Baroness Michie of Gallanach: Lib Dem peer committed toScotland and the Gaelic language

On 31 October 2001, a small but important piece of history was made when Ray Michie, Baroness Michie of Gallanach, became the first person ever to take the oath of allegiance in the House of Lords in Gaelic. In doing so, she was true to her inheritance. Her father, Lord Bannerman of Kildonan, had spoken the first words of his maiden speech in the Lords in Gaelic.

Whilst the event may have raised a number of noble eyebrows, it came as no surprise to those who knew Ray Michie. It reflected the inspiration which she drew from her two staunchly Liberal parents, and was yet further evidence of her commitment to causes she held dear, not least the promotion of the Gaelic language.

Ray Michie was born in 1934 at the Old Manse, Balmaha. She was educated at the Aberdeen High School for Girls, Lansdowne House in Edinburgh and the Edinburgh School of Speech Therapy. Whilst in Edinburgh, she became chair of the Edinburgh Highland Society, where, having called him to order for particularly noisy behaviour, she met Iain Michie. It was the foundation of a strong lifelong partnership.

Married in 1957, Ray gave Iain unstinting support as he progressed in his medical career, for 16 years in the Royal Army Medical Corps, and then when he became consultant at the county hospital in Oban, Argyll. It was there they made their home with their three daughters, Fiona, Jo and Deirdre. Their many friends would testify to the warmth and generosity of the hospitality received.

Ray was then able to pursue her profession as a speech therapist, becoming Area Speech Therapist for the Argyll and Clyde Health Board in 1977.

The political gene, inherited from both her parents, was evident from an early stage. When John Bannerman was Liberal candidate in Inverness, Ray cut her political teeth as the holding speaker at meetings until her father arrived from the previous meeting. She set her sights on winning the Argyll & Bute seat – no small challenge given its history of Tory and SNP members. But her efforts, ultimately rewarded by success in the 1987 general election, bore testimony to her remarkable tenacity and commitment.

She held the seat at the next two general elections, her majority steadily increasing each time. Ray Michie's endeavours for her constituents were prodigious as she visited all parts of a constituency with a large landmass, more coastline than France, and over 25 inhabited islands. She spoke about "her people" and "her islands", not in a feudal, paternalistic way, but because she felt honoured and privileged that they had voted for her, and, in turn, she wanted to do her best for them.

Whether it was to ask a question or take part in a debate, Michie always went into the Commons chamber well prepared. She pursued issues arising out of the loss of the fishing vessel the Antares, and the fatal Chinook crash on the Mull of Kintyre, not just because of their public importance as issues, but above all, because she so readily recognised what it meant to the families of those who had lost their lives.

Appointed by the Speaker Betty Boothroyd to the Chairmen's Panel in 1997, Michie acquired a reputation for firmness and fairness, not least in her first session in the chair. She took the chair of the committee stage of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill at 8.30pm and completed the session at 4.35am!

Simply to list Ray Michie's appointments and achievements (among which were membership of the House of Commons Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, and service as vice-chair of the parliamentary group on the Scotch whisky industry, president of the Clyde Fishermen's Association, vice-president of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, vice-chairman of the Scottish Liberal Party, convener of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, and numerous party spokesmanships) does insufficient justice to the person she was. She had a sense of fun, was loyal and generous in her friendship, and had a steely look tempered with a glint in her eye which could speak volumes. She enjoyed sport both as a participant, in tennis, swimming and golf, and as a passionate spectator of rugby union. Her father was capped 37 consecutive times for Scotland, and until latterly, Ray rarely missed a Scotland international at Murrayfield.

Ray Michie was also tireless in the support of causes she espoused, especially the Liberal tradition of Scottish Home Rule and the Gaelic language. She took particular satisfaction in participating in the legislation which re-established Scotland's parliament and used her maiden speech in the House of Lords to promote the cause of Gaelic – "one of the oldest languages in Europe, so rich in literature, music, poetry and song, which has so enhanced our heritage, our culture, our traditions and values". Appointed last year by the First Minister to the Scottish Broadcasting Commission, she valued the opportunity that gave her to advance that cherished cause, and became frustrated that her illness prevented her from taking a more active part.

She did not seek re-election in 2001 and was elevated to the House of Lords. By then, Iain was in failing health and caring for him until his death in 2006, together with her own illness, meant that she made the almost thousand-mile round trip from Oban to the House of Lords less frequently. Ray also experienced the loss of her much-loved daughter, Jo. But in spite of all her adversities, she eschewed self-pity, and never lost her abiding concern for other people and a lively interest in political developments.

Reflecting her passion for Scottish rugby, her funeral service on Saturday concluded with Scotland's rugby anthem, "Flower of Scotland" – an apt farewell to someone who, committed to Scotland and the reflowering of one of its ancient languages, made such a notable contribution to both.

Jim Wallace

Janet Ray Bannerman, politician and speech therapist: born Balmaha, Stirlingshire 4 February 1934; Chairman, Argyll Liberal Association 1973-76; Area Speech Therapist, Argyll and Clyde Health Board 1977-87; Vice-Chairman, Scottish Liberal Party 1977-79; MP (Liberal) for Argyll and Bute 1987-88, MP (Liberal Democrat) for Argyll and Bute 1988-2001; Chair, Scottish Liberal Democrats 1992-93; created 2001 Baroness Michie of Gallanach; married 1957 Dr Iain Michie (died 2006; two daughters, and one daughter deceased); died Oban, Argyll 6 May 2008.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
i100
News
Budapest, 1989. Sleepware and panties.
newsDavid Hlynsky's images of Soviet Union shop windows shine a light on our consumerist culture
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
News
In humans, the ability to regulate the expression of genes through thoughts alone could open up an entirely new avenue for medicine.
science
News
Williams says: 'The reason I got jobs was because they would blow the budget on the big guys - but they only had to pay me the price of a cup of tea'
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Associate - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL FIRM - A...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Law Costs - London City

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - EXCELLENT FIRM - We have an outstandin...

Austen Lloyd: In-House Solicitor / Company Secretary - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: IN-HOUSE - NATIONAL CHARITY - An exciting and...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - A great new opportunity with real pot...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee