Since the shattering news of Kenneth Roy's
farewell to SR, we have received many messages of thanks and support during the past week. Thank you from the SR team to everyone who has got in touch. Although we can't publish them all, we have chosen a selection:
Part 1: Letters to Islay
Kenneth's farewell article came as a huge shock and made a moment of profound sadness. It was almost like losing a dear friend and an inspirational mentor. Because that is what he was to many, including those of us who had not seen him physically in ages. He was that kind of bloke.
I know he has not yet gone and he needs to know that his wisdom, irreverence, perceptiveness and humanity will be sorely missed. The very quality of his farewell was as elegant a goodbye as I have ever seen. It encapsulated a spirit and decency which is in the very best of the Scottish character.
The amount of good that Kenneth has done is outstanding. He has kept the tradition of true journalism alive, the kind of tradition that people like Alastair Hetherington represented, and indeed he is of that same standard, with a feeling for writing and for truth and character, and a deep humanity, and principles of steel. The Scottish Review is a voice of integrity that embodies that tradition.
The way in which he has helped so many people to shape their lives for the better is truly outstanding, through the way in which he encourages others to write and through the Young Programme.
With good people, the good that they do in their lives continues into the future, and they live on in all kinds of ways. George Mackay Brown once wrote:
I have a deep-rooted belief that what has once existed can never die: not even the frailest things, spindrift or clover-scent or glitter of star on a wet stone. All is gathered into the web of creation, that is apparently established and yet perhaps only a dream in the eternal mind; and yet, too, we work at the making of it with every word and thought and action of our lives.
And just some additional words for Kenneth, although I'm sure that you will have so many to take to him. One is that I totally agree with him about that wonderful closing section of 'The Dead' with the snow general over Ireland being the most sublime work of 20th-century fiction. I love the film that John Huston made of it – his last film and a labour of true love.
And I also do think – and this is the physicist in me speaking – that there are all kinds of levels of existence that we do not know about, and which are there for us to at some stage explore.
And most of all, I want to send him warmest thanks for providing opportunities and encouragement, and deepest admiration for all that he has done. That is truly a fine way indeed to live a life.
May he pass from us in the blissful recollection of the thoughts he has inspired among us.
Ian Hamilton QC
Ken is of an age with me, and would be irreplaceable, if he hadn't done more than any single individual to stir people up. I think of the greatest Scots poet – Robert Browning of a Dundee family – and his 'Grammarian's Funeral' – I suspect about his lifelong friend Thomas Carlyle:
Here's the top peak! the multitude below
Live, for they can, there.
This Man decided not to Live but Know –
Bury this man here?
Here – here's his place, where meteors shoot, clouds form,
Lightnings are loosened,
Stars come and go! Let joy break with the storm –
Peace let the dew send!
Lofty designs must close in like effects:
Leave him, still loftier than the world suspects,
Living and dying.
Kenneth has been a journalist of the utmost integrity, and has been fearless in pursuing investigations that the powers that be had preferred to leave undisturbed. His wit and scathing criticism have leavened dissection of serious subjects. Scottish journalism will be much poorer without him. His books on Scotland in the 20th century will stand as a fitting memorial.
We were shocked and saddened beyond words on reading Kenneth Roy's article in Scottish Review this week. We were halfway down an interminable drive from Lochearnhead to Cornwall, reading SR in the bleakest of motorway service stations – we found it hard to speak for the rest of the journey. I have only now been able to set up my laptop to respond.
To say he has been an example and inspiration barely begins to cover the loss that so many will feel. Not only has Kenneth built a wide following, but his journalism has been of the best. I occasionally give talks at Glasgow Caledonian University on journalism and Kenneth is the example I have constantly cited as a model of passion, commitment and the best of writing. He need not worry about a legacy – he is leaving an enormous one as a lasting example of Scotland's leading campaigning writer.
Much has been said about the death of journalism. But while newspapers are in the grimmest decline, there has never been, nor will there ever be, the death of words. It is words that inspire, words that enlighten us, words that forge our passions, words that lift us out of despair and drive us on. Kenneth's words did that. And Kenneth's words always will. The one spark of light in his beautifully written article – and how courageous and brave it must have taken to write – is that you are stepping up as editor.
As a devoted reader, friend and occasional contributor, working in Paris, the Scottish Review under Ken's editorship simply has delivered, week after week, the best journalism anywhere. Better even than the International New York Times. An achievement to be proud of, and quite a legacy.
