I HAVE to admit to experiencing a certain perverse pleasure in watching Theresa May squirm while she was in South Africa a few weeks ago. Can I just say from the outset that I’m not talking either about the PM’s “dancing”, more of which we were sadly subjected to this week at the Tory conference.

No, it certainly wasn’t the dancing that gave me cause for satisfaction, but rather the Prime Minister’s clearly uncomfortable attempts to answer Channel 4 reporter Michael Crick’s questions about what she had done to oppose apartheid during the 1970s and 80s.

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As ever, during the two-minute grilling, May went into default mode, responding with the predictable: “I think what is important is what the United Kingdom...”

Crick, though, was having none of it, interrupting May and repeating: “No, what did you do? Did you go on protests? Did you get arrested outside the embassy? Did you boycott South African goods? Did you do anything?”

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Whatever the current PM did or didn’t do back then in response to the injustice that was apartheid, her fellow Tories, to be sure, never shied away from making clear where they stood.

There was, of course, Margaret Thatcher’s labelling of Nelson Mandela as a “terrorist”, combined with her dogged opposition to sanctions which, of course, had nothing to do with her husband’s business interests in South Africa at the time.

And speaking of sanctions, what about that other Tory former PM David Cameron and his 1989 “sanctions-busting jolly,” an all-expenses paid trip financed by an anti-sanctions lobbying firm? Long before that, there was also Edward Heath’s pledge to end the arms embargo and resume sales of military equipment to the apartheid regime when the Conservatives won the 1970 election.

To be frank, it’s hard to imagine Mrs May being politically out of sync with any of this during her formative years in the Conservative Party, hence her obvious unease with the questions asked of her while in South Africa.

I mention all of this because, in sharp contrast, Scotland’s political ranks can, by and large, hold their heads high with regard to their role in opposing the apartheid regime. There are, of course, exceptions,

and certain former Tory councillors in Glasgow immediately spring to mind. In the main, though, Scotland’s politicians and people stepped up to the plate when it mattered.

In those activist days of the 70s and 80s it was not uncommon to see dozens of people, young and old, on the streets of Glasgow’s then St George’s Place, placards in hand, or selling copies of anti-apartheid news, harassing any officials of the South African consulate that was housed there at the time.

Today, of course, that same street is now known as Nelson Mandela Place renamed in his honour after years of campaigning.

I’m proud to say that many of those who were key figures in Scotland’s anti-apartheid movement were my friends back then and remain so to this day. People such as Brian Filling who, in 1974, brought together a disparate collection of political pressure groups challenging apartheid that in effect became the kernel of the official anti-apartheid movement in Scotland. Today Brian Filling is honorary consul for South Africa in Scotland.

Then there were Maggie and Radha Chetty, who met and married in Glasgow after Radha, an Indian South African, came to Scotland when his family home and business were taken away from his parents and given to whites at the height of apartheid.

This coming Tuesday, October 9, on the 25th anniversary of Mandela’s historic visit to Scotland in 1993, Radha and Maggie’s remarkable and moving story is the subject of a documentary film, Glasgow, Love and Apartheid, to be broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland.

The National:

Each of these people and many others in their own way are the real heroes of the struggle against apartheid here in Scotland. While many Tories and others cosied up to the racist regime in South African, these Scots and adopted Scots –in the best tradition of Scottish internationalism – threw themselves behind the anti-apartheid cause on a mainstream level with boycotts, pickets, rallies, concerts and calls for sanctions.

Much less widely known, however, was the role some played within a clandestine or underground movement. Ordinary Scots acted as couriers, procured documents and established safe houses in Glasgow for ANC activists in exile.

“These were Scots, quite heroic young people who went in and out of South Africa delivering documentation, delivering money… they played a role which showed the essential humanism of human beings who are going to help others,” recalled Denis Goldberg when I last spoke with him in Glasgow some time ago.

Goldberg, some may recall, was an activist and the only white South African member of Umkhonto We Sizwe, the armed wing of the ANC, to be arrested and sentenced in the Rivonia trial to four terms of life imprisonment. He served 22 years in prison. It was a sentence which, as a white person, he was to endure in isolation from his black comrades including Mandela.

Many events will mark the 25th anniversary of that rainy but remarkable day when Mandela came to Glasgow, some organised by The Nelson Mandela Scottish Memorial Foundation, which is currently running a campaign to raise funds to create a statue of Mandela to sit in the square in Glasgow that now bears his name.

Once again, many Scots are stepping up to give their support in making sure this memorial happens. In doing so, it is a timely reminder of the collective sense of national decency such a positive role as the struggle against apartheid engendered.

In opposing racist rule in South Africa all those years ago, Scotland revealed itself as a nation capable of displaying the qualities needed when laying claim to be a tolerant, caring and multicultural society.

The creation and installation of a memorial to Mandela in Glasgow would be a fitting tribute not only to the man himself, but also to all those Scottish activists who stood alongside him and against the abomination that was apartheid.