THE North East of Scotland has truly lost a giant of a campaigner for independence in the passing of Portsoy’s John Stewart.

One of the "old guard" – the SNP occupied so much of his life. Along with his wife Margaret and the family, it was his life. The party became active in the region in the midst of a Tory landscape, and at a time when (as John described it) “the locals felt that the SNP wandered around with horns on their heads" – this was to change when the likes of John came along.

He opened hearts and minds to what the SNP could do for the North East as well as in other parts of Scotland. He opened doors which many felt were closed to them, as was a pattern throughout his life, to motivate and encourage all to play a central role in determining the outcomes of their own lives, irrespective of what others might say or do.

John was the founding chairman of the Portsoy branch and he served as an election agent for a number of parliamentarians. The family home became practically a campaign base in those early days with many of our contemporary party figures (including a young Nicola and her husband to be, Peter no less) camped out in the home of John and his wife, Margaret.

A meticulous planner, John would forever be on the phone organising and cajoling. At various times he was chairman, secretary, treasurer, you name it, he did it. He was just so passionate for the cause. And his work was recognised just two years ago, along with Margaret, when he was given a Special Recognition Award by the party.

Born in 1933 in Glasgow, John went on to the Glasgow School of Art and National Service with the Highland Light Infantry 1st Battalion (City of Glasgow Regiment), posted to Cyprus and Egypt. On his discharge, the words of his Lieutenant Colonel set a tone and example which illustrates the rest of John’s life, his commitment to a cause and his passion for family, hard work and independence:

“[John] was a thoroughly efficient and hard-working man, who takes pride in doing work to the best of his ability. He is most pleasant to work with, being both intelligent and of cheerful disposition. He may safely shoulder responsibility.”

It was in 1963 on a visit to Portsoy with some of his friends when they’d come up on their bikes and were camping down at the links, that he met the daughter of the owner of the Commercial Hotel, the lovely Margaret, and they started courting – not for long though as they were married a year later, on March 30, 1964 in Aberdeen.

John and Margaret moved to Portsoy and he taught art at Banff Academy, but he was a lot more than a teacher. He was the union representative for the EIS and he took part in coaching the school football team. Outside school, he was always active in the community in Portsoy.

John was renowned for teaching, nurturing and encouraging those, at school and beyond, who were struggling. There are moving tributes from many who can testify to the profound influence he had on the change of direction their lives took.

John documented everything, he was an impulsive diarist and record-keeper. He leaves a detailed account of his time in the army, but he did the same with his time with the SNP – his history of his involvement with the party from the late 1960s to the early 1980s is compulsive reading, it’s really a historical document. And then there was his art.

The National: "The Hanging of MacPherson", a satirical mural painted in the early 1970s by John Stewart features many of the era’s national political figures and local notables of the time"The Hanging of MacPherson", a satirical mural painted in the early 1970s by John Stewart features many of the era’s national political figures and local notables of the time (Image: -)

John was a gifted artist. His mural of the hanging of local loon Macpherson is recognised as a work of real value and significance. Missing for more than 20 years at one stage, the satirical 15ft by 3½ft mural masterpiece was re-discovered in the home of a deceased Edinburgh businessman in late 2012 and returned to Banff two years later in the year of the Scottish independence referendum and the Year of Homecoming.

At his funeral on Wednesday September 26 at the Portsoy Church Centre, his family spoke of the man that was John Stewart, knowing words can only play a limited role. A few years ago, John wrote the account of his time in the army, which included a poem by the war poet Edmund Blunden MC, which must have meant a lot to John, and this was read during the service:

When will the stern fine, ‘Who goes there?’

Meet me again in the midnight air?

And the gruff sentry’s kindness, when

Will kindness have such power again?

It seems, as now I wake and brood,

And know my hour’s decrepitude,

That on some dewy parapet

The senses spirit gazes yet.

Who will not speak with altered tone

When I at last am seen and known.

We stand on the cusp of independence due to the selfless devotion to our cause of a better Scotland from giants of our movement like John Stewart. However, we should never forget this, the baton has now been passed from John to the countless activists whom he inspired to get active, and we honour him with our hard work.

We truly stand on the shoulders of giants.