Saturday, March 20, 2010

Veteran nationalist Billy Wolfe dies at the age of 86

Mr Wolfe was credited with transforming the SNP

Tributes have been paid to former SNP leader William "Billy" Wolfe, who has died at the age of 86.

Born in 1924, he joined the SNP in 1959 and helped to define the party's political identity.

Under his leadership, the party achieved its greatest Westminster electoral success in 1974.

First Minister Alex Salmond said Mr Wolfe had transformed the SNP into a modern political party and would be greatly missed.

Mr Wolfe died on Thursday night in Udston Hospital in Hamilton, Lanarkshire, after a period of illness.

He was educated at George Watson's College, Edinburgh, before qualifying as a chartered accountant.

He served in the Scottish Horse Regiment in World War II. Billy Wolfe blazed the trail in the professionalisation and organisation of the SNP

Mr Wolfe secured a surprise second place in the 1962 West Lothian by-election and went on to contest the seat for the SNP at a further six general elections.

He rose through the ranks to become senior vice chairman of the SNP between 1966 and 1969, before replacing Arthur Donaldson as party leader that year.

In 1974 the party secured 11 seats in the October general election, which remains their greatest victory in the Westminster parliament.

Mr Wolfe stood down as party leader in 1979, before taking on the role of party president a year later.

From 1991 to 2008 he served variously as a member of the SNP national executive committee and an elected member of the national council.

Deeply saddened

He unsuccessfully ran for the SNP presidency again in 2005 after Winnie Ewing stepped down.

Mr Wolfe is survived by his wife Kate and by four children from a previous marriage.

SNP leader Mr Salmond said: "I am deeply saddened at Billy's passing, and my thoughts are with Kate and his children David, Sheila, Ilene and Patrick.

"Billy Wolfe blazed the trail in the professionalisation and organisation of the SNP and he, more than anyone, transformed it into a modern political party."

He added that the party had achieved "outstanding success" in the mid-1970s under Mr Wolfe's leadership and he would be greatly missed.

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray offered his condolences to Mr Wolfe's family.

Mr Gray said: "He played an important role in Scottish politics and was a leading figure in his party for many years. The contribution he made will not be forgotten."


Mr Wolfe, who was born in 1924, served in the Scottish Horse Regiment and, after the war, he became involved in groups that promoted Scotland and Scottish culture.

The qualified chartered accountant went on to join the SNP in 1959, convinced that "there is a nation of Scots, therefore, to survive, that nation must behave like other nations and accept responsibility of nationhood."

Three years after that he stood as the party's candidate in the West Lothian by-election.

While Labour's Tam Dalyell went on to win the contest, Mr Wolfe, who was educated at George Watson's College in Edinburgh, came in a surprise second.

He had fought the election under the slogan Put Scotland First – which went on to become a popular campaign slogan for the party in the 1960s and 1970s.

Mr Wolfe went on to stand in the West Lothian seat at six further general elections, although he was never elected as an MP.

He rose up through the ranks of the SNP, becoming its depute leader in 1966 – a post he held until he became leader in 1969.

It was under his leadership that the party had its greatest electoral success at Westminster.

The General Election in October 1974 saw the Nationalists win over 30% of the vote in Scotland and a record 11 SNP MPs were returned to the Commons.

Mr Wolfe stood down after the 1979 General Election, which resulted in just two SNP MPs being elected, and was succeeded as leader by Gordon Wilson.

A year later he took on the role of SNP party president and between 1991 and 2008 he served as a member of the SNP's National Executive Committee and also as an elected member of the party's National Council.

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