Friday, 9 May 2008

Baroness Michie of Gallanach

Sir David Steel wrote the Guardian obituary on Ray Michie and I reprint it here as it is som much more eloquent than my own words can be:

Baroness Michie of Gallanach, Ray Michie, who has died aged 74 after a long illness, was the daughter of the renowned John M Bannerman (Baron Bannerman of Kildonan), who for many years held the record as the most capped member of the Scottish Rugby Union, and was a well-known broadcaster in Scotland, and long-term chairman of the Scottish Liberal party.
The significance of her parentage - her mother was also a Liberal party stalwart - was that, as a teenager, she supported her father as holding speaker at meetings in the far-flung constituency of Inverness, until he arrived from the previous ones.
John first fought Inverness at the 1950 general election, but he is well remembered for two byelections - in Inverness in 1954, which provided the Liberal party with its then best byelection result since the second world war - and Paisley in 1961. In both cases he astonished the political world, including his own party, by only narrowly failing to win them. A photograph of her late father in his robes as a peer took pride of place in Ray's sitting room.
In the 1987 general election, she fought and won, at her third attempt, the Argyll and Bute constituency, which her father had also fought in 1945. The seat was a Conservative stronghold until February 1974, when it fell to the SNP, who lost it, in their turn, to the able Tory MP and minister John Mackay in 1983.
Rejoicing among Liberals at Ray's victory was great: not only was she seen to avenge her father's near misses, but she was the only female Liberal MP in that Parliament and, in her 14 years of popular service, she steadily increased her majority from 1,400 to nearly 7,000. The constituency is unusual in that it contains 26 inhabited islands, which she was assiduous in visiting, often turning her ferry trips into impromptu surgeries.
Born in Balmaha, on Loch Lomond, Ray was educated at Aberdeen high school for girls, Lansdowne House school in Edinburgh, and the Edinburgh College of Speech Therapy. In 1957 she married Iain Michie and the couple spent 16 years working with the Royal Army Medical Corps in a variety of countries including periods in Germany and east Asia. On return to Scotland he became consultant at the County hospital in Oban, where they made their hospitable home, and she continued work as a speech therapist.
In parliament Ray was Liberal Democrat spokesman on transport and rural development (1987-88), on Scotland (1988-97) and on women's issues (1988-94). She served as chairman - not for her "chairperson" - of the Scottish Liberal party (1992-93) and was a member of the Speaker's panel of chairmen in her last period in the Commons (1997-2001). Her two main aims at Westminster were Scottish self-government and the development of the Gaelic language. She therefore delighted in the creation of her long fought-for Scottish Parliament.
She took the oath in the Commons in Gaelic, and when she retired in 2001 and was made a life peer, she became the first person ever to take the oath in Gaelic in the House of Lords. "This brings home to people," she said, "who have an interest in the tradition and culture of the Highlands how vulnerable the language is and how we want to promote it."
She was a vice-president of the Royal College of Speech and Language and held honorary positions in An Comunn Gaidhealach, the Scottish National Farmers' Union, the Scottish Crofting Foundation, the Clyde Fisherman's Association and the National Council for Women.
When she retired from the Commons, she did so partly to be able to look after her ailing husband and to see more of her nine grandchildren. The travelling distance from Oban to London and subsequently her own ill-health meant she was unable to contribute as much to the Lords as she had in the Commons, but she remained active in local affairs.
She was predeceased by Iain and one daughter, and leaves two other daughters and her grandchildren.
· Janet Ray Michie, Baroness Michie of Gallanach, politician and speech therapist, born February 4 1934; died May 6 2008

Copyright The Guardian

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