John Macfarlane

JOHN MACFARLANE Nationalist and organic farmer

Born: 23 January, 1912, in Glasgow. Died: 5 July, 2006, in Glasgow, aged 94.

JOHN Macfarlane, who has died in his 95th year, was the thoroughly left-leaning radical not afraid to practise both what he preached, and to indulge in the capitalist system.

A lifelong pacifist, he was an early venturer into organic food production - not a bad move for a city boy born, raised and educated in Shawlands on the south side in Glasgow.

His farming venture was near Skelmorlie in Renfrewshire. There he made the acquaintance of Dugald Semple, self-styled "simple lifer" and vegetarian. Semple - who had strong ideas about using only natural methods - had himself farmed near Beith before living in Fairlie. Semple preached self-responsibility and care for others, and enthused Macfarlane in organic efforts. The young John in turn enjoyed a healthy eating regimen and invested only in natural medicines for the rest of his life.

Macfarlane fell victim to the Depression of 1930, losing out on higher education. His personal loss proved the gain of the Independent Labour Party, and as a youngster he campaigned for the party made famous by Jimmy Maxton, uncle of the recent Cathcart Labour MP John Maxton. Maxton, ILP MP for Bridgeton, died in 1946, and it was the death of his political hero and the abrogation by the post-war Labour government of their promise of home rule for Scotland that decided him on Scottish nationalism as his political cause.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the tiny SNP was all fury and little force, an oddball amalgam of intellectuals and people whose faces rarely fitted elsewhere. Macfarlane brought his own little measure of sanity in the form of political discipline, leading by example in the solid though tedious process of doorstep constituency campaigning. He became a familiar face at meetings, conferences and rallies. As recently as last year, at 93, he attended the SNP's spring conference in Dundee.

His belief in independence for Scotland was never less than tempered by his radicalism. A pacifist and CND member, he and his wife, Netta, marched and demonstrated for nuclear disarmament in Glasgow and in many places in the west of Scotland.

One of his happiest outings was the celebration in 1973 marking the centenary of the birth of John McLean, the Clydeside revolutionary from Pollokshaws. After Sir William Gray, then lord provost of Glasgow, unveiled the granite monument in Pollokshaws to McLean on St Andrew's Day, the crowds marched in procession to Pollokshaws Burgh Halls behind one of the greatest assortments of red banners seen in modern times. In the ranks were John and Netta Macfarlane, and at the rally in the burgh halls, they cheered speakers from the poet Hugh Macdiarmid to Harry McShane from Maryhill, last of the Red Clydesiders.

Macfarlane's unashamed venture into capitalism concerns gambling. In later life working in the Stakis organisation as an executive in Queens Bookmakers, part of the company gaming arm, he won a famous legal victory over Harold Macmillan's government. Chancellor Reginald Maudling had slapped a 40 per cent tax on football pools' fixed odds, thus effectively ending fixed-odds betting. Macfarlane's way round the system was to invent a method he called "champion fixed odds", with tax due only at the same rate as horse-racing.

Customs and Excise took Macfarlane and Queens to court - and lost. In a landmark ruling, champion fixed odds in the better-known guise today of individual-odds betting returned, and remains today.

Macfarlane's patriotism for Scotland was exceeded only by his loyalty as a Glasgow "Soo' Sider", and his devotion to Netta, his wife of 65 years. John and Netta met as teenagers, and married in 1939. She never left his side, from CND marches to concert-going.

Netta predeceased him two years ago, and Macfarlane is survived by their two children, five grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

Back to the top of the page