I am sitting in a small pensioner's flat in Glasgow's southside, in a state of shock after reading about Kenneth's illness and prognosis. We are around the same age and I have followed him on and off screen for nearly all of my adult life. I have lost three brothers, including my twin in very recent years, so have come to terms with my own mortality, but today's news floored me.
I haven't always agreed with Kenneth, but have always been glad that he was around, one of the stalwarts, one of those who still believed in journalism and its great power, which he never misused.
Thanks Ken, and thank you all. I now go to shed tears.
I had the honour of having one of my paintings used as the artwork for Kenneth's book 'The Invisible Spirit.'
I have just read Kenneth's farewell and would like to say thank you to Kenneth and yourself for being a wonderful part of life in Scotland. Allan Massie is right – the Scottish Review is a miracle. It is a wonderful testament to superb journalism and creativity.
I have never met Kenneth Roy but his news distressed me as if he were a friend. His farewell column was typically lucid and compelling. I wish him a long and diverting last bus journey. His books and the Scottish Review will make a fine legacy.
My wife, Allison, and I have often raged at the world (at least the Scottish part) as a result of the revelations and issues highlighted in each latest issue of SR. Kenneth Roy became some kind of hero for us in a very short space of time. To say he will be missed would be an understatement, but when I too catch that bus, I would hope to have some small measure of the feeling of accomplishment which he must surely have.
I was very saddened to read of Kenneth Roy's illness as I always enjoyed the way he poured scorn on the pompous and those in fortunate positions in society. I also liked his irreverence towards them and his fearlessness in expressing his view that was out of step with mainstream thinking.
What dreadful news. So sad. I thought he would go on rattling cages for ever. I hope the Divine Being knows how to make good use of an investigative reporter of genius!
SR has been one of the great joys in my inbox and Kenneth a wonderfully sane, clear-eyed companion, guide and commentator in the heather-clad tartan wilderness and beyond.
Kenneth's contribution, not only to the journal but to Scottish public life, has been outstanding and will be greatly missed. He is a superb writer but, equally important, a man of courage and principle, prepared to ask challenging questions and stand up to various forms of authority.
I remember Kenneth years ago as a regular reporter on the BBC Scottish News – a tall, rangy figure with a sharp focus. Later, when I discovered the Scottish Review, I always looked forward to reading his articles – thought-provoking, hard hitting, taking no prisoners over serious issues – as in the case of the article about the two girls failed by the care system reissued today. I didn't always agree with him, but I respected his views and learned a lot from them that I didn't find anywhere else. I was later more than pleased to have some of my own pieces accepted for the magazine, which I sent out on spec. To have found some favour with such a formidable journalist has been no small thing.
It's a sad day for us all, I'm sure, to read Kenneth Roy's determinedly stoical valediction in the Scottish Review. Made the more so, for me, by the realisation that his is a face and voice (audible or read) which has been with me since I first began paying attention to 'Reporting Scotland' sometime in the early 1970s. The disappearance of Ken's calmly stated, but righteous, pleas for a Scotland sure in its treatment of all its citizens, will be felt by many of us.
I am writing to say that I am thinking of you all at this saddest of times without knowing what else to say. Kenneth's farewell to SR was very moving, laced with his own characteristic humour and impressive in its candour. Someone else's words help me and I hope that they can be of some help now: The measure of a person's life is not its duration, but its donation; how much will you be missed?
In those difficult days ahead, I am certain that you can be assured of the support of the entire SR family. I write as a longtime friend of SR, most appreciative of the committment Kenneth and yourself have shown towards its amazing and continuing success.
I have always admired the courage, research and conviction in Kenneth's writing. I've never seen it deteriorate into prejudice or bias; it has always been immensely readable, always posed questions, and always leaves me with important, usually fundamental things, to think about. I can understand that Kenneth's thoughts now are focused on the most elemental matters, but I hope that nothing will diminish in him a sense of profound and far-reaching accomplishment. He has done more than almost anyone else I know to make the world a better place, to right wrongs, to demonstrate consistently an adherence to fundamental principles of honesty and ethical conduct.
I cannot let the day pass without expressing my deep sadness. I have been a fan and friend of SR for many years now, and have admired Kenneth's journalism immensely. The very concept of SR is to be treasured, as were the causes he investigated and illuminated. I could echo every word of Nick Lyth's
tribute. I hope that Kenneth knows how much he has been valued. I can only wish you well as you continue to produce this excellent perspective on our uncertain world.
