THE death has been announced in Vienna of the expatriate Scots academic, constitutional expert and author Dr Jim Wilkie. Known in Scotland through his regular readers letters in the print media in support of Scottish independence, he was a recognisable and regular face in Austria, especially around the government district and diplomatic community.

For 16 years he was compiler in chief of the Austrian Foreign Policy Yearbook, for 15 years before that he was editor of the foreign affairs magazine, Austria Today, and on regular assignment for the Federal Chancellory and presidency.

In 2011 he was awarded the Cross of Honour in Gold for Services to the Republic of Austria (Das Goldene Ehrenzeichen für Verdienste um die Republik Österreich), with the presentation taking place in the Congress Hall of the Ballhausplatz, the current seat of government in Austria where the Congress of Vienna met in 1814-15. The event was attended by senior figures from government and diplomacy, including two former UK ambassadors.

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Jim Wilkie was born in Glasgow, brought up on Clydeside and studied at Strathclyde University and Jordanhill College before beginning a career in teaching, where he met his future Austrian wife Claudia, who was also working at Bearsden Academy. In the late 1960s he began his post-graduate doctor of philosophy degree in Vienna in constitutional history at which point he had his first contact with Dr Bruno Kreisky, the newly elected Social Democratic chancellor of Austria who was a seminar leader at the university.

Kreisky, who had already served seven years as foreign minister, went on to redefine the role of the neutral Alpine republic as a significant foreign policy actor, supporting peace and reconciliation efforts and becoming a major multilateral diplomatic centre. Kreisky, an Austrian Jew, was one of the first international leaders to deal with Yasser Arafat and the PLO, promote dialogue between Egypt and Israel, and was largely responsible for Vienna becoming one of the global headquarters of the United Nations.

Wilkie used to regularly talk of his gratitude to Kreisky, who clearly helped him develop links and credibility with the foreign policy community, the Federal Chancellory and Foreign Ministry. He pursued his options in Vienna after a brief return to Scotland, taking up the editorship of the national diplomatic journal Austria Today, which appeared in three languages and was distributed to opinion-formers around the world.

The National: Dr Jim WilkieDr Jim Wilkie

I first got to know Jim during this period, in 1991, when I began my decade in Vienna while I worked as a journalist for the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation and the BBC. His office was improbably located just inside the historic Swiss Gate of the Hofburg Palace, in what had previously been guard room of the Trabanten Life Guards, who were stationed close to the Ambassadors Steps access to the Imperial apartments of the past Habsburg rulers. Wilkie maintained a close interest in Austrian history, including links with the current-day Habsburg family. He wrote a book about the history of the Kaiservilla in Bad Ischl, the Neoclassical summer residence of Emperor Francis Joseph and his wife Sisi.

Wilkie’s historic interest led to the republishing of a work lost in Scotland of significant national value. The Book of Hours was produced for James IV in 1503, resembling a beautifully illuminated medieval prayer book and calendar of feast days, but was not to be found in Scotland after the Battle of Flodden.

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A surviving original copy was, however, located in the Austrian national library, and its nearly 500 beautiful full colour pages were reproduced, with Wilkie providing the historical overview for the work.

Wilkie was a lifelong supporter of Scottish independence, which he pursued through the Scotland UN Committee and other initiatives. A keen climber, sailor and skier he greatly enjoyed outdoor pursuits in Austria and Scotland, was a regular of the Scottish country dance scene and the obvious choice for the inaugural Vienna Burns Supper which I started in the mid-1990s. His Tam O’Shanter recitation was a favourite, accompanied as it was with an introductory explanation for the largely international audience.

Wilkie was one of the thousands of Scots who have gone on to work internationally while keeping connections with the home country strong. He was a first-class unofficial representative for Scotland and in independent circumstances would have made an excellent ambassador.

Expatriate Scots continue to make a huge contribution to their adopted homeland and help explain to the nation of their birth that there is no reason why we cannot emulate the independent success of other similarly sized countries like Austria.

Dr Jim Wilkie will be missed by his family and friends in Austria and Scotland. He will be buried on Monday afternoon at 1pm at the Tulbing parish cemetery, Kirchengasse, Tulbing, Lower Austria.