Obituary of Scottish activist, libertarian socialist and Solidarity member, George Williamson, a.k.a. James Finlayson.
George Williamson, who has died at the age of 68 of cancer, showed rebellious tendencies from an early age - at a school prizegiving, with six others he refused to stand for the national anthem. While an architect by profession, he was also a political activist with a very independent cast of mind.
He was born and brought up in Hamilton, near Glasgow, the eldest son of a baker and a teacher. On leaving Hamilton Academy he became an apprentice architect, and in 1960 went to London, where he soon gravitated towards the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). However, he found its obsession with Labour party resolutions and its sizeable minority of Communist party and Trotskyist members who supported the Soviet "workers' bomb" unappealing.
He joined the activists of the anti-war Committee of 100 in several sitdown protests and worked as a volunteer in its London office. Here he came across a whole new world of ideas including the left libertarianism that stayed with him for the rest of his life.
Returning to Scotland two years later, George became the full-time secretary of the Scottish Committee of 100. He was fined and spent nights in cells for acts of civil disobedience, and in 1963 organised and took part in the eight-week, 600-mile Glasgow to London anti-Polaris march in 1963, carrying a large cardboard bomb for much of the way. During this time he joined the libertarian socialist Solidarity group, where he remained for many years.
In 1976, under a pseudonym he published Urban Devastation - the Planning of Incarceration, a critique of town planning's effect on the sociability and visual logic of towns. From 1970 he had worked for brewery companies, mostly on pub design, where his concern for the conditions that made daily life sociable found both expression and frustration. The latter burst out in a wonderful 1990 pamphlet, Beware the Barmaid's Smile! It demanded that the evolution of the pub be controlled by the customers and not by the breweries, calling for militant opposition to the remorseless corporatisation of pubs and the brewing industry. Unfortunately, this insurrection never happened.
The last phase of George's political life traversed some tricky ground, as it involved campaigning against the consequences of false allegations of abuse. Acutely aware of the potential manipulation by abusers of such campaigns, he nevertheless worked to expose the unreliability of "recovered memory" therapies and injustices arising from accusations against teachers and carers, visiting people in prison and supporting their families in challenging their convictions.
George was a good friend. His wit, warmth, passion and generosity will be missed. He is survived by his wife Wendy, whom he met in 1981, two daughters by a previous marriage and his brother David.
John Quail, The Guardian, Monday 26 November 2007