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Andy Armstrong (far right) marched from Glasgow to Dundee as part of the People's March against the Poll Tax

Obituary: Remembering Andy Armstrong, a socialist fighter

From Philip Stott

Socialist Party Scotland was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Andy Armstrong. Andy, known affectionately as the “Big Man”, was a passionate and dedicated human being, a socialist from the day we met him until his death, aged 52, on 29th May, 2017. Andy joined Militant – the forerunner of Socialist Party Scotland – in 1989 after meeting us through his involvement in the anti-poll tax campaign in his local area of Ardler in Dundee.

For more than two decades Andy was actively involved fighting against capitalism and injustice. He very rarely ever missed a socialist stall or a branch meeting. A well kent figure on the streets of Dundee selling the Militant newspaper, stopping sheriff officers from carrying out poindings and campaigning for socialist change, Andy was an ever-present.

Poll Tax March

Andy threw himself enthusiastically in the anti-poll tax campaign. A stalwart of the Ardler/St Mary’s anti-poll tax union, Andy volunteered to take part in the People’s March against the Poll Tax in 1990. Not the fittest man in the world, hence his nickname, he heroically managed the trek from Glasgow to London in the famous anti-poll tax shell suits. Along with the other marchers, Andy was met by a demo of more than 30,000 people that welcomed them on their arrival in London.

In her Diary of a People’s Marcher, Sally Brown vividly describes; “Andy Armstrong, the ginger-haired marcher from Tayside, is draped, sweating, in the Tayside federation banner, whose poles were taken by the police at a BNP counter-demo in Dundee.” That was Andy, a fighter for the working class and a man who had a passionate hatred of racism and fascism. The hounding from Dundee of the British National Party in May 1990 was another of Andy’s achievements.

The defeat of the Poll Tax and the resignation of the hated Margaret Thatcher, felled by an army of mass non-payment of more than 18 million people, was a huge victory. Nothing can alter the fact that it was Andy, and many thousands of campaigners like him, that melted the Iron Lady and consigned her to the dustbin of history.

Timex

Andy lived in Ardler and just a few hundred yards from the Timex factory on Harrison Road. When the bosses locked out 300 workers in 1993, which provoked one of the most high-profile disputes in many years, Andy, alongside his comrades in Scottish Militant Labour, hardly missed a day on the picket line during the 9 month-long struggle. One of the then leading Timex shop stewards on hearing of Andy’s death commented, “Andy was one of the staunchest supporters of the Timex workers during the 1993 dispute. RIP”

Andy campaigned tirelessly for the socialist cause. Just after the Timex dispute began in January 1993 a by election was called in Ardler. Scottish Militant Labour stood in the election and Andy was out every day, leafleting and canvassing, despite the unending snow. I vividly remember Andy falling over, more than once, as he traipsed through the snowdrifts. SML came second in the election, defeating the SNP and winning 35% of the vote. We couldn’t have done it without Andy.

Throughout the 1990s, a difficult decade for socialists and Marxists, Andy remained a committed fighter for the socialist cause. He was a founding member of the Scottish Socialist Party in Dundee but also remained a dedicated activist in the ranks of Scottish section of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), which Scottish Militant was affiliated to. When the leaders of the SSP left the CWI over political differences, Andy remained with us and helped rebuild the forces of Marxism in Scotland.

And it wasn’t only in Scotland that Andy was active. In 2002 he visited Ireland to work in the election campaign of Joe Higgins in Dublin West. Joe was elected as the Socialist Party candidate. Joe and the other Socialist Party members who are currently TDs (MPs) in the Irish parliament have sent this message of condolence to Andy’s family and his comrades in Scotland.

Many comrades in Ireland were stopped in their tracks when word came through via social media recently that Andy had died.

Andy’s spirit, commitment and his great personality were infectious and a huge boost for many comrades here, particularly during the summer of 2002 when he travelled all the way to Dublin to help