Obituary: Norman Bonney, 71

Norman Bonney. Picture: Paul Parke
Norman Bonney. Picture: Paul Parke
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TRIBUTES have been paid to an academic described as the “father of the Scottish secular movement”.

Norman Bonney, founder of the Edinburgh Secular Society (ESS), died peacefully at the Western General on February 13 at the age of 71 after a long fight with cancer.

Dr Bonney, who was born in Great Yarmouth, was a Member of the Council of Management of the National Secular Society which campaigns for “secular democracy” with a separation of religion and state.

An Emeritus professor of Edinburgh Napier University, he had been a Visiting Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Management.

A spokesman for the ESS said it was sad to report the death of its founding member and Honorary President. He added: “A respected public intellectual, constitutional expert and published author, Professor Norman Bonney was passionate in his opposition to religious privilege, yet always counselled fellow ESS members to campaign with grace and decency.

“He was the father of the Scottish secular movement and will be greatly missed by all colleagues and friends in the society to whom he was a source of wisdom, honesty and inspiration.”

Dr Bonney’s research interests included devolution, active citizenship and ideas of representative and participatory democracy, particularly in relation to the Scottish Parliament.

He also wrote scholarly articles on Scottish devolution, social class and whether some Britons were being “overworked”.

He wrote a book called Monarchy, Religion and the State in which he argues for “major national debates” about whether Christian rituals linked to the monarchy should be replaced by secular ones. A statement from the National Secular Society said: “We are sad to report the death of Prof Norman Bonney on February 13 after a long illness, which caused him to resign last year from the NSS Council after four years’ service.

It added: “He was the founder and leading voice of the Edinburgh Secular Society and did more than anyone to raise the profile of secularism in Scotland.

“This will be his enduring legacy, as will the fruits of his distinguished academic career; he was Emeritus professor at Edinburgh Napier University.”

Dr Bonney’s funeral was held last month at Mortonhall Crematorium, Main Chapel, where donations could be made to the international humanitarian-aid charity Médecins Sans Frontières.

He leaves behind his wife Maureen, three children – Anne, Adam and Angela – and grandchildren Nathan and Jamie.

A website established in Prof Bonney’s memory to raise money for Prostate Cancer UK said he was “much loved” and would always be remembered by his friends and family.

Donations in his memory can be made to Prostate Cancer UK at