MA faither wis auld Labour… naw, ma faither wis auld, auld Labour.

I dinnae ken if he ever saw the oreiginal Pledge Caird o the Scottish Labour Pairty wi its image o Keir Hardie an Cunninghame Graham thegither on it, but he wad hae identified wi it wi his hert an soul.

Amang the Ayrshire miners, Hardie wis heized up as the return o the Messiah an vieve descriptions o him addressin thoosans at open air gaitherins tuik on an awmaist biblical tone, mebbe wi ane or twa ­eldritch echoes o the conventicles o the Covenanters fae back in the Killin Times.

In fellae Ayrshire makar Willie McIlvanney’s fine novel Docherty that’s set in the early decades o the twintieth century, there’s even a pouerfu scene ­describin the effect o Keir Hardie on a muckle thrang o miners luikin tae estaiblish their richts. If ­onythin, ma mither’s faimily belanged even faurer left, as ­Bowhill in West Fife wis ane o the sae cried Little Moscows whaur a strang communist tradeition ­survived for nearhaun a century.

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For instance, her brither, ma uncle Tommy stood as a Communist cooncillor in local elections there in the 1950s and wis denoonced by the priest in the local Catholic chapel. He wis ane o Willie Gallagher’s richt haun men an did eneuch for him tae mak shuir he steyed on as the last Communist MP in Britain until his defeat in the General Election o 1950.

As faur as ma faither bein completely at ane wi the rise o the Labour Pairty is concerned, it wis the maist natural thing in the warld at that time, as it wis a movement that gied warkin fowk a free NHS insteid o the wanchancie system afore that, whaur a miner tholin a bad accident cuid be left on the scrapheap wi nae remeid and nae compensation.

I wance interviewed an auld bodie in Lochgelly whase faither’s back wis broken doon the pit and he wis wheeled hame in a barra. Bidin as weel in the thrang confines o the auld-farrant miners raws that werenae that different fae the auld kintrae ­cotter’s hooses cried But an Bens, the Labour ­Pairty wis ­eident tae bigg braw new cooncil hooses for the ­masses wi baths an inside toilets, rooms for the weans an aften a wee gairden for thaim tae play in.

I wis born in ane o thae hooses up the scheme in Gawston at 33 Loudoun Avenue on September 24, 1951. Ma big sisters can mind o the steir aboot the hoose that nicht an the noise o the weemen bletherin oot on the stair landin as they waited on Annie Kay deleiverin her baby boay!

Memories o that hoose are guid anes, because o the love that permeated ­awthin that happened therein for me, Mary and Janette. There’s ae totie wee black an white photie o ma mum wi her weans ­sitting on a blanket on the front green o the hoose luikin douce an content. ­

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Anither image I hae in ma heid fae that time is o hearin whit maun hae been the BBC Home Service on the wireless, braidcastin a music request programme for weans on a Setterday mornin. The sangs I mind o were How Much Is That Doggie In The Window an The Big Rock Candy Mountains as weel as a piece o music cried Sailing By that I liked. I still associate that music wi ma bairnheid in the kitchen in Loudoun Avenue, an it’s probably the anely thing I can mind o that gied me ony kinna feelin o belangin tae Britan, then an noo.

I tell ye aw, this by wey o preparation for an incident that happened in ­Gawston, monie year later during the campaignin period for the UK General Election in 1992. By that time ma dear mither had passed awa wi a hert attack back in 1984, but ma faither wis still tae the fore and bidin in the twa bedroom cooncil flat he an ma mither had moved tae when I wis at uni in the early Seiventies.

The flat wis on the third flair o a biggin in New Road at the fuit o the Manse Brae. It had a veranda that luikit on tae Manse Brae – a guid place for people watchin, an seein aw the wifies comin doon fae the scheme wi tuim message bags, or stacherin back up the hull wi thrang anes efter veisitin the cooperative stores doon bye.

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Onywey, I cannae mind if it wis via a letter or a phone caw, but a few weeks afore the election I wis contacted by the SNP candidate Alex Neil wha spiered gin I wad be prepared tae traivel doon tae Gawston an campaign wi him.

The reason he gied for the need o some help wis gey interestin tae me as a ­bodie that kennt his local history through ma faither. Alex telt me that the SNP’s ­canvassin returns telt thaim that fowk were leain the Labour Pairty in droves in airts like Killie, Newmulls an Derval … but that Gawston, sae faur, wisnae for turnin – it wis still a Labour stranghold.

Alex thocht that mebbe the sicht o a local boay giein praise tae the SNP – a local lad wha wis never aff the telly at that time – micht jist mak a difference wi some Gawston punters an swing the election his wey.

I explained tae him the gey ­different Weltanschauung – wey o luikin at the warld – atween the wabsters up the ­Valley an the colliers o Gawston … an hou it wisnae a muckle gunk tae me nor a stound tae ma sensibeilities tae hear that the hauf Communist/hauf Keir ­Hardie ­socialist, hailly collective ­community sense o Gawston wis still Auld Labour and resistent tae the braw new dawin ­offered by a ­comparatively recent new ­nationalist pairty, even ane as forrit thinkin an inclusive as the modren SNP.

I kent this weel forbye, because at the hert o Auld Labour in Gawston wis ma faither Auld Sannie Kay (the ay in Kay pronoonced like the i in words like thrice or wice). Ma dad wis a member o the local Labour Club, whaur he took his dram an socialised efter the tragic loss o his beluvit wife an pairtner.