Even Kenneth is mortal, but what a mortal with, as Nick Lyth points out, a complete disregard for what others think about him, though obviously not about his strong views. Views which I usually agreed with, but occasionally totally disagreed with, and once told him so. His lack of any party political bias, although being blessed with a strong social conscience, made him and the Scottish Review the place to understand what should really be happening in Scotland but often wasn't. His forensic filleting of the statements, often in poorly written, let alone edited, English, from institutions such as government and academia, should have shamed them for their lack of transparency and accountability.
He was always polite and friendly, always quietly spoken, whether face-to-face or on a platform, which made his written words even more powerful.
How I, we all, will miss him.
I came to SR late, after I emigrated to the United States. But it quickly became a haven of quality in what can otherwise be a tawdry world of poor-quality journalism. Did I agree with every article that was published by Mr Roy, or by others? Absolutely not. Some of them drove me to incandescence. But even then I had to admire the sincerity of each writer, the quality of their writing, and their exposing me to ideas I wouldn't have countenanced, and doing so in a way that made me consider my assumptions and beliefs. That quality is rare indeed, and became my eagerly anticipated Wednesday morning treat.
The quality of the campaigning journalism was outstanding, and spoke to issues that are too readily missed and swept under the carpet. Not high-profile, but ordinary people who have no voice. It is of as high a quality as Private Eye ever did with Piper Alpha, which is one of my gold standards.
I wish Mr Roy well on his journey. I can only hope that he understands the way that he, and SR, has touched people, and all for the better.
I know I am adding to the tsunami of mail that will surely surge over Liberator House, but I cannot refrain from expressing some grief over Kenneth's news. It is a pleasure and revelation to read his pieces in SR, and, as a friend and champion of my late mother (Ena Lamont Stewart), I feel he does a great deal to promote her work and keep her memory alive. SR will look long and hard to replace Kenneth Roy's investigative tenacity, and in that I wish you success, as the good work must continue.
We'd appreciate it, if at all possible, that someone let Kenneth Roy know that we think the world of him (we weren't always on the same page re the independence of Scotland, but that's okay) and what he's done for Scotland through his writings and concern/care for his countrymen and women. He's a great man and has made a significant contribution to Scotland...no one could have done more.
Diane and Harry McAlister
One of the best things I have ever done was get involved in a very small way with the Young Programme. How can I thank Kenneth for that? To being exposed to such smart, articulate, and brilliant young people, who fuelled me with enthusiasm, and having revelled in the moments that Kenneth and the team created.
How I can explain to others how this simple idea touched so many lives and, by extension, touched the lives of others?
How can I explain how I admired his intellectual rigour, delivered with no pretence of superiority? How his down-to-earth good humour made me laugh?
How can I tell him how much I admired his writing and his encouragement of others?
How can I do all this without it sounding like an obituary that is premature, unwelcome and painful to consider?
I don't know what to write. Except to say that I love what Kenneth stood for, but more for what he did. I love the legacy he will leave and will continue long after many of us have gone. For those young people will stop. And they will think. They will consider different viewpoints and ideas. Essentially unwrapping a gift they have been handed but may not yet realise.
Kenneth is an exceptional man. A gifted writer. An inspired thinker. But more than all of that he is a good guy. And the world can't afford to lose good guys. Especially now.
I want him to know I admire him and respect him.
Kenneth is such a special soul who has been there for me all these years. He is one of the most inspirational people I have ever met. I am totally heartbroken.
Delegate, Young Scotland Programme, 2004
Part 2: Letters to Kenneth
Your true independence of mind and constant quest to crush the complacency that bubbles just under the surface of Scottish life was utterly essential. At a time when warring tribes spit abuse anonymously at each other, your individual bravery is almost unique. Please revel in your bucket list of great writers and in the knowledge that you have the gratitude and admiration of us all.
I thought I'd get in touch after reading your farewell in this week's Scottish Review. Needless to say, I was so very sad to hear this news. The piece you wrote was so beautiful, and so remarkably composed and courageous, given the circumstances. I hope you are reading right now about the snow general all over Ireland (I have re-read that story so many times, and isn't it a wonderful thing?). I just wanted to get in touch to let you know how enormously you have changed my life for the better over the last four years, since my time in the Young Scotland Programme. My confidence in my speaking and writing improved more than I would have thought possible. In fact, winning the award seemed to set my life on an entirely different trajectory. It's an experience I will always hold dear. Writing for the Scottish Review has been an absolute privilege.
For all these opportunities, I am indebted to you. I have been so impressed by your belief in people's potential and your encouragement of people – especially young people – to express their views. What an admirable thing to do for others, and for our culture at large – what a generous way to be. You have had such a positive impact on us all. I'm sure you'll be receiving similar messages from many people right now. I just wanted to add my voice to the choir.
