Mike Blackshaw

Born: April 7, 1949, Grantham, Lincolnshire

Died: November 8, 2022, Marie Curie Hospice, Edinburgh

WHAT can you say about Mike Blackshaw – founder of the Edinburgh Yes Hub who died earlier this week, after a long struggle with a debilitating illness?

He was a man with a personal, never-ending mission to activate others for independence and he simply would not accept being stood down.

Not by diabetes or the health problems that dogged his later years, leaving Mike wheelchair-bound and forever dodging in and out of hospital, pulling together marches, rallies and Queen’s Hall concerts via his trusty mobile phone. Not by a party whose lack of street activism he bemoaned but whose massive membership surge in 2014 he selflessly processed over eight long weeks.

And definitely not by the slow campaigning pace of everyone else around him.

The National:

Commandeering colleagues to keep independence on the road was Mike’s normal way of working. Even if we were last to know.

Friend, and vice chair of Scottish CND Janet Fenton recollects: “I went to collect leaflets from the printer only to discover I was speaking at the event being promoted. I went to an auction he organised to discover I was the auctioneer. I attended a folk night where people asked me for raffle tickets because Mike said I’d be running it. Then there was the quiz, where I was asking the questions, the festival show in which I featured…”

That wasn’t just brass neck. It was organisational genius.

Like any good sportsperson – once a good rugby player and an even better cricketer – Mike knew the importance of creating space on the pitch. Except Mike created entirely new pitches. Indeed, he organised a Yes march through Edinburgh for this Saturday, with a route agreed by council and police, before anyone else had heard of it – cancelled a few weeks back when the rally at Holyrood on Supreme Court decision day emerged as a more impactful demonstration.

But even that is modelled on another bit of Blackshaw activism – the Brexit rally outside Holyrood on January 31, 2020, when 4000 Yessers showed 19 broadcasters (including the BBC) that Scotland might’ve been dragged out of Europe, but wasn’t going quietly.

Actually, though, that whole event could have been very quiet thanks to a malfunctioning generator which failed to power the sound system. But as locals scurried home to find replacements, enterprising broadcasters used the empty stage to film face-painted faces, home-made placards, banners, singing and pipers – memorable, vivid footage from the front not the backs of peoples’ heads. It was almost as if Mike had planned it.

Then – when the new generator finally arrived, and speeches began – a Holyrood official emerged to say the new cables hadn’t been authorised and presented a trip hazard. At which point, Mike lifted the fold-down chair he’d been sitting on, plonked it over the cables and loudly proclaimed: “Well, no one’s going to trip over it now, pal.”

So, the show went on.

Perfectly organised – no.

Stress-free – absolutely not. But successful in communicating Scotland’s pro-European stance – 100%.

And all achieved with volunteers and those other self-starters, the Scottish Independence Foundation – not the pro-indy political parties whose elected members nonetheless queued up to speak.


It taught us both that Yessers cannot abdicate or delegate our own responsibility for action – indeed, Mike was determined to be at the forthcoming Supreme Court rally, sitting in his wheelchair with an oxygen tank. He’ll still be there in spirit, embodied by every person who rouses themselves to attend.

Where did Mike get that relentless focus? And how did a man from Grantham – the birthplace of Margaret Thatcher – develop such a burning conviction about the need for Scottish independence?

His answer when I once asked: “It was just obvious, pal.”

The Blackshaws moved up from Lincolnshire in 1964 to be closer to their mum’s family in the Lothians. Mike was only 15, but a good batsman and wicketkeeper, he was already in the school’s first XI, playing cricket against 18-year-olds. He played for a number of teams in Edinburgh over the years and became an umpire and umpire assessor as his health declined. He also played rugby during the winter and lawn bowling, with his dad and brother David in the same team.

Faced with a new education system when his family moved north, Mike decided to go straight into a job rather than start all over again.

He became an apprentice stationer with George Stewart on George Street then managed a hotel, opened a stationer’s shop and employment agency, became a mortgage consultant and finally a newsagent.

Mike was the original “lad o pairts” with an incredible love of Scots and French poetry and song – his wife Chantal and daughter Sandrine still live in France – and he had a wealth of knowledge about the most obscure subjects leading to long, fascinating conversations.

The National:

Mike’s diabetes caught up with him about the same time his father needed personal care. So, he retired in his 60s to become a carer, leaving him with next to no income but a lot more time for the cause of independence.

According to Janet Fenton: “Mike was hugely generous, especially given his hand-to-mouth existence, and sank his personal income into the Hub, paid for young people to travel to conferences, events and actions and financed weekend breaks for burnt-out activists."

Mike was also a lifelong CND activist – faithfully attending all meetings of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons and the Nuclear Disarmament cross-party group at Holyrood. He helped found Secure Scotland and blockaded an arms fair in London locked to a wheelchair pushed by fellow veteran peace campaigner, Brian Quail.

He celebrated his 20th birthday by campaigning for Winnie Ewing in her Hamilton by-election victory and Fiona Hyslop recalls being his election agent in the 80s when he stood for the SNP on Edinburgh Council. “It was brilliant to have an Englishman arguing for independence back then.”

Later, according to SNP chief executive Peter Murrell: “All of us at SNP HQ got close to Mike in 2014 when the post-referendum membership surge overwhelmed our small member care team and Mike came to the rescue. Without him, the task of processing 90,000-odd membership applications would have taken months. Day after day for eight-weeks solid, he’d turn up at the office with a team of volunteers he’d magicked up overnight.

“It was typical of him – there was a job needing doing and he would get it done. He led from the front, motivating other volunteers to keep going.”

But Mike didn’t stop there.

The National:

A few months after the referendum he opened the Yes Cafe in leased premises at Liberton Dams in Edinburgh. It was sometimes quiet – sometimes thronged with people. In 2017, the Hub moved premises to Lasswade Road because, according to Hub volunteer Paul Cooper, “it was closer to where he lived but also a No area and as Mike always said, ‘there is no point preaching to the converted’.”

The Hub stayed open with speaker meetings galore, despite constant financial pressure and Covid lockdowns – in large part because of Mike’s enthusiasm, inventiveness and plain stubbornness.

He ran coaches to AUOB marches (walking one with pride but great difficulty) and organised two Queen’s Hall events from his hospital bed. When I saw him in the Marie Curie Hospice last Saturday, I said Mike’s independence baton had been handed on to a new generation.

“So run,” he said. Aye.

Peter Murrell described Mike Blackshaw “as a truly wonderful gentle giant of a man” and added: “I can’t imagine him not being with us next time around”.

Actually, he will be.