Helen Eadie: Labour activist who fought for the creation of a Scottish Parliament and championed the European Community

 

Helen Eadie was the best kind of honourable and tolerant issue politician, at the epicentre of Labour Party affairs for nearly half a century. I am in a position to say this since on her most cherished cause – the creation of a Scottish Parliament, of which she was to become a founding member, representing Dunfermline East – I took a diametrically opposing view.

She was born in the Stirlingshire village of Stenhousemuir, known to most in the UK as the last or penultimate football result intoned by James Alexander Gordon on Sports Report, to Jack Miller, a soldier with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders who became a moulder in the Carron ironworks, famous since the Industrial Revolution. Her mother was a home help – important for Helen's later life since she became a champion of local authorities allocating resources to home helps. She went to Larbert High School; one of her causes in later life was the need to tackle bullying on school buses. She would point out in no uncertain terms that this was a far from trivial matter in the psychological development of many children.

She left Larbert sat 15 to work in a laundry, from which she was unfairly dismissed. Her case came to the notice of Alex and Charlie Donnett, titans of the trade union movement; for the rest of her life she was to be highly involved with the GMB. She moved on to Falkirk Technical College, from which, at the instigation of her young but extremely thoughtful and well-qualified husband Robert, whom she had met as a 17-year-old at St Andrews University summer school and who later became a senior official of the ETU, she gained entry to the LSE.

There she specialised in trade union studies; it was a turbulent time in student politics, some of the Houghton Street students wanting to emulate Daniel Cohn-Bendit at Nanterre. She told me she found it thrilling, particularly as the young women there played a part unimaginable in the Scotland of the 1960s.

The LSE's imperious Professor of Economics, Lionel Robbins had been succeeded in 1974 by Ralph Dahrendorf, former European Commissioner, a German, and at that time a challenging appointment. Eadie attended a series of lectures by Dahrendorf which sparked an idealistic passion for the European Community cause. She had a deep concern about the integration of Eastern Europeans into British society, and about developments in Eastern Europe paving the way for membership of the EC. She told me that her interest had been fostered by her experience in her twenties of the Polish community in Fife.

In 1940-41 the Polish First Armoured Division had been formed by Poles who often had harrowing stories of escape from the clutches of Hitler and Stalin; in 1945 almost all preferred to set up homes in Fife, where their Division had been stationed and trained (and where many had found girlfriends) rather than risk returning to Gomolka's Communist Poland, where they suspected, rightly in the 1940s, that they would get their throats cut. Eadie befriended the Polish community many years before she was looking for their votes, and helped them make their huge, skilful and energetic contribution to Scottish life. Later in her public life Eadie extended this involvement to Bulgaria, and a week before she died she made a plea to colleagues in the Scottish Parliament that her Bulgarian work should be continued.

Perhaps Eadie's most significant contribution to British politics was in the late 1970s, when she was research assistant to her father-in-law Alex Eadie, MP for Midlothian, and to his great friend Harry Ewing, a Fifer who was MP for Falkirk. Alex Eadie was a minister in the Wilson/Callaghan government responsible for the coal industry, and as a former miner (and distinguished chairman of Fife Education Committee) he had some of the most delicate responsibilities, particularly in relation to Joe Gormley, Arthur Scargill and the NUM. As my party neighbour and close friend for 25 years Alex told me how much he owed to his daughter-in-law for her help.

From 1976 Harry Ewing was the minister in the Scottish Office representing that department in the devolution legislation and directly responsible to Ted Short (Lord Glenamara), deputy leader of the Labour Party. Short told me how much he valued the work of his own departmental assistant, Vicky Kidd, and of Helen, who worked for Ewing. They also earned the respect of the discerning Sir Michael Quinlan, who had been loaned to the Cabinet Office from the Ministry of Defence.

Helen had one stab at Westminster, at the behest of the Scottish Labour Party, standing in the no-hope constituency of Roxburgh and Berwickshire. Albeit trailing behind the well-established Liberal Archie Kirkwood and the Conservative candidate Douglas Younger, she drove a surprised SNP into fourth place. As one who had been a candidate in Roxburgh 38 years earlier I went to speak for her in Hawick and can testify how her rumbustious championing of women workers won votes.

In 1986 Eadie was elected to Fife Regional Council. She was superb. In 2003 she brought a number of colleagues in the Scottish Parliament and local government to complain bitterly about the introduction by the parliament in Edinburgh of any element of proportional representation, on the grounds that it would lead to indecision and fracture the links between constituents and an identifiable councillor. Latterly she became "mother of the house". One of the rising stars in Edinburgh, Neil Findlay, told me: "Eadie deeply cared about people much more than her career or status. She was a great example to younger members of the Parliament; she was steeped in the values of the Labour and trade union movement, decent, honest and principled."

It was the essence of Eadie, knowing that the grim reaper was nigh, that she should have been arranging for the case of discontented night nurses at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy to be dealt with in the appropriate quarters before she was transferred to the Queen Margaret Hospice in Dunfermline.

Helen Miller, trade unionist and politician: born Stenhousemuir 7 March 1947; Equal Opportunity and Political Officer, GMB; Member, Fife Regional Council 1986-99, Deputy Leader 1992-96; contested Roxburgh and Berwickshire 1997; MSP Dunfermline East 1999-2011, Cowdenbeath 2011-; married 1967 Robert Eadie (two daughters); died Dunfermline 9 November 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss