A SOCIALIST and a staunch supporter of Scottish independence, Alasdair Gray formed his beliefs at an early age.

Born in Riddrie, in the East End of Glasgow, his father was a factory worker but had been wounded in the First World War. Gray would later speak out against militarism, and was vehemently opposed to nuclear weapons.

As he became more well-known for both his writing and his idiosyncratic artwork, he began to declare publicly his support for Scottish independence.

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In 1992, he published a short polemic before the General Election called Why Scots Should Rule Scotland. He described himself as a civic nationalist, explaining that neither the title nor his views were xenophobic.

“The title of this book may sound threatening to those who live in Scotland but were born and educated elsewhere, so I had better explain that by Scots I mean everyone in Scotland who is eligible to vote,” he said.

This point was not always understood and at times seemed to be deliberately misconstrued by the London-based press, who took umbrage in particular at an essay written by Gray in 2012 where he characterised English people working in Scotland as either long-term “settlers” or short-term “colonists”. Gray actually approved of the former but was pilloried as anti-English and against English immigration into Scotland, views which he always denied, pointing out that many of his best friends were English.

For Gray, devolution was never enough as he believed those who lived in Scotland would not be able to create a socialist country while remaining tied to England. Labour’s ascent to power in 1997 did not impress him one iota and although he abhorred most of the views of the erstwhile Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, he did agree with her on one point – that Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair was her greatest achievement.

The National: Artist and author Alasdair GrayArtist and author Alasdair Gray

At the turn of the century he nailed his colours firmly to the independence mast by standing as a candidate of the Glasgow University Scottish Nationalist Association for the job of rector of the university. He didn’t win, being narrowly beaten by Still Game’s Greg Hemphill, but he continued to write and argue in favour of Scottish independence.

In 2014, before the Scottish independence referendum, he published Independence: An Argument for Home Rule. In it he argued that a truly independent Scotland would only ever exist when people in every home, school, croft, farm, workshop, factory, island, glen, town and city feel that they too were at the centre of the world.

In Gray’s independent Scotland there is no anti-Scottish BBC, no Nato membership, no nuclear weapons or militarism and state ownership is key.

He posed the question of whether widespread social welfare is more feasible in small nations such as Norway and New Zealand than in larger ones like Britain and the US.

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Gray also attempted to conjure a vision of how a truly independent Scottish Parliament would benefit Scots and argued that democracy would only succeed when every person believed that their vote would make a difference. He described the many differences between Scotland and England and attempted to show Scotland’s relevance to the rest of the world.

The book set out a short history of Britain, demonstrating that Westminster-based politicians and their branch office acolytes in Scotland have long spread fear to turn Scots against home rule. This has been going on since the creation of the Union, according to Gray, and Scots need to cast off their chains and become independent.

“If Scotland could tax its offshore oil companies and people here were not taxed to keep military forces and nuclear weapons… then a Scottish Government chosen by folk living here could make this a more decent country,” he said.

“We do not want an independent Scotland because we dislike the English, but because we want separation from that Union of financial, military and monarchic establishments calling itself Great Britain.”

When the new Scottish Parliament was being built, a quotation frequently used by Gray was carved into the Canongate Wall. He attributed the quote “work as if you live in the early days of a better nation” to Canadian author Dennis Lee but it caught the imagination of independence supporters across Scotland and has inspired many, particularly in the run-up to the independence referendum of 2014.

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In his last few years, Gray became disappointed with the performance of the devolved Scottish Government which he felt was not doing enough to mitigate the policies of austerity propagated by the Tories – aided initially by the LibDems – in Westminster.

He was also uneasy about what he felt was the SNP’s increasing tendency towards centralisation. A staunch advocate of what he believed are the central pillars of Scottish culture – Scots law, the egalitarian nature of the Scottish Kirk and the tradition of aspiration in Scottish education – he felt that they were being undermined by recent SNP policies. It seemed to him that Scottish education was being “dumbed down”, while the distinctiveness of Scots law was in danger of being eroded. He was particularly critical of attempts to remove the principle of corroboration in Scots law, which he said would make it more like English law, and was also impatient with policies that increased bureaucracy. In particular he was frustrated about the failure to counteract UK militarism.

One of his last interviews was given in the summer when he criticised the Scottish Government for being as Tory as Westminster.

However he also hoped that once Scotland was an independent nation again “we will argue, quarrel and compromise about important matters”.