Obituary: Willy Rankine

William Gowans Rankine, painter, decorator, local politician, born Polbeth Midlothian 10 June 1916, married 1947 Amy Ogilvie (died 1985; one son, one daughter), died Livingston Lothian 9 September 1992.

Willy Rankine was one of the last of a generation of Labour councillors in Scotland, who returned as young battle-hardened men from the Second World War determined to make Britain a better place in which to live.

They were considerable men, to whom succeeding generations owe a debt of gratitude for the many good things about the Welfare State. Willy Rankine was a painter and decorator by trade - a very skilled one - and subsequently Clerk of Works for West Calder Co-operative Society. He became the last Convener of the old Midlothian County Council before local-government reform changed the structure of local authorities in Scotland in 1975. For nearly three decades he was also the chairman of the former West Calder District Council.

Rankine was born in Polbeth in 1916. In 1939 he left his trade and joined the local regiment, the Royal Scots, serving with them throughout the war. I remember his pleasure when as chairman of the Midlothian County Council he signed a twinning agreement between his authority and the West German town of Heinsberg. With a chuckle he recalled that as a soldier in the Royal Scots he had played a part in the capture of Heinsberg during the Allied advance into Germany in 1945.

Though he did not operate on the political level of the Konigswinter conferences, Rankine nevertheless was among a number of ex-servicemen, powers in their own areas, who played no less vital a part in British-German rapprochement than did those who attended the stratospheric conferences by the banks of the Rhine, or in Cambridge, Edinburgh or other British cities. He really did contribute to British-German relations at a grass-roots level.

Particularly, Rankine was concerned to establish musical relations between young people in Scotland and Germany and he himself served on the boards of the Scottish National Orchestra and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

Rankine's political career began in 1955 when his own community of West Calder elected him to the Midlothian County Council. For a decade during the 1960s and early 1970s Rankine was the chairman of an outstandingly imaginative education committee. I owe him an enormous debt of gratitude for giving permission for Midlothian pupils to participate in the first and second voyages of the Dunera Ship School, run by the British India Steam Navigation Company, a subsidiary of the P&O.

Many years later I asked him what had prompted him to be so helpful to me as a young teacher and to the embryo scheme of term-time educational cruising. His reply was forthright: 'When you came to see me to ask if it was possible, I was very moved by your statement that part of the purpose of the scheme was to give the children in my community the same advantages of foreign travel that your parents had been able to give to you as a post-war teenager with their friends abroad.'

Rankine simply wanted the best of educational opportunities for everyone. During his time as chairman of the education committee, Midlothian became the first local authority in Scotland to have a completely comprehensive primary and secondary school sector.

After local-government reform Rankine was elected Labour member for West Calder on the newly formed Lothian Regional Council. He was the Vice-Convener of this enormous authority from 1975 until 1978 and during that time took much of the very heavy load which is the lot of key and financially ill-rewarded councillors.

Besides being Vice-Convener he also chaired the Police Board until he retired from politics in 1990. The good relations which survived the traumatic experiences of the miners' strike between Lothians and Borders police and the community in Lothian region owe a great deal to Rankine's understanding of and co- operation with senior police officers.

Willy Rankine was happily married to Amy Ogilvie, who died in 1985, and is survived by his daughter Alison and his son John. He died in hospital after a short illness which he had borne with characteristic courage.