First Minister leads tributes following death of ex-MSP John Farquhar Munro
TRIBUTES have been made from across the political spectrum to former Highland Liberal Democrat MSP John Farquhar Munro who died at the age of 79 at his Lochalsh home following ill-health.
Mr Munro was a merchant seaman and crofter before entering politics. He was renowned as an independent thinker – once winning a Free Spirit/Maverick of the Year award – who challenged the Lib Dem leadership and ignored the Holyrood whips, who cajole MSPs into voting on party lines.
In 2011, he retired from the Scottish Parliament, where he had served the Ross, Skye and Inverness West constituency since its historic 1999 inception, but not before dropping a pre-election bombshell.
The outgoing MSP, who held a majority of 3,486, dramatically announced that the SNP’s Alex Salmond would make a better First Minister than the then Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott, much to the anger of the party hierarchy and surprise to the candidate bidding to replace him, Alan MacRae.
When it was put to him that his support for a rival party’s leader was unusual, he replied: "I am an unusual kind of a person. I do my own thing."
Mr Munro was a Highland councillor between 1995 and 1999 and had previously served as a member of the Skye and Lochalsh District Council.
Tributes to Mr Munro poured in from across the political spectrum and Mr Salmond described him as an "outstanding champion for the Highlands" who had campaigned on land reform, crofting, the controversial Skye Bridge tolls and Gaelic.
Friend and fellow former Lib Dem MSP Jamie Stone – who served on the council and entered and left Holyrood at the same time as Mr Munro – said his colleague’s popularity with voters was down to his common touch and he transcended party politics.
Mr Stone – who first met Mr Munro in 1983 when the then councillor was helping the 23-year-old Charles Kennedy pull off a surprise General Election victory for the Ross, Cromarty and Skye seat – said the late MSP could talk to anybody but did not suffer fools gladly.
"He was an incredibly shrewd judge, John, he would read people instantly," said Mr Stone "‘I would be careful with him’ or ‘Och, he is a good fellow’ he would say.
"He had an extraordinary kindness, for example, if a drunk had fallen over in the street in Edinburgh he would be the first to go over and pick them up. Some MSPs, if they saw that, wouldn’t know what to do. He was a very unassuming man. A Highland gentleman."
Party whips at Holyrood often asked Mr Stone to find out how Mr Munro was going to vote on certain issues because they were too scared to ask themselves.
Mr Stone said the "maverick" MSP told the Lib Dem leadership he would embarrass them at a party conference and quit, unless the Holyrood Lib Dem-Labour administration scrapped the bridge tolls. That finally happened in 2004.
"He was going to get the tolls removed, come hell or high water," said Mr Stone, who added that Mr Munro was on speaking terms with everybody from lords to cleaners and security guards at Holyrood.
Inverness and Nairn SNP MSP Fergus Ewing said Mr Munro’s work contributed hugely to the Highlands.
"He was a man of independent mind, and fought a great many causes, including of course that of Gaelic language and culture," he said. "Representing as we did, for eight years, different parts of Inverness, we worked together and closely. Over the whole time we worked together on various causes, we did so on the best of terms, and indeed, never had a cross word between us."
Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey MP Danny Alexander said Mr Munro was "a liberal to his core" who brought his Highland values and the wisdom of the Gael to everything he did.
"His role in the abolition of the Skye Bridge tolls cemented his reputation as a vociferous campaigner," said Mr Alexander.
Conservative Highland MSP Mary Scanlon, who also entered Holyrood in 1999, said voters related to Mr Munro because he had huge life experience unlike so many politicians now.
"Many of the younger ones come in now after university, they start working for a MSP or MP for two or three months and then go into parliament," she said. "When John Farquhar spoke, people listened because he had life experience and knew what it was like to live in the Highlands.
"People in the Highlands were loyal to John Farquhar. He was a Highlander through and through and one of politics’ great characters."
Dave Thompson, SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, said: “Although we didn’t always agree politically, I had the highest respect for John. He was a true champion for rural areas and gaelic and crofting.
“I knew John for over 30 years, first as a Highland regional councillor, while I was director of trading standards and latterly with the Highland Council.I counted him as a good friend."