TRIBUTES have been pouring in for Paul Scott, the former vice-president of the SNP who had a remarkable career as a diplomat that included his largely unknown role in a piece of global history.

For it was Scott, whose death at the age of 98 was announced at the weekend, who made a decisive intervention during the Cuban Missile Crisis which might just possibly have saved the world from nuclear annihilation.

At that time he was serving in the Foreign Office and had been in Cuba long enough to get to know its Communist leader Fidel Castro quite well. The USA had broken off diplomatic contacts with Cuba after the overthrow of the dictator Fulgencio Batista and the UK sometimes acted as a go-between, At the height of the missile crisis in October, 1962, Scott was able to use his contacts within the Cuban leadership to discover that the Soviet Union was disarming its nuclear missiles.

At the time, the US missiles and bombers were on the highest state of alert, ready to launch at the say-so of President John F Kennedy.

Tipped off that the Soviets were disarming the missiles, Scott got into his car and toured the missile sites. He stood on a clifftop and looked down to see Soviet military engineers dragging nuclear warheads through the mud away from the rest of the missiles.

Realising the implications, Scott then sent an emergency telegram to the US authorities conveying the message that the Soviets were standing down their nuclear threat, which enabled the Americans to do the same.

As National columnist Alan Riach noted in his obituary of Scott: “He later wrote that he had become quite close to Fidel Castro, acting diplomatically between Cuba, the USA (which had no Cuban Embassy at that time) and the UK, and apparently reported at the crucial moment in the missile crisis that the Russians were turning back and the Americans could stand down, thus averting nuclear catastrophe.”

Scott was born in Edinburgh and after education at the Royal High School and Edinburgh University he served in the Second World War, at the end of which he was an officer in Berlin.

He passed the examination to become a diplomat and was posted over time to Poland, Bolivia, Canada, Austria and Italy, as well as Cuba.

He retired from the Foreign Office in 1980 and threw himself into Scottish cultural and political life, becoming both president of the Saltire Society and vice-president of the SNP, as well as rector of Dundee University. He made many contributions to numerous causes and found time to write 14 books and edit 11 others.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “Very sorry to hear of Paul Henderson Scott’s passing. A man of immense intellect, passion and commitment to his country’s place in the world. Also a wonderful @theSNP stalwart. My thoughts are with Laura and his family.”

Pete Wishart MP tweeted: “What an amazing life. Will never forget the kindness and advice Paul offered me when I first joined the party.”

Former First Minister Alex Salmond said: “Paul was a significant force in transforming the view of the SNP from being regarded as a group of eccentrics to being seen as a party supported by key figures in Scottish cultural life.

“He was a figure of great substance whose output was extraordinary.

“I hosted the launch of his autobiography, A Twentieth Century Life, and that book should be compulsory reading for anyone who wants to understand 20th-century Scotland.

“Paul was a lad o’pairts, a Scot with huge talent he gave to the better understanding of Scotland.”