Allan Stewart – an appreciation

Allan Stewart – an appreciation

by Dr Eamonn Butler
article from Thursday 8, December, 2016

I KNEW Allan Stewart not only as the man who taught me basic economics (or Political Economy as it was then) at the University of St Andrews, but also as a Conservative activist (and parliamentary election candidate in Dundee) and loyal supporter of the student Conservative Association. 

Always a larger than life character, with his trademark sideburns, erratic driving (friends told me of being in a car he overturned while speeding round a sharp corner), his loyal friendship and humour cheered us during the early 1970s.

That was, of course, a time when the UK seemed in terminal decline – with many of my student colleagues (and me too) emigrating to more promising places. But Allan knew that a good dose of free market economics could soon revive the country, and of course Margaret Thatcher provided that medicine. 

It was natural that, in 1981, Thatcher made Allan Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. Colleagues and I visited him in Dover House, the Scottish Office HQ in London, a couple of months after his appointment. He complained about the poor quality of his civil servants, especially when it came to important matters. As he told us: 

“See that cabinet over there? I never really noticed it, but the other day I asked my civil service assistant what it was. ‘Oh, that’s the drinks cabinet, minister,’ he replied. ‘Drinks cabinet?’ I answered. ‘It’s taken you two months to tell me that?’"

But though Allan’s fondness for a drink helped make him a good host and excellent company most of the time, it was also a weakness, especially when combined with a growing depression. In 1997, not long after having stepped down from a second term at the Scottish Office, he suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalised in Paisley. 

He did not stand for election again, but continued to be a good friend, and a staunch supporter of free markets and the free society, and of the many friends he made as a student and lecturer at St Andrews and through his term as MP for East Renfrewshire (and Eastwood, as it became). These included members of the Hedghog Society, whose tie, spotted with hedghogs, he rotated with his St Andrews graduate one – and about which he was delighted to talk, having become involved in the campaign to save the beasts while an MP.

Larger than life, indeed, and someone whose love of banter and commitment to honest principles inspired respect and genuine admiration from his political supporters and opponents alike, Allan will be missed by all who knew him.


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