The National: Billy’s father, Alex Kay, sitting beside the window and balcony which overlooked Manse BraeBilly’s father, Alex Kay, sitting beside the window and balcony which overlooked Manse Brae

He had wrocht as a chairgehaund in Massey Ferguson in Kilmaurnock for monie year aside monie Gawston fowk, then when the yetts o Masseys wis steekit in the face o the workers in 1980, he’d been a postman up the Valley in ­Newmulls.

He wis a Killie supporter, had been a Maister Mason in Ludge St Peter in the Baur Castle lang syne … and he ­belanged tae a muckle kenspeckle faimily wi ­brithers galore that were aw recognizable as Kays wi their daurk hair and broun een.

Whit I’m sayin is that ma faither wis pairt o a strang warkin-cless ­Gawston identity, he lued his wee toun wi a ­passion, an wis never happier than when he wis stravaigin its streets or daunerin the kintrae roads that let him glisk doon on Gawston liein douce an sonsie in its ain wee pooch in the hills at the heid o the Irvine Valley.

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Ma faither wis at an age whaur he didnae want chynge, ony chynge. He wis weel contentit wi his life, wi help at haund fae his dochters if he needit ony help … which he rarely did, as he wis also thrawnly independent. He lued ma wark on ­Scottish culture on radio an ­televeision richt eneuch, an greed wi aw his bein on whit I had duin tae promote the guid Scots tongue … but that last poleitical step bein taen by thoosans o fowk fae his parteiclar backgrund at this time wis still a step too faur for him ae noo.

I forewarned him ower the phone o whit I wis gaun tae dae, an ye cuid tell by his sweirt reluctance tae react tae whit he wis bein tellt that he jist wantit tae thole it in silence an hope that it aw gaed awa as suin as possible, sae that he cuid gae back tae his Gawston routine.

AND sae the big day cam. I veisited faither in his flat, had a guid blether an baith o us agreed tae differ on the wey forrit for Scotland at the praisent time. I telt him I wis meetin Alex Neil, I wad gae roon the toon wi him on whit he’d telt me wis a Snappy Bus, syne I’d gae back up the road tae ma faimily in Fife.

I decidit even afore the efternuin’s ­politickin began that I wad gie ma faither a body swerve for a guid few days afore phonin him, tae gie him time tae get ower the muckle huff o his boay campaignin for a bourgeois nationalist pairty like the SNP in his Auld Labour toun o Gawston. I’m gey shuir the feelin wis mutual, an he cuid nurse his douce wrath by himsel tae keep it warm for a few days, then we cuid gae back tae normal.

It didnae quite work oot that wey! The best-laid plans o mice an men gang aft agley!

The bricht yellae an black bedecked Snappy Bus criss-crossed Gawston takin the nationalist message intae ilka neuk an totie cranny o the auld biggins an the new schemes, fae the rocher run-doon hooses in the coonty scheme tae the mair middle-claiss new biggins in private developments up by the Ceimetery.

Alex Neil an I each took chances wi the megaphone an in the great tradeition o Ayrshire pit heid ranters telt the fowk no tae be blate aboot ditchin the sleekit Labour Pairty for their days were past, an in the past they maun remain!

It wis aw gaun great, and then quite tae ma ain astonished dumbfoonerment … did the Snappy Bus no come tae a stop at the fuit o the Manse Brae, richt ablow ma faither’s leivin room windae itsel!

I kent immediately that he wad think it wis deleiberate provocation on ma pairt, an kent as weel he wis owerthrawn tae accept ony ither explanation, nae maitter hou untrue it wis.

Sae, I jist had tae gae for it. I kent I ­wadnae convert Auld Sanny, but there micht be ithers in the flats mair open tae the message, sae I gied it laldy wi the thrapple gaun fu throttle wi the SNP propoganda.

Meanwhile, up on the third flair, Auld Sanny appeared at the windae makin coorse gestures wi his fingers, fists an airms that aw expressed graphically his extreme displeisure at his boay gaun ower tae the daurk side an disruptin his studies o the cuddies for his veisit tae the bookies later in the efternuin. He wis giein me the fingers, the clenched fist an the haund at his elbuck … GIRUY – Get It Richt Up Ye Son wis the gist o the ­sentiment bein ­expressed!

If ever a meinute in time depicted late 20th-century Scottish society this wis it – a luvin faither an son that gree’d on jist aboot ilka aspeck o life’s priorities, disagreein vociferously and vehemently on this gey important aspect. Luikin back efter, we cuid baith see the humour o it … but no on the day itsel, or on ony day for a guid twa-three weeks efterwards.

Aff coorse, history sinsyne has proved that the boay wis richt an Auld Sanny wis wrang!

(Historic note: Alex Neil wisnae electit that year sae we werenae “free by ‘93” as ane o the mair wildly optimistic slogans gaed at the time! The seat steyed auld Labour, until finally the SNP won it fae thaim in 2015. Ma faither wis lang gone gin then.)

Taken from Billy Kay’s new book Born in Kyle: A Love Letter tae an Ayrshire Childhood. Much of the memoir is set in the 1950s and 60s but this chapter takes place in the early 1990s when Billy was asked to campaign for the SNP in his home town of Galston.

Born in Kyle is available in paperback and hardback editions via the author. You can contact him via his website: It is also available on Audible and Kindle.