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Calum Cashley: Brother’s tribute to Dundee SNP activist who longed for a better Scotland

Activist Calum Cashley pictured with his wife, Laura, died earlier this week.
Activist Calum Cashley pictured with his wife, Laura, died earlier this week.

Until this week you could have called Calum Cashley an unsung hero of the Scottish independence movement.

But when news of his untimely death broke it became clear that the talent and intellect of a man who joined the SNP when he was just 12-years-old were no secret at all.

As hundreds of friends – from across the political spectrum – paid tribute to one of “Westminster’s greatest researchers” we look back at the life of the boy from Dundee who dedicated himself to the pursuit of a Scotland “as good as it possibly could be”.

One of eight children

Born in Charleston, Dundee, on June 14, 1967, Calum was one of six boys and two girls for Jack and Jean Cashley.

With an 18-year age gap between the oldest and youngest children Jean was initially at home but later became English teacher at Whitfield High.

An infant Calum with older sister, Judith in Dundee city centre.

Jack – a tax officer – retrained as the masseuse for Dundee Football Club.

But while sport featured as a conversation topic around the Cashley dinner table, it was his father’s staunch nationalist beliefs that would set Calum up for a future in politics.

Sporting success

Moving to Dalkeith Road around the age of four, Calum attended St Clement’s Primary before progressing to St Saviour’s RC High School.

The school’s 800m champ and a member of Hawkhill Harriers, it wasn’t unknown for him to disappear off to compete in summer highland games.

Despite his father’s links to football, Calum preferred rugby.

He played for St Saviour’s as well as Panmure and Morgan FPs – which nearly never happened thanks to a childhood dare.

Dave Cashley and big brother, Calum.

Dave, Calum’s younger brother, said: “My abiding memory of Cadge, as we call him, is him accepting a challenge to go down the chute in Baxter Park on his scooter for a pound.

“He went flying – so fast he didn’t have time to think- got to the bottom and broke his arm. The pound was never paid. But it was part and parcel of being in a large family. Someone was always breaking something.”

What stood him apart from his peers, however, was his thirst for knowledge at a young age.

Head in the books

By early teenage years, Calum had already become a lover of the ancient classics, studying Greek and Roman history; analysing the political context and becoming a voracious reader.

In 1979, as Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, a 12-year-old Calum would become a member of the Scottish National Party.

He intended to study at English at Dundee University but it didn’t hold his interest.

Calum Cashley driving taxis before a full time move into politics.

Instead, after a Victoria Wine management position and a spell driving taxis in Dundee, he threw his own hat in the ring standing as a prospective candidate in local council and parliamentary elections.

Dave added: “We had been campaigning together – being chased by dogs around Dundee – as kids for years but he’s probably best known for having stood as SNP candidate for Dundee West in the first Holyrood election in 1999.

“And he almost clinched victory from Labour, with just 121 votes in it.

Calum Cashley, centre with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who led the tributes to Calum earlier this week.

“I remember speaking to him in the hall after and he said he didn’t think he would be standing again but would go into research – which is what he did.”

Leaving behind his much loved involvement in Dundee Rep, taking part in such productions as Witch’s Blood to the music of Michael Marra, he went to Edinburgh where he spent the rest of his life and career.

Career in the service of others

In recent years, Calum worked as senior parliamentary researcher and officer manager for Deidre Brock, MP for Edinburgh North and Leith.

She said: “I’ve known him since around 2000 and he was always just an incredible, funny, kind man.

“His insight and judgment, and watching him read the political room was a sight to see. What I always loved about him though was his ability to find common ground with people – whether they shared his beliefs or not.

“The only things he couldn’t stand were the pompous, the arrogant and the privileged, especially if any of that came at the cost of helping someone in need.”

“He’s left a huge hole. We as a team are struggling to quite believe it.”

A brilliant, sharp mind

As a researcher Calum excelled.

Journalist Joan McAlpine wrote a piece in 2011 entitled: Shamed by Calum Cashley’s detective work, after he thoroughly investigated claims made by the Confederation of British Industry, Scotland.

Deidre Brock added: “He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of everything but especially parliamentary or political discourse. I’ve never met anyone as brilliant a researcher. Without doubt one of the best any MP could ever have.

“He was able to digest and amalgamate information very quickly, pinpointing issues no-one else had seen.

“A brilliant mind and a man who really was driven to make Scotland as good as it could be.”

Finding love in Holyrood

A passion for Scottish politics wouldn’t just see Calum fulfilled in his job.

In 2011 while they were both working behind the scenes on the referendum, Calum met love of his life, Laura McGravie.

Part of Kenny MacAskill’s team, their working paths crossed.

In 2014 they became a couple and, in 2018, tied the knot in the city where they both lived and worked.

Laura and Calum Cashley.

Dave said: “Them getting together was such a huge source of happiness, not just for Calum but for all of us, to know and see him so happy.

“They had this wonderful life doing jobs they loved, living in a place they loved and when baby Rosa came along 10 months ago it was the icing on the cake.

“I never expected that he’d become a dad  in his 50s. But the image of her sitting on his knee – and how happy that made him will be a memory I treasure.”

Lost without him

In a tribute shared on Monday, Laura wrote: “My fabulous husband Calum Cashley, Rosa’s dad, died early this morning after a short illness.

“He really was the most exceptional man and brought so much love, fun and happiness into our lives.

Calum and Laura Cashley with their 10-month-old baby, Rosa.

“We’re lost without you, Cal. Love and miss you always.”

He made Scotland better

Dave added: “He had such a short time with Rosa so of course we are all very, very sad indeed.

“But my brother was a man driven to see Scotland become all it could be. I like to think that his behind-the-scenes work helping to shape policy helped that happen.

Doting dad Calum Cashley and his baby daughter, Rosa.

“It wasn’t just an independent Scotland he longed for, it was a better Scotland. I believe he helped us all have that.”

He was the young man who challenged Winnie Ewing for the SNP leadership “because any SNP member could”; he was a lover of Scots’ language and song, a passionate political commentator, brother, husband, uncle and daddy, and his funeral will take place at 1pm on Friday, September 3 at Warriston Crematorium Edinburgh.

A gathering will take place afterwards at the Edinburgh Suite of Hibs Stadium, EH7 5QG.

“He would never take no for answer when it came to helping others,” added Deidre.

A statement borne out in the fact that his final Twitter post, just one week before he died, was a call to our government to do more help Afghan nationals.