Douglas Henderson

MA LLB Politician

Born: 16 July, 1935, in Edinburgh.

Died: 15 September, 2006, in Edinburgh, aged 71.

DOUGLAS Henderson was the lifelong Scottish Nationalist whose energy and parliamentary ability helped strike genuine fear in the unionist establishment in the 1970s.

He was one of a declining number of politicians who have held the unusual distinction of being twice elected to Westminster inside a year. On 28 February, 1974, he and six fellow nationalists became "Scotland's Magnificent Seven", and when Harold Wilson in a desperate attempt to bolster his majority called a second general election on 10 October, Henderson and the enlarged SNP representation became "Scotland's First Eleven".

Henderson was one of the few nationalists of the 1970s to understand that for the SNP to succeed, the party had to act politically. If that meant working within existing rules, then so be it, ran his argument. As party whip in the Commons, he was feared by unionists of all parties both because he committed the rules of the place to memory, and through his employment of rapier wit to scuttle opposition. Asked in the 1980s why he used humour so much, he replied in two words: "Bishop Tutu", expressing admiration for the manner in which the South African cleric and Nobel Prize winner employed wit rather than war to promote his cause.

Sociable, knowledgeable and gregarious, Henderson was accepted by some senior politicians of other parties because of the cerebral element he brought to proceedings, and it was largely due to his skills that, in 1975, within a year of the massive SNP Westminster intake, his party secured a seat in the UK delegation to the European Parliament.

Sturdy in stature, Henderson exuded an abiding characteristic of energy, both physically in the tasks he successfully completed and intellectually in the arguments he brooked. In his 72nd year, an age when any careerist has long retired, he was out on the stump as candidate for Falkirk East for the 2007 Holyrood elections, displaying all the vitality and effervescence a younger man might crave. In part, it was his lifetime love of walking, for he walked everywhere by first preference.

Rarely without his trademark grin, his apparently breezy air belied a mind based entirely on the rational. Vigorous with words in public, in private he was a listener, particularly with the young. A briefcase and well-tailored suit fitted the career of the able businessman he was, but his real talents lay in politics.

He cut his political teeth early, joining the SNP at age 14 while still at the Royal High School in Edinburgh. At Edinburgh University - where one of his fellows was future SNP leader Gordon Wilson - he became president of the Nationalist Club, and began to develop a mature base to his contacts within the SNP, subsequently holding virtually every office at branch and constituency level. In those days, the party numbered less than 200, and when a by-election loomed in Bridgeton, Glasgow, in 1961, party leader Arthur Donaldson warned: "We fight or fold." Henderson warmed to the inspirational SNP candidate Iain MacDonald - later party organiser - and helped build the party into a serious political entity, sometimes through unorthodox methods, such directing programmes for the unofficial, and in those days illegal, Radio Free Scotland. He pioneered training, providing essential skills for both candidates and election agents, helping to pave the way for George Leslie's publicity-winning third place at the Pollok by-election in 1966, and Winnie Ewing's Hamilton victory the following year.

While he gained experience of his own as a management consultant in Scotland and abroad, he also kept an eye on a political career, and in 1972 was selected as prospective parliamentary candidate for East Aberdeenshire. In those days, this knuckle-end of Scotland gave the appearance of being an indestructible Tory fortress, having been held for 34 years by the colourful Bob Boothby until the stewardship of Patrick Wolrige-Gordon. Then in February 1974, Henderson swept the board with more than half of the vote.

While he was aided by rising nationalist sentiment plus his business background and position on the right of the party, the real strength of his victory came about through his assiduous work across the constituency. He dug deeper than simply the fishing, farming and commercial interests of the area, engaging with local trades unionists and electors who had no intention of voting for him. His direct and forthright manner gained respect for him across the board, a talent he brought to bear when promoted spokesman on employment and industry in the Commons.

But oil brought a rapidly changing population to North-east Scotland, and in 1979, he lost by an excruciating 558 votes to the Conservative Albert McQuarrie. In 1983, in a redistributed Banff and Buchan, he again lost by less than a thousand votes. This was a bleak time in his life, for his marriage in 1960 to Maureen Ferguson, in Johannesburg, sank in divorce in 1982, and politics was his sheet anchor.

A prolonged period of misdiagnosed illness sidelined him from active politics until he had a major operation in 1998 for cancer followed by several months of painful chemotherapy. His return to active duty included standing at the last general election in Dumfries and Galloway, and than as a Euro-candidate in 2004.

His latter life was given new strength by his long-time companion and business partner, Betty Davies. Together they shared a home above the Lawnmarket, in Edinburgh's Old Town, and promoted Scottish Fashion International, the dress design and fashion business whose aims reflected those of their lives together - style, quality and confidence. Together they also travelled across Europe, particularly to France to indulge Henderson's passionate pursuits as a francophile.

He is survived by Betty, four children from his marriage, and five grandchildren. Tributes at his funeral in the High Kirk of St Giles next month are due to be given by John Swinney and Fergus Ewing.