IN an old crofthouse on Skye, amongst aged copies of Gàidhlig texts, fiddle music, and pipe smoke, I had the opportunity to speak to former SNP activist and electoral candidate Alasdair Martin.

Martin joined the party’s Partick branch in 1970 as he graduated from the University of Glasgow. He had just turned 21 and while studying had met his wife-to-be, Christine.

Despite his upbringing in a Labour-supporting, working-class family near Beauly, Martin said he and his wife joined the independence movement after a simple discussion.

“We agreed it wasn’t good enough, this Tory-Labour switch and swap, with nothing changing for the better in Scotland despite normal people aspiring for the best,” he said.

By 1970, “Scotland wasn’t what it should have been. I’d seen a lot of rotten things.”

After university, Martin returned to the Highlands, where most areas were represented by Liberal or Independent politicians, many of whom Martin favoured for their historic defence of crofters but didn’t see “as a force to be reckoned with” in Westminster.

READ MORE: Commonwealth medallist Craig McEwan joins Yes activists

Hence in 1972, after resigning from his job as a teacher, Martin ran as SNP candidate for Tain in the Highland Regional Council election. Although he knew there was little chance of winning, he recalls thinking “we’d give it a go, why not?”. In the end he took 25% of the vote, although, as expected, the independent candidate won.

Martin campaigned on a platform of improved infrastructure for the wider Highlands against growing centralisation around Inverness. National debates such as devolution and North Sea Oil featured heavily in his campaign.

Although he never ran for office again, Martin and his wife remained active within the SNP’s Highland campaigns through the 1970s. He recalls public meetings at local libraries and hustings in Easter Ross, when audiences at village halls would heckle candidates for Westminster.

There was “high morale” in the party as he and his peers went door-to-door canvassing. “Most people were polite,” he said, “We were only chased away once or twice”.

One of Martin’s most vivid recollections was meeting and campaigning for Willie McRae at the 1974 General Election, who he described as a “very interesting man” and “like Salmond” in his gifts at debate.

READ MORE: ‘Yes to Independence’ should be on the ballot paper

The atmosphere at the Highland branch was electric, though Tory incumbent Hamish Gray won out in the end. A few months later McRae was found dead from a gunshot wound – a tragedy over which Martin demands a renewed inquiry.

Martin recalled John McGrath’s play The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil (celebrating its 50th anniversary this year) touring the Highlands and “waking people up” to historic exploitation of the Scottish Highlands by external forces. He said the play “made people think ‘yes they’re right, let’s do something about it!’.”

He went on to describe the UK Government’s privatisation of the British National Oil Corporation – with no sovereign wealth fund as in Norway – as “a tragedy” as “Scotland at the time had 2% of global oil,” he said.

“It doesn’t sound much, but for a country the size of Scotland that’s a hell of a lot.”

After almost a decade’s activity, Martin retired from politics to raise his new family with Christine on Skye. Alongside crofting, he studied at the newly-opened Sabhal Mor Ostaig, taking his Gàidhlig to a decent level.

Some of his children were among the first to enter Gàidhlig medium education and his six grandchildren are also. He described the language as a “big part of Scotland’s cultural identity that should be supported to flourish”.

Since the 1970s, the battle for independence has been transformed in terms of players, policies, and political landscape. Scotland re-opened its Parliament in 1999; it narrowly voted against independence in 2014 and was dragged out of the EU two years later.

As of 2023, it has witnessed 13 years of Tory government in London.

Asked about the changes he has seen, Martin said: “This country has moved so far to the right, it’s sickening. Things have gone backwards in some senses. I’ll never forget them saying ‘you can’t have independence because you’ll be thrown out of the EU’.”

Within the indy movement, he said the “basic principles remain, but circumstances have changed”. He fears that after 16 years in government, the SNP have grown complacent. but said troubles in the SNP will not stop independence. “Parties come, parties go,” he said.

Following my recent series on student groups for independence, I asked Martin if he had any advice for young nationalists and activists like myself. His answer: “Stick with it. The independence movement is not going to go away”.