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Jim Sillars

Born 4 October 1937 (1937-10-04) (age 72)
Ayr, Scotland
Political party Scottish National Party

Jim Sillars (born 4 October 1937) is a Scottish political figure.


Early life

Sillars was born in Ayrshire, Scotland. His early working life involved him following his father into working on the railways, then joining the Royal Navy, before becoming a fireman. It was as a fireman that he became more active politically, through the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and later with the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC).

Member of Parliament

Sillars was elected at a by-election in 1970 as Member of Parliament (MP) for South Ayrshire constituency,representing the Labour Party. He became well known as an articulate, intellectual left-winger, strongly in favour of the establishment of a devolved Scottish Assembly.

In 1976 he led a breakaway Scottish Labour Party (SLP). The formation of the SLP was inspired primarily by the failure of the then Labour Government to secure a Scottish Assembly. Sillars threw himself into establishing the SLP as a political force, but ultimately it would collapse following the 1979 General Election. At that election the SLP had nominated a mere three candidates (including Sillars who was attempting to hold on to his South Ayrshire seat). However only Sillars came remotely close to winning and it was this failure to secure a meaningful share of the vote that prompted the decision to disband.

Out of Parliament - Into the SNP

In the early 1980s Sillars (along with many other former SLP members) joined the Scottish National Party (SNP). Being a left-winger he had fostered close links with the SNP internal 79 Group, who had encouraged him to join.

Sillars, along with the 79 Group and the former SLP members in the SNP, started to shape the SNP as a clearly defined, left-of-centre party. Policies adopted included the support of a non-payment scheme in relation to the poll tax introduced by the Conservative Government of Margaret Thatcher, as well as the policy of independence within Europe, of which Sillars was a leading exponent. Sillars also started talking in terms of direct action to bring prominence to the Scottish independence cause, stating that 'we must be prepared to hear the sound of cell doors slamming behind us if we are prepared to win independence'.

Return to Parliament

In 1988 Sillars was chosen as the SNP candidate for the Glasgow Govan by-election. Govan was a Labour seat (although Sillars' wife Margo MacDonald had won it for the SNP in a by-election previously, in 1973), but Sillars proved an inspired choice. His sound use of oratory and his street campaigning style brought life to the SNP and they won a dramatic victory.

End Game

Sillars would become the SNP's deputy leader, with many surprised he didn't stand for the party leadership when it became available in 1990. The 1992 General Election proved a disappointing one for Sillars personally as he lost his Govan seat. It was at this time that Sillars made his famous comment that the Scottish people were '90 minute patriots' (a reference to the amount of time a Football/Soccer match lasts).

This comment proved the beginning of a break with the SNP leadership. The then SNP leader Alex Salmond had been a Sillars ally, but his comments in the aftermath of the 1992 General Election (and it is also suspected the fact that Sillars supported Salmond's leadership contest opponent, Margaret Ewing) started this break.

Sillars remains a columnist for The Sun and he has used his column to criticise what he sees as poor political strategy from the SNP leadership, first under Salmond, and latterly under John Swinney. Sillars is viewed as belonging to the SNP Fundamentalist camp.

He is married to current member of the Scottish Parliament, Margo MacDonald.

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Emrys Hughes
Member of Parliament for South Ayrshire
Succeeded by
George Foulkes
Preceded by
Bruce Millan
Member of Parliament for Glasgow Govan
Succeeded by
Ian Davidson
Party political offices
Preceded by
Alasdair Morgan
Senior Vice Convener (Deputy Leader) of the Scottish National Party
Succeeded by
Allan Macartney


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