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On Friday 17 May Greyfriars Kirk was filled to capacity for a memorial service to Neil MacCormick, who died peacefully at his home in Edinburgh on 5 April 2009, following a year-long battle with cancer.
His long and very distinguished academic career began in 1965 as a lecturer in jurisprudence at St Andrews University, followed by a spell at Oxford from 1968-72. Thereafter, he held the Regius chair of public law and the law of nature and nations at Edinburgh University, appointed at the unusually young age of 31 and retiring in 2008 after 36 years as a professor.
He was Vice-President of the Scottish National Party from 1999 until 2004 and had in November 2008 marked the 80th anniversary of the National Party of Scotland, founded by his father ʻKingʼ John MacCormick.
I greatly enjoyed the privilege of working with Neil during our five years together, from 1999 to 2004, as the SNP team in the European Parliament.
To say he was in his element as MEP would be a massive understatement. With his immense capacity to absorb information, and his thorough knowledge of the constitutional complexity of EU decision-making, he played an enthusiastic and significant part in the Parliamentary process.
Whilst an MEP he represented the SNP on the Convention on the Future of Europe, contributing constructively to the draft Constitutional Treaty. In 2005
Neil published his own account of the Treaty in a booklet "Who's Afraid of a European Constitution?" Neil served as a Member of EP Committees on Legal Affairs and Single Market; Constitutional Affairs and as Vice-President of the Temporary Committee (2000-01) on the Echelon Interception System. He devoted much of his time as MEP to supporting Scotlandʼs island communities in the battle over the future of Caledonian MacBrayne Ferries.
He was voted Scottish Euro MP of the Year on three occasions, in 2000, 2002 and 2003 – the only Scottish politician to have won the same award three times.
Neil retired from the European Parliament in 2004 to successfully complete his professorship at Edinburgh University, and in May 2007 was appointed by First Minister Alex Salmond as the Scottish Governmentʼs special adviser on European Policy and External Relations.
Speaking at the kirk service Alex Salmond said; "one of the things I thought of on hearing of Neilʼs death was that I would no longer hear his elegant phrasemaking gracing an SNP conference speech. It was not just the tone of party debates but the standard of public life in Scotland that Neil MacCormick raised - Neil represented the gold standard of political activity. Neil was proud and delighted to be part of the first ever SNP Government, and I was so proud to have him there with us"
In his personal tribute John Swinney said; "Neil believed the way to make progress for Scotland was to bring people together, not drive them apart.
"That approach drove one of Neilʼs greatest interventions in changing the course of the Scottish National Party when he appealed for – and delivered – an end to the crippling internecine battle that had raged within the SNP after the 1979 disasters. And without that intervention, neither our First Minister nor our Justice Secretary would have been brought back into the fold of the SNP.
"Neilʼs great gifts to the national movement were threefold. First, he formulated the practical application of the constitutional principle of sovereignty resting with the people of Scotland. Second, he articulated how that concept could be applied to establish the right of the people of Scotland to be citizens of an Independent country that wanted to be part of the European Union. And third, he expressed the rationale that a devolved Scottish Parliament was not an impediment to, but indeed a powerful step toward, the establishment of an independent Scotland."
"But for all his majestic contribution of intellectual might to the National cause, Neil also knew how to work the crowd. As he vied for a place at the top of the list of SNP candidates for the European Elections in 1999, he approached the microphone at the Party Conference to make his pitch as the eighth out of eight candidates to speak. He stood solemnly at the microphone and said "I am the eighth of eight fine candidates. I feel very much like Elizabeth Taylorʼs eighth husband on their wedding night. I know what I have to do – the challenge is to make it interesting!" He was rewarded with number two on the list and embarked on a distinguished chapter of his public life as a Member of the European Parliament – working day in and night out with Flora – promoting Scotlandʼs interests in Europe." Neilʼs unflagging energy and eternal optimism made him a popular and widely-respected MEP across the political spectrum in Brussels and Strasbourg. He was always willing to listen to the views of others, and provided good advice and guidance to many colleagues and staff in our Greens/EFA parliamentary group.
His bagpipe-playing prowess made an impact across Europe too, with starring appearances at the annual EP Burns Suppers, and an impromptu performance on the street in Strasbourg for a group of SNP visitors when he formally took his seat in July 1999. Neil was greatly amused by the fact that some entertained passers-by put a few French francs in his bagpipe case, assuming he was busking!
Professor Sir Neil MacCormick
Born: 27 May, 1941, in Glasgow
Died: 5 April, 2009, in Edinburgh, aged 67