DCSIMG

Bashir Ahmad

First Asian, Muslim and non-white MSP

Born: 12 February, 1940, in Karachi.

Died: 6 February, 2009, in Glasgow, aged 68.

FOR a politician, it was surely a unique tribute to Bashir Ahmad that he was known to many of his Glasgow constituents, and not only his fellow Muslims or those of Pakistani origin, as "Uncle Bashir". The young man who came here to collect fares on Glasgow buses ended up being the first Asian, Muslim, indeed, non-white, member of the Scottish Parliament, a giant leap for Scottish politics. He was also one of the most-loved politicians by his peers from across party lines.

Ahmad, who appeared in good health and was still working hours before he was stricken by a heart attack, had played a key role in the Scottish National Party's 2007 election victory, which gave him one of Glasgow's four seats in Holyrood. In his victory speech, the new First Minister, Alex Salmond, paid specific tribute to Ahmad, saying: "In 1961, Bashir Ahmad came to Glasgow to drive buses. In 1961, the very idea of a Scottish parliament was unimaginable. In 1961, the very idea of a Scots Asian sitting in a Scots parliament was doubly unimaginable."

Mr Salmond later described Ahmad as "the most patriotic of Scots" and said his presence in Holyrood had made the Scottish Parliament fully representative of the nation for the first time. "The Pakistani community has brought variety and passion to Scotland," he said. "And it has also brought a hard work ethic, a strong faith – and a belief in the strength of community and family … there are many shades and strands in the Scottish tartan."

Despite his Scottish patriotism, however, Ahmad never lost sight of his roots. He wore traditional Pakistani dress when he took his seat in Holyrood and took his oath of office partly in Urdu. Equally, he enjoyed wearing the kilt when appropriate.

He was a semi-retired businessman and Labour supporter – owner of shops and restaurants and a hotel – when a 1995 speech by Mr Salmond to the Pakistan Welfare Association (which Ahmad co-founded and headed for many years) inspired him to join the independence movement. (Since he was a child, he had been inspired by the independence movement that helped lead to the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan.)

To win fellow Asians and Muslims over to the SNP cause, he set up, in 1995, the group Scots Asians for Independence, and electrified the SNP's annual conference with a speech in which he told Scots: "It's not where we came from that's important, it's where we're going together."

Ahmad became a member of the SNP's National Executive Committee in 1998, and in 2003 was elected a Glasgow city councillor for Pollokshields East.

Bashir Ahmad was born in Karachi, then part of the British Indian Raj, in 1940, when pressure was growing on Britain to get out. When the empire was partitioned in 1947, Ahmad found himself growing up in an independent Pakistan.

Times were hard, however, and, when he was 21, his family sent him to live with an uncle in the Glasgow district of Pollokshields. A friend, paid by the family, was supposed to meet the young man at Glasgow airport but absconded with the cash, leaving Ahmad alone and with little English or money.

Throughout his later life, he delighted in telling friends, politicians and constituents about the cheery Glasgow Corporation Transport bus driver who went far out of his way, literally, to drive him to his uncle's doorstep in Pollokshields, a district he would call home for the rest of his life.

Inspired by the driver, whom he never later managed to find, he got a job as a bus conductor. A friend and SNP colleague, Alan Clayton, who drove a bus in the 1960s, recalled it was a thankless task, the buses freezing in winter.

"Like most Asians," said Mr Clayton, "he differed from we home-born Scots in that he did not head for the boozer after his shift but tucked the money away for the future. And within a few years, Bashir had managed to start a business and purchase his lovely big house in Pollokshields."

During his too-short spell in Holyrood, Ahmad opposed forced marriages and just last month received praise for his humanitarian campaign for Scottish hospitals to treat the most serious casualties of Israel's attacks on the Gaza Strip, particularly women and children with life-threatening burns or other wounds.

He was a member of the Scottish Parliament's Public Petitions Committee, which decides which action should be taken on petitions submitted by individuals, groups or organisations. He was also a member of various cross-party groups, including those on racial equality, on carers, on human rights and civil liberties, on older people and ageing, on Palestine, on Tibet and on Tartan Day.

Friends said Ahmad was known for his hospitality, not least his curries, although he ate sparsely himself. Asked in an interview who would be his ideal dinner guest, past or present, he replied: "Mr (Muhammad Ali] Jinnah, the man who founded Pakistan. I would like to … discuss with him how he managed to create Pakistan out of part of India. It was really hard work and it was a great job that he did for us."

Bashir Ahmad, who died at his home in Pollokshields, is survived by his wife, two sons and five daughters.

 
 
 

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