7th April 1985

Campaigner Willie McRae dies after being shot in the Highlands

Willie McRae was born in Falkirk in 1923 and was a passionate supporter of Scottish independence. He studied law at the University of Glasgow and represented the Scottish National Party in two general elections, both times contesting seats in the Westminster Parliament.

He was found in his car in the countryside of Inverness-shire on the morning of 6 April 1985, alive but barely conscious, having left Glasgow the previous evening for a cottage he owned in Kintall. A passing doctor was alerted and emergency services were called. An ambulance arrived to take him to hospital in Inverness, and from there to Aberdeen, where a bullet wound was found in his head.

Willie McRae dies

The bullet had caused considerable brain damage, and McRae was placed on life support. However, his condition was deemed irrecoverable, and life support was removed on 7 April.

A subsequent police investigation found the gun that was used to shoot him, in a burn over which his car had come to a halt. His death was ruled suicide, although reports suggest that no fingerprints were found on the gun, which itself was found several metres from the car.

Unexplained events

The Scotsman reported in 2005 that “Fergus Ewing, the MSP for Inverness West, Nairn and Lochaber, has called for [a] meeting with the Lord Advocate in the wake of new claims that McRae – who died in the Highlands 20 years ago last week – was being tailed by the security services.”

McRae had been vocal in his anti-nuclear views, and had successfully prevented the dumping of nuclear waste in the Galloway Hills. At the time of his death he was again campaigning against the dumping of nuclear waste, this time from the nuclear establishment at Dounreay, into the sea. It was reported that documents relating to this were stolen from his office and that the only other copies, which he is said to have carried on him, were unaccounted for after his death.

The SNP launched its own investigation into McRae’s death, and tasked Winnie Ewing with determining whether the official verdict of suicide was justified. However, as the Daily Record reported on 19 October 2007, “she was bluntly denied access to the Crown Office papers in spite of giving the customary legal guarantee of confidentiality”. This left her unable to reach a definitive conclusion.



Other events that occured in April

FREE Scotland history newsletter

Don't miss our weekly update on Scotland's fascinating history. We promise never to sell your data to anyone else, and there's a super-easy unsubscribe link on the bottom of each email so you can leave whenever you want.