Wullie McGartland: farewell to a Voice legend, friend and comrade
by Simon Whittle
· Wullie McGartland, one of Scottish socialism’s brightest shining stars and former Voice deputy editor, has died at the cruelly young age of 52 in Malaga, Spain, where he lived with his soulmate and wife, former Voice editor Jo Harvie. Legions of adoring friends, comrades and family will also miss him dearly.
Revealing on social media that he was suffering from throat cancer that had become terminal, last month Wullie explained why he’d been sharing so many memories:
“There is enough ugliness floating around the planet, so instead I’ve chosen to look at things that make me smile. I’ve loved people’s response, even posting their own. I hope this continues. Deep down people are beautiful in every way.”
Wullie McGartland was beautiful in every way, and the outpouring of love on social media has just flowed.
When I started at the Voice in late 1999, I first met Jo, and was soon dragged to the pub along with Wullie. Carolina Perez and I soon moved to Govan.
Carolina: “Govan has long produced its fair share of legends—Mary Barbour, Jimmy Reid, Alex Ferguson—and Wullie McGartland. Me and Simon very quickly became firm friends with Wullie and Jo who welcomed us and helped us get used to our new surroundings.
“We shared lots together—election campaigns, football losses and victories (Wullie was almost unbearable when Celtic beat Liverpool in the Europa League in 2002), we went to gigs, demos, the seaside and inevitably, the pub together. Wullie and me would chat online and critique cookery programmes while Jo and Simon worked till the early hours on the Voice.”
‘Jaw-dropping thing of beauty’
Life-long friend Tony Lenaghan spoke of Wullie’s school days: “In a sea of ‘Frankie Says’ and Duran Duran t-shirts, Wullie swam against the popular tide. He appeared after a summer holiday break transformed; ear pierced, hair dyed and long black jacket, resplendent with Bunnymen and Smiths badges.
“He led an open revolution against a lazy bastard art teacher who was pretty much a metaphor for St Gerard’s for us both, standing up and calling him out to his face. It was a jaw-dropping thing of beauty. The boy he was was the man he became.
“In 1988, after I had a seizure and had to quit my job, Wullie came to my door and literally dragged me to Cardonald College to enrol me. He changed my life with that simple act. He recognised that I was at a loss and he cared enough to do something about it.”
Socialist and nurse Charlie McCarthy remembers: “Wullie was the main organiser of the student union at Cardonald College in 1988-89, where I was attending to get the qualifications to apply for nursing.
“My anger at the injustice in society needed direction, which Wullie was key in providing, recruiting me to the Anti-Poll Tax Federation and then Militant. Wullie was one of a very few who would automatically make me reconsider my opinion if he disagreed with me.”
Waging class war from below
In the SSP, when Wullie wasn’t a local candidate or campaigning for asylum seekers or generally waging class war from below, with direct and passionate speeches straight from the heart at conferences, meetings and election counts, he would lead legalise cannabis and anti-war marches, often followed by a banner he’d knocked up the night before, still drying on the march.
Two banners in particular stick in my mind—a Che Guevara ‘hasta la victoria’ one, and ‘Make Pieces, Not War’, which featured a giant sandwich—both banners were stolen on their debut outings. He was proud they were good enough to steal.
Having finally popped Jo the question, another famous banner was the one Wullie made for his stag do in Italy in 2004.
Martin Milne explains: “The fact that his stag do included a demo against the Board of Torino FC tells you all you need to know about Wullie. He was a militant and an internationalist. He was also one of the most committed anti-racist and anti-fascists I have ever met. He hated nazis with a passion.”
A stand out moment of any stag do, and in any lifetime, is unfurling a Celtic banner at another club’s demo, and 20 of you sounding like 20,000 as you belt out “Hail! Hail!” in solidarity with their struggle. We were applauded, cheered and hugged, and interviewed for local radio and TV—Torino fans still talk about it to this day.
The man, the legend
Wullie can’t help but touch lives and leave legacies (and passports) behind. There are legends around his and Jo’s wedding; relationships, bonds, and even bands were formed in the aftermath of their happy day. Love, music and socialism. And Celtic, obviously.
Speaking of Celtic, it’s not all non-stop smiles—Wullie could be a bit grumpy, but that just made people love him more.
Lynsey Rose MacGregor recalls an “incredible” SSP conference social at Caley student union where, “someone was sectioned, someone broke in and slept on the roof, and the speaker system was a bit tinny and shit, and Wullie McGartland was DJing and became convinced people had deliberately turned the volume down to talk politics.
“So there was a DJ strike and Wullie stood outside the door smoking and telling people turning up for the social that they ‘couldn’t go in or they were crossing a picket line’.”
Ex-Scottish Socialist Youth organiser Keef Tomkinson quips, “Wullie may have believed in a revolutionary party but he also knew that revolutionaries needed to party.”
Keef added: “When SSY launched their legalise cannabis campaign, we needed an experienced midfield general to point the way, and Wullie was that comrade.
“Desperate to no longer be tagged the ‘voice of young people’, a megaphone-wielding Wullie would electrify Glasgow’s Argyle Street and attract crowds of the young team to our cause.
“And with that, and our successful challenge to the antiquated drugs debate, Wullie was no longer the ‘youth’ but instead a reluctant cool uncle, who admonished our mistakes and shared his experience.”
Reader, we hired him
A semi-permanent fixture at the Voice by now, we took Wullie on officially in 2005, along with Voice stalwart and current editor Ken Ferguson. Wullie would stay at the Voice until he and Jo moved to Spain in 2012.
I’m forever grateful Wullie basically handed me my old job back, after I took redundancy in the wake of the 2007 wipeout along with Roz Paterson (who we also lost to cancer, two years ago) and Jo Harvie.
And I’ll always regret not making it over to Malaga to see Jo, Wullie and our other Govan pals all together. But so many memories of the whole gang at SSP socials, demos, stalls, pubs, work, campaigns and counts to remember, even now occasionally still at weddings and parties. And funerals. You think it’s gonna last forever…
For me, Wullie will always be working-class Govan’s greatest export, an absolute credit to socialism here in Scotland and internationally, one of the coolest human beings, friends and comrades I’ve had the pleasure of knowing—Jo’s other half.
So it was beyond touching to read Wullie’s words online, “It looks like this life will not be as long as I hoped. But I have managed to fill it with love. None more so than my love of Jo Harvie. I will never be able express how much she means to me.”
As much love as that directed at Wullie has equally been shown for his beloved Jo, who said she was overwhelmed:
“So many messages, so much love and support, and I can’t thank you enough. Pause a moment and wish Wullie well as we send him off into the universe, if you can, we know you’re all with us in spirit.”
· Wullie McGartland, 31 August 1968 – 4 May 2021
Music, moonlight and Wullie
by Keef Tomkinson
· Since Wullie left us, a constant theme of the memories shared by friends and families has been the music that bound us to him. His taste was eclectic without being pretentious. Music with a message was great as long as he could still be the queen of the ball or king of the dancefloor. Just look at these five tracks dedicated to him by those who loved him:
Gloria Jones – Tainted Love
Take That (feat Lulu) – Relight My Fire
The Roots – You Got Me
Bad Manners – Lip Up Fatty
808 State – Pacific State
An incredibly beautiful tribute x