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Ian MacFarlane: Inverness union rep snubbed by Thatcher dies aged 85

Ian MacFarlane from Inverness. Picture supplied by his family
Ian MacFarlane from Inverness. Picture supplied by his family

His daughter referred to him as the most sought after Santa in Inverness.

Others knew him as the man snubbed by Margaret Thatcher.

But for thousands between Tayside and Shetland, he was the man who tirelessly fought for the rights of others as their trade union representative.

We look back on the life of Ian MacFarlane, who has died aged 85.

Opportunity in the Highlands

Despite making the Highlands his home, Ian was born on May 10,1936, in Wallsend, England.

The industrial port – part of the city of Newcastle – was also home to his future wife Pat McDonnell.

The pair were married in St Bede’s Church, Denton Burn, on June 7, 1958 and it wouldn’t be long before the MacFarlane family grew.

Known for hard work, Ian MacFarlane of Inverness.

With four sons, Neil, Andrew, Colin and Martin, and two daughters, Shona and Miriam, a job that worked around family commitments was needed.

Then a junior engineer in the Merchant Navy, he sought a land-based job.

Opportunity arose in the Highlands, and he moved his family from Tyneside to Caithness, beginning his career in the nuclear industry.

Dounreay and the Union

An engineer, he began work at Dounreay’s fast breeder reactor.

A switch to Rolls Royce at the adjacent HMS Vulcan naval reactor test site followed, this time as technical engineer.

But 14 years into his career he’d take on a groundbreaking role.

The North’s first full-time representative for the Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU) he was then based in Inverness.

The location of the Dounreay And HMS Vulcan site where Ian would have worked.

He had been a shop steward at both Dounreay and Vulcan and accepted the full-time AEU role in 1976.

Ian went on to represent the interests of workers from the Western Isles to Aberdeen and Dundee.

His responsibilities covered the oil fabrication yards at Nigg and Ardersier, then an employer of up to 10,000 people.

He also worked with the aluminium smelters of Invergordon, Kinlochleven and Fort William.

He helped so many

“Ian was a cheery character and very well liked”, said ex-Inverness Provost Jimmy Gray, who was shop stewards convenor at Ardersier.

“He worked alongside major union figures such as Jimmy Airlie and Gavin Strang and was involved in negotiating one of the industry’s most progressive agreements at McDermotts at Ardersier.

Ian MacFarlane as many will remember him.

“Until then, agreements reserved skilled work for a travelling workforce.

“But this deal allowed for the training up of several thousand local people to skilled status.

“This gave careers to so many people in communities throughout the North and greatly benefited their families, keeping the wages in the area.”

Snubbed by Margaret Thatcher

A favourite recollection of Ian’s was the time he sought a meeting with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Jobs in smelters were threatened so during her visit to Inverness he insisted he had a delegation from Kinlochleven and that the PM should fit him in.

Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister.

However, citing time constraints, her team denied his request.

Ian responded by telling the media he had been ‘snubbed’.

The PM’s response

On hearing this Mrs Thatcher said a meeting would take place.

But this left Ian and his (non-existent) delegation in a tight spot.

Eventually, however, the get-together didn’t go ahead.

A very relieved Ian was then able to return to his ‘snubbed’ scenario and a story he loved to tell over the years.

Family man

Retiring in 1996, Ian was a keen golfer and skier and enjoying time in the family caravan at Dornoch.

Ian MacFarlane.

He worked as a part-time security man, and lollipop man at Drakies Primary, Inverness.

And his cheery nature made him, in daughter Shona’s words: “the most sought after Santa in Inverness.”

He leaves behind Pat, his children, 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

His funeral will take place at Inverness Crematorium on September 16.

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