THIRTY years after he died in mysterious circumstances nationalist firebrand Willie MacRae continues to cause controversy.
In April 1985 the SNP politician and anti-nuclear campaigner was found dying in his car on a lonely highland road with a single gunshot wound to the head.
Officially the death was recorded as suicide but it was believed by many at the time, and even more now, that it was murder.
If MacRae’s death was a suicide, the circumstances are bizarre to say the least. His car was found some distance from the road in what initially looked like a road traffic accident. MacRae was unconscious, his hands folded in his lap and the gun he had been shot with was later found some 60ft from the car. Documents and other items were missing from the vehicle.
Theories abound. If MacRae shot himself – why pack a bag for a weekend at his holiday cottage? Those who saw him leave Glasgow on the weekend of his death describe his mood as upbeat – happy. Friends and colleagues find it difficult to believe that MacRae died by his own hand.
Playwright and actor Andy Paterson, whose acclaimed one man show has been playing to audiences across the country, is among an increasing number of people who remain unconvinced by the official story of McRae’s death.
3000 Trees: ‘The Death of Mr William MacRae’, tackles the death, in 1985, of one of the nationalist movement’s most colourful characters and reflects on the events leading up to his death. Was he under surveillance on the day he died? What happened to the dossier he was compiling on the Dounreay nuclear plant?
MacRae had successfully led a legal challenge to stop nuclear waste being buried in the Ayrshire hills.
A colourful and larger than life character, he had served in the Royal Indian Navy, was a gifted lawyer and stood for leadership of the SNP in 1979.
Dark rumours surround MacRae – whispers about alcoholism, depression and his private life. Allegations of involvement in terrorism. Much of it is the stuff of whispers with no hard evidence to support it.
Paterson’s play takes audiences on a journey from MacRae’s service as an officer in the Royal Indian Navy, where he was marked out as ‘subversive’ for supporting Indian independence, through his anti-nuclear campaigning, his involvement with radical groups and on to his death. Throughout this journey, the complex and sometimes troubled MacRae tells his own story.
“I’ve been interested in the Willie MacRae case since I worked as a journalist in the 1990s,” said Paterson, who runs theatre company Teatro Magnetico.
“Nothing about the way Willie died adds-up to his death being a suicide. There are many theories around as to who may have killed Willie – he was investigating the nuclear industry and NATO in Scotland, as well as the illegal drugs trade.
“More recently it has come to light that Willie had compiled a dossier on senior paedophiles in the legal establishment and at Westminster. So far no copy of this has been found, but it was known to exist at the time of his death.”
Over the years there have been repeated calls for a formal inquiry into his death. Winnie Ewing conducted an investigation on behalf of the SNP, but found herself refused access to all the documents relating to the case. She concluded that she could not say with any certainty that the prominent activist killed himself.