We've never met, but it feels as though I've been watching or reading you most of my life as I've drifted between ministering and media. I hope you feel it's been a life well lived. There are a lot of folk out there you will never know who have appreciated it.
I am so sorry to read about your unwelcome diagnosis. Thank you for writing about it. And thank you for the millions of elegant sentences you've devoted to making the Scottish Review such a joy to read for all these years and such a robust irritant to the body politic. And thank you for the immeasurable good you've done in honouring and encouraging our young people.
My dad always liked to quote from the 'Hávamál', the words of Odin the
High One in the Norse 'Edda', which expressed the kind of immortality he
most approved of:
you yourself must likewise die.
But one thing I know which never dies –
word-fame, if justly earned.
Justly earned, indeed.
I wanted to write immediately to say how greatly I have appreciated your journalism over the years. You have always been prepared to delve into areas where no other Scottish journalist will go. Until a year ago, I had worked for five years for the Howard League for Penal Reform. A tiny charity by comparison with its English sister and with very little resource. Your tenacity in covering issues such as prison suicides, particularly those of female prisoners, was something I greatly valued.
Your journalism has always been marked by its tenacity and insightfulness, but always coming from a place of deep care and compassion for your fellow human beings. And always such elegant prose. Again, thank you.
I am pleased to hear that Islay has agreed to continue the great work you started.
Your editorial absence in the last few months was keenly felt in this household. I drove over the Erskine Bridge yesterday, as I often now do, on the way from Strachur to our place in Greenock. On seeing the safety barriers, my memory returned to the tragic case of these young girls so movingly described by you in 2012. I have just read your superb piece once again.
I'd intended to close by praising your contribution to the public and intellectual life of Scotland, but found that Nick Lyth's encomium says everything I would have wished to express.
Thank you so much for the Scottish Review, and for your trenchant and inspiring editorials which have held aspects of our life in Scotland up to the light as they need to be. You have challenged us to stand up to the truth of how things are in our country, both what is good and needs to be encouraged and what seriously needs to be changed. You have always been on the side of those who have been, and are, badly treated in our society. We have been very fortunate indeed to have a journalist of your calibre writing during this period of our history. We are thinking of you and wishing you the very best. Thank you so much.
I knew matters were serious when you wrote that you weren't up for being infuriated by the Daily Mail.
What you achieved by brilliant and caring journalism is magnificent. The creation and dogged continuation of the Scottish Review is unmatched. Sure, I was on the workers' co-op Scottish Daily News and suffered for that (willingly), but we had a lot of colleagues and many friends to this day. You were going it alone at the start.
Thank you Ken for all the magnificent work you have done and, most of all, for never relinquishing your early principles.
You have made my world a better place.
I can only try to say thank you for what you've done with your biro pen and your keyboard over the years for all of us who have enjoyed your massive contribution to the country's life and intellectual wellbeing. It's a fact that anyone, whether they care about the Common Weal or not, has been immeasurably boosted and enhanced by reading what you have had to say – agree with you or not. Turning the page and exposing humbug, bureaucratic BS, and corporate bad behaviour is just part of it. You have been a gemstone of reason, a soldier, an uplifter, a thoughtful, careful, deliberate challenger to the flaws and inconsistencies, the horror and the pleasure of daily life in a wee country, where tiddlers often think they're sharks.
John Campbell QC
The stimulating environment you created via the Young Programme, the Scottish Review, and earlier those get-togethers of people who loved the cut-and-thrust of debate, made a huge difference to my widowhood and post-retirement life. Without you there will be a huge gap in my life. Thank you for having been there.
Kenneth, I have just read your farewell piece in SR and I'm not ashamed to say I cried. We have never met, but I feel I know you thanks to years of watching you on 'Reporting Scotland' and reading the Scottish Review.You have been a great ambassador for journalism in Scotland and have never been afraid to tackle those in authority with your sharp and insightful words of wisdom, and your legacy will be that the Scottish Review will continue under Islay's leadership.
This was a hard read, despite your gallantry as the writer and the brave elegance of what you have written. One hopes that the clock ticks slowly, with time for some treats – visits to places and people which mean a lot.
And that you are given expert, compassionate care, so that when this road reaches the terminus, you will be able to leave this world (which you have undoubtedly enriched) with both comfort and dignity.
A life very well lived.
Ah so here we are. What a bliddy horrible day. And Kenneth Roy, you are a genius my man. I am gutted to hear about your news. And stay off the buses.
