Jim Sillars

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Jim Sillars
Depute Leader of the Scottish National Party
In office
September 1991 – 25 September 1992
Leader Alex Salmond
Preceded by Alasdair Morgan
Succeeded by Allan Macartney
Member of Parliament
for Glasgow Govan
In office
10 November 1988 – 9 April 1992
Preceded by Bruce Millan
Succeeded by Ian Davidson
Member of Parliament
for South Ayrshire
In office
19 March 1970 – 3 May 1979
Preceded by Emrys Hughes
Succeeded by George Foulkes
Personal details
Born (1937-10-04) 4 October 1937 (age 79)
Ayr, Ayrshire, Scotland
Political party Scottish National Party (1980–present)
Scottish Left Project (2014-present)
Other political
Labour Party (?-1976)
Scottish Labour Party (1976–1980)
Spouse(s) Margo MacDonald MSP (m. 1981–2014)
Occupation Firefighter

James Sillars (born 4 October 1937) is a Scottish politician. He was married to Margo MacDonald until her death, in 2014. He is a leading figure in the campaign for Scottish independence. He founded and led the Scottish Labour Party in the late 1970s, and was Deputy Leader of the Scottish National Party.

Early life[edit]

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).

Labour MP[edit]

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.

SLP breakaway[edit]

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 collapsed 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). 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.

Scottish National Party[edit]

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 the European Union, 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'.

Having been beaten by Tam Dalyell at Linlithgow in the 1987 general election, 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 won a dramatic victory.

Sillars became the SNP's deputy leader, with many surprised he did not 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 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.

In 2016, contrary to the SNP position, he announced he will campaign in favour of British withdrawal from the EU during the United Kingdom European Union membership referendum.[1] He has said: "I think (the EU) is a profoundly undemocratic organisation which has shown a callous disregard for people, in Portugal, Spain and Greece for example. They've been willing to make people destitute - beggar nations - in pursuit of a single policy to create a United States of Europe irrespective of whether the people want it."[2]

Scottish Independence Referendum[edit]

Sillars played a major part in the September 2014 Scottish independence referendum and caused controversy when, just days before the poll, he warned of a "day of reckoning" for Scottish businesses who had spoken out against independence.


  1. ^ "Jim Sillars to campaign for EU exit". 21 January 2016 – via www.bbc.com. 
  2. ^ Reporter, Record (21 January 2016). "Jim Sillars claims many SNP members want to leave EU". 

External links[edit]

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
Jim Fairlie
Scottish National Party Vice Chairman (Policy)
Succeeded by
George Leslie
Preceded by
Alasdair Morgan
Senior Vice Convener (Depute Leader) of the Scottish National Party
Succeeded by
Allan Macartney