Obituary: Stephen Maxwell, polotical activist, 69

Stephen Maxwell 'inspired with wit, intelligence and integrity'
Stephen Maxwell 'inspired with wit, intelligence and integrity'
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Stephen Maxwell, a respected political and voluntary activist, has died, aged 69.

Born in Edinburgh in 1942, Mr Maxwell was educated at the independent Pocklington School in York before going up to Cambridge as an Open Exhibitioner at St John’s College. Graduating in 1963 with a degree in Moral Sciences, Maxwell then completed an MSc (with distinction) at the London School of Economics (LSE).

Initially a trainee journalist in Sheffield, he soon moved into academia, occupying a range of research and teaching positions at the University of Edinburgh.

In 1973, he switched career again, becoming the SNP’s press officer just as Nationalism entered a successful period.

A talented wordsmith, in 1976 Maxwell contributed to The Radical Approach: Papers on an Independent Scotland, a Nationalist response to Gordon Brown’s The Red Paper on Scotland that set out left-wing SNP thinking. The previous year, he had won election to the old Lothian Regional Council at a by-election in Wester Hailes, where he focused on urban regeneration and social deprivation.

He held the seat until elections in 1978, by which point Nationalist support had peaked.

Between 1978 and 1982 he was an SNP vice-chairman. The devolution referendum – for which he was the party’s campaign director – and general election of 1979 were defining moments for many Nationalists and Mr Maxwell wasted little time in declaring that “future opportunity... as well as past success points [the] SNP towards a left-of-centre position”.

When Mr Maxwell stood for national convener in 1979, he was easily defeated by Gordon Wilson. But he remained a respected voice on the SNP’s National Executive Committee.

He later pursued his political beliefs via Scotland’s voluntary sector. From 1980 to 1985, he had been national organiser of Scottish Education and Action for Development (SEAD), but in early 1985 he joined the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) as a social policy officer, and he was to remain with the organisation for 24 years.

He subsequently became, successively, head of policy and programmes at the SCVO, assistant director (development) and, latterly, associate director.

Paying tribute, First Minister Alex Salmond said he would “remember Stephen’s courtesy to all, his extraordinary intellect combined with gentle persuasiveness”, while Nationalist Sean McPartlin said he “inspired in the best way – not with demagoguery or flash and spin, but with wit, knowledge, intelligence and integrity”.

Stephen Maxwell died on 25 April after a long illness. He is survived by his wife, Sally, and three children, Luke, Katie and Jamie.