SR is very, very rich for having you, and we are so much richer ourselves for reading your truths. I stand with you all, and I care very much for how you are all feeling right now.
Where the heck would we be without the Scottish Review? This is the place I, and so many others, come for 100% quality truth. I raise my cup of tea to you all this afternoon, and a toast to you Kenneth, especially, what a fine man you are. With much love and caring thoughts to you all at SR, thank you for your amazing work.
I know that I speak for so many when I say you have created a giant footprint on Scottish and British contemporary life. A truly inspirational public servant, polymath and friend to so many, both young and old. Never frightened to rattle the cages of those in power or authority when looking to uncover the truth or investigate an injustice through the Scottish Review. But always done with integrity and humanity, and an eye for the wider public interest.
Of course, I know you best from the Young Programme. I often think back to that freezing cold week in Harrogate 14 years ago. No one could have predicted what a success story the Young Programme would become and what a massive impact it would have on the confidence and careers of so many young people in the early stages of their careers.
It is thanks to your leadership and creativity that the programme weathered the storm of the economic downturn and continued to expand when so many other social enterprises collapsed. You should feel confident that the Young Programme has a bright future ahead of it. As we enter a very turbulent period in our history, it is more important than ever that there are opportunities for young people to develop as the leaders of the future.
It sometimes feels like we live in a society that measures success and meaning on the wealth and possessions someone has – something we are all guilty of at times. But in the end none of that matters – the measure of a life well lived is whether someone has made a positive difference to society and the lives of others. And you have done that in spades Kenneth.
I have long enjoyed your dogged honesty and glorious prose. You will leave a void. I have contributed a piece just once and subscribed woefully seldom. But will subscribe again to keep Islay and the Scottish Review going – in your memory.
For many years, for me, you have been an outstanding member of the literate commentariat, always worth a read, and will be greatly missed. I can only hope you will continue to write for as long as you are able.
I am not a great reader of news or political journals and find most of it unbearable, but the SR was/is a truly civilising voice – managing to talk about the issues impacting the people of our nation without ever sounding nationalistic. It has a unique and rare tone and, of course, reflects your own intense sense of humanity, which shines out of your journalism.
I am so sorry to hear this and find your farewell moving and so dignified. Thank you so much Mr Roy for all the wisdom and the pleasure of reading you, and keeping expatriate Scots (amongst others) in touch with what really goes on in Scotland.
I've been hanging on more than I realised to your writing, and am so grateful for how in recent years you have brought rigour to things badly needing it, and drawn attention to cases it would have been easier to ignore, indeed that some people were evidently very keen should be ignored. I like your jokes, too.
Lucy Hunter Blackburn
I have read your articles for many years and have respected and admired your integrity and sense of purpose. Thank you Ken for being a light in this darkening country and for being part of my journey through it. We shall miss you.
I am glad the SR will continue under Islay and the crew. All strength to them and best wishes through this saddest time.
I was recommended the Scottish Review by a friend some years ago. Since then your articles have by turn enlightened, amused, enraged, enthused, sometimes confirmed my own thoughts, though more often changed my perspective and always challenged me to think more deeply – I will miss your journalism enormously.
I was sorry and enormously sad to read your piece yesterday. I only know you through your writings which have amused, stimulated, occasionally irritated, but above all been appreciated and valued. I hope the bus journey you refer to is a long, painless, dignified and humane one. You will be much missed.
If only I had a better command of the English language, I would be able to write down my heartfelt sorrow at the reading of your farewell letter. I only want you to know that I think you are a great man, a humanitarian and excellent wordsmith, who has evoked thoughts, humour and emotions that have stirred me and given me hope that not all knowledgeable, learned and intelligent people like yourself are in it just for themselves.
Lawyers, politicians and journalists each think what they do with 'the truth' surpasses the efforts of the other two. As a lawyer, it's possible to bask in the certain knowledge that one's cases, if reported in the paper, are never accurately portrayed (believe me, if you can). Apart from by you, that is. Anything you have ever written about the Dunblane Inquiry has been of the highest quality. I was – and remain – startled by your revelation of the communications between the chairman and the government during its currency. More generally, I salute your writings concerning the legal process. I suspect that you may have rumbled us in our perpetuation of the idea of the existence of that mythical creature, 'the whole truth.'
I just wanted to say that your writing is inspirational. Thank you. I am inexpressibly moved, and at the same time inspired, by your farewell article.
A tribute to Kenneth by Ian Jack
appears in today's (Wednesday's) edition of the Guardian