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From 1962 until 2005 Tam Dalyell represented firstly West Lothian, then Linlithgow, as Member of Parliament.  In 2001 he succeeded Edward Heath as Father of the House, the longest serving MP in parliament.  His autobiography, ‘The Importance of Being Awkward’, dedicated to “the men and women of West Lothian – Labour, SNP, Conservative, Liberal, Communist – who, whatever their political opinions, were kind to me in all sorts of ways over 43 years as their representative in the House of Commons”, was published last year.  He spoke about it at the Linlithgow Book Festival in November at a session chaired by Alex Wood who has now interviewed him for The Black Bitch.
As an elected politician, how important were local issues to you
Crucial.  As the publishers of the Gazette rightly point out to us in the fascinating volume on The History of the Johston Press, “All politics is local”.  Had I not paid assiduous attention to local issues, West Lothian Constituency Labour Party would not have been so happy with an MP who deviated from Party Policy on the Common Market entry and devolution – and would probably not have adopted me as their candidate.  Understandably.
And what were the big ones?
The closure of the Linlithgow Paper Mills, finding jobs for ex-shale miners, the future of Bangour Village Hospital and the unfair demotion of Sergeant Jamieson of the Bo’ness Police Force,
On several occasions you were highly critical of UK foreign policies.  What role should Britain play in the world?
British governments are far too ready to resort to military action.  War seldom solves anything.
I opposed military action in Aden, in the 1960s.  Yemen is now a ‘rogue state’.
I opposed an armed response to Argentina’s action in the Falklands.  30 years later we have another crisis.
I vehemently opposed Blair and Bush on Iraq.  Catastrophe.
I warned about a fourth Afghan War.  The first three ended in defeat.
Our role should be as a prominent TEAM member of the European Union, and action in many other fields, such as the Department For International Development.
What does Labour need to do win another UK election?
I am not a back seat driver!
You’ve always supported the Union.  Can it be saved and how?
By terminating the Holyrood Parliament and returning to the Regions, Strathclyde, Grampian, Central and Lothian, the best and most economical form of Government that West Lothian people have had in modern times, bringing democracy and accountability closer to the people.
Which issues need most debate and discussion in the run-up to the referendum? 
The nuts and bolts of the disentanglement of the United Kingdom – on tax, on currency, on pensions, on defence, on acceptability in the European Union, and on many other areas.  What exactly are the practical disadvantages of being part of the UK?  Frankly, I’m impatient with endless discussion of constitutional issues, when we face desperate problems of young people unable to find work.
Reviews of Tam Dalyell’s autobiography can be found at and at

The above article first appeared in the March 2012 edition of Black Bitch, the Linlithgow Community Magazine

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