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Tribute to a fine Scottish Liberal and former speaker at the weekend schools

March 4, 2018 4:08 PM

Rainbow Liberal Democrat Bird of Liberty imposed on a Scottish Saltire FlagMembers of the Lloyd George Society will be sorry to learn of the death, on 28th July, of Dr. Alexander (Sandy) S. Waugh. Sandy Waugh was a noted historian of Liberalism in the UK, and spoke at the Society's Weekend School in 2012. Sandy joined the Liberal Party in 1950, and must have been one of the longest-serving members of the Party at the time of his death. He played a major part in the revival of Liberalism in Scotland, first in Glasgow and then in West Aberdeenshire. He was instrumental in the election of James Davidson as MP for West Aberdeenshire in 1966, in Nicol Stephen's 1991 Kincardine and Deeside by-election win, and in a number of other triumphs in Westminster and Holyrood elections.

Sandy Waugh was born in Glasgow and attended the High School of Glasgow. He was always proud that this had also been the school of the most radical of Liberal Prime Ministers, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. While there, he met Edwin Donaldson, who had been a Liberal candidate in the 1922 and 1923 General Elections. Sandy attended his first meeting of the Scottish Liberal Party's General Council in 1955, preparatory to a General Election in which Liberals fielded only five candidates in Scotland, but set to work with other Liberals in the Glasgow area to build the Party's capacity. That work bore fruit in 1961 when, as secretary of the campaign committee in the Paisley by-election, Sandy contributed to an astounding result in which the late John M. Bannerman almost took the seat, gaining 41.4% of the vote for the Liberals. In the following year he played an important part in the Glasgow Woodside by-election, where the writer and broadcaster Jack House polled a remarkably high 21% of the vote.

Sandy moved to the Aberdeen area in 1965, to take up a post as personnel manager of Aberdeen Journals Ltd, just in time to apply his management skills in West Aberdeenshire. There James Davidson had taken second place in 1964, despite the seat not having been contested by Liberals at the previous General Election. With others, Sandy ensured the financial and organizational preparedness of the constituency association. By the time the snowy polling day of 1966 arrived, there was great optimism in the Liberal camp, eventually justified by a vote of 43.2% which was sufficient to unseat the Conservative Forbes Hendry, and to elect James Davidson.

Soon after that, Sandy became constituency chairman and was embroiled in the difficult matter of selecting and campaigning for a successor when Davidson decided not to contest the seat again. Laura Grimond was selected, with Sandy of course chairman of the meeting. Forbes McCallum remembers him telling the audience to listen carefully to the words of the motion which he was to put to the meeting to avoid any reference to her selection as a candidate. These were: "This Association thanks Mrs Grimond for her speech and expresses the hope that, at the appropriate time, she will make herself available to be adopted as the Liberal candidate for West Aberdeenshire". This was typical of Sandy's attention to detail and propriety.

He went on to campaign actively for EU membership in the 1975 referendum, before moving house to what was then the North Angus and Mearns constituency later that year, where he threw himself into work for his new political home. Selected a few years later as Liberal-Alliance candidate for the newly-created constituency of Kincardine and Deeside in the 1983 General Election, Sandy gained a creditable 29.4% of the vote. He gave generous support to the candidate who succeeded him at the 1987 General Election, Nicol Stephen, who went on to take the seat at a famous by-election in 1991. Sandy instead stood in the 1986 elections for Grampian Regional Council. He polled 46.5% of the votes, just 179 votes behind the well-established Tory.

Like Gladstone (of whom, incidentally, he did not much approve) Sandy Waugh was as keen a churchman as a politician. He was a lifelong member of the Church of Scotland, and an Elder and the Session Clerk of his Parish Church. In retirement he took up academic study of divinity and theology at the University of Aberdeen, graduating with honours in 1999 and going on to gain a Ph.D. with a thesis on Church History focussing on the Disruption of 1843 - a rich source of Liberal as well as ecclesiastical activity.

Dr Waugh (as he now was) continued his political activities, though by now ill-health meant these were more literary than organizational. He had his first letter to a newspaper published in 1953, and by the time of his death had averaged one letter published each month in various newspapers, magazines and periodicals. Always pithy, accurate and well-aimed, they usually contained an element of humour as well. He remained happy to share his learning.

This work was supplemented by monographs on many Liberal subjects, each of which is scholarly but readable, and any one of which would make an interesting contribution to the Journal. Subjects included "The Gladstone Political Dynasty", "The Bright and McLaren Political Dynasties", "William Mather Rutherford Pringle", "Lloyd George vs. the Exchange Telegraph Company", "Glasgow High School Parliamentarians", "Liberal Hegemony in Scotland, 1832-1918" and "The Liberal and Labour Parties to 1929".

Sandy also wrote and made presentations on Church matters and Liberal topics to a surprising range of audiences. He made a memorable presentation on "Aspects of Scottish and Welsh Liberalism" to the Lloyd George Society in Llandrindod Wells in 2012. Members will recall the painstaking accuracy of the detailed factual material presented in support of his talk. It was to Sandy's credit that this talk was given shortly after preparing and presenting a learned paper on the quatercentenary of the King James Bible to friends and scholars in his home town of Banchory.

Sandy Waugh succeeded in combining political activism with a sense of history. An account of the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 was to him incomplete without links to the Crusaders of Acre in 1271, and his doctoral thesis on the Disruption of 1843 went back to thirteenth century Scotland and King William the Lion. I recall him giving an address to Aberdeen University Liberal Club fifty years ago in which - only partly in jest - he traced the origins of the Vietnam War back to Charlemagne.

Much though he enjoyed exploring historical byways, the chief subject of Sandy Waugh's Liberal academic interest was Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman whom, in common with many Scottish Liberals, he regarded as the greatest of Liberal Prime ministers. Like Sir Henry, Sandy was a Scot, a Radical, a former pupil of the High School of Glasgow, and a man who was forthright in word and deed. At the time of his death, Sandy had completed a major work on C-B "Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman - A Scottish Life and UK Politics 1836-1908". This scrupulously-researched and comprehensive book is now being prepared for publication. It will be available for purchase later this year.

Sandy Waugh's Liberalism was unfailing in thought and deed. He will be remembered fondly by Liberals who knew him not only as an effective colleague but as an accurate historian and a good and reliable friend.

This obituary was kindly provided by Society member Nigel Lindsay.