fuitnote; Robert Burns duin the samen thing fir the puir fowk o Tarbolton in the 1780’s. Scots are aye michty in their compassion fir thaim less weel aff. The Beveridge Report that led tae the Welfare State wis influenced heavily bi Tom Johnston’s wark in the Friendly Societies. As a man o letters Johnston wis fir 25 years the editor o ‘Forward’ magazine, an a strident campaigner fir social justice.

In the 1930’s he toured kintras sic as India an Russia, an he draws braw pen portraits o these places; the corruption in Indian factories an tea plantations; the bleck mercat in Russia an Stalin’s purges. In Canada an America he taen tent o their michty forests an hydro schemes. His aefauld abeelities wir noticed bi Winston Churchill, wha appointed Tom as Secretary o State fir Scotland durin World War Two. In that role he wis a rael dynamo – settin up mair as 30 commattees tae address socio-economic woes that hud hauntit Scotland fir decades.

Tom Johnston’s rael legacy tho is his wark follaein the war. Churchill gien Johnston free-rein tae bigg up the likes o the Forestry Commission, but aiblins mair especial, the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board. Here Tom applied the lessons he hud seen an lairnt abroad in Canada an the United States. He leeterally single-haundly brocht licht tae the Glens o the Hielants wi his state o the airt hydro-electric schemes, mony o whilk are still warkin the day. It is aamaist immeasurable tae try an leet the benefits Johnston brocht tae the north o Scotland.

In recogneetion o some o his efforts Tom wis gien the Freedom o the City o Aiberdeen an wis Chancellor o Aiberdeen University frae 1951 until his daith in Milngavie in September 1965. Ah wis prood tae see that Alex Salmond weel kent the warth o Thomas Johnston an hud that portrait o him hingin there in pride o place in Bute Hoose. Ah wunner gin it’s hingin there yet?