A tribute to George McArthur by Anne Picking MP

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George McArthur was someone I considered to be a very close friend and to be asked to make this tribute leave me feeling both very humble and proud.

George was a man who lived for his family and his community but he also lived for and loved the Labour Movement. He believed that the Trade Union Movement and the Party were inextricably linked. His serious contribution and commitment was often overlooked, hidden behind his big personality and sense of humour.

I first came into contact with Geordie when the merger of NUPE, COHSE and NALGO was being muted. In those early days, Rodney Bickerstaff heavily relied on Geordie's no nonsense approach to deliver what was crucial for NUPE's members in the pre merger negotiations. Rodney is very sorry he couldn't be here today but wanted to convey his heartfelt sorrow that his close comrade is no longer with us.  

George knew Rodney as a young buck and campaigned for him, to secure two General Secretary Elections both in NUPE and UNISON.   He will remember as vividly as I do Geordie's crucial role in securing the link between the new Union and the Party. Taking to the rostrum and destroying the militants. It can never be underestimated the force within the new Union the threat to financially hurt the Party. Now, not everyone recognised this and even those who did recognise it lacked the confidence to pit their wit against the articulate, well rehearsed mantra of the hard left. No so George. He refused to be daunted. He had bravery, tenacity and an unrelenting belief that he was right. This bolstered him and he helped deliver the foundation of the political link that we have today.

Geordie’s negotiating skills locally as well as nationally were widely recognised, a classic example was when he secured for himself a union office at Aldhammer House which was plusher and grander than the Chief Executive’s. Manys time I’ve heard comments from East Lothian union members, "That would never have happened if Geordie was here".   Or, "things have never been the same since wee McArthur retired".

Geordie was instrumental in helping and supporting me in becoming selected and then elected as East Lothian’s MP. I still have the card which he sent me before the selection which simply said "Yer a Nap!". That, then became his nickname for me. He told me he was proud of where I came from, proud of where I am.  

I’m just simply proud he was in my life.

I also remember Geordie was a constant fixture around the Trade Union and Labour Party conferences. I recall the story when Geordie persuaded John Home Robertson to leave his conference pass with him as he had to leave Blackpool early. He had some nerve!   Although he was some 18 inches shorter and a few stone heavier, George managed to convince conference security that he was in fact John Home Robertson and proceeded to take up his seat in the area reserved for MPs. But the bold Geordie not content with that proceeded to sit down in the row set out for the Shadow Cabinet.   Lesley Quinn the Scottish General Secretary spied him - went apoplectic and threw him out of the Conference Hall, no easy feat I may add.  

It latterly became an annual ritual for Lesley to have her conference pass checked by Geordie.

His sense of fun and sheer audacity belied many of his hidden talents. One conference he was sitting with the East Lothian team having a pint, if you can believe that! When he kept casually watching the Conference screen. Became intent on listening. Announced to the team that the speaker was talking utter tripe. Made his way into the hall. Marched straight up to the rostrum. Uncannily got called. And proceeded to say his piece.

Of course, all this, much to the amazement of his pals who said that sound like Geordie.   Looked up, and nearly spilled their drinks, if you can believe that! Needless to say the motion was lost.

In his retirement he became very proficient and inventive on the computer and many prominent people have been victims to his mischievous humour in being featured on the back of the Club's Christmas programme. If it could be scanned it was scanned – nothing was sacrosanct.

George was a man of many talents and excellent recall, he had the ability to infuriate and enthuse you but throughout all his life he remained steadfast in his socialist beliefs.

We will all miss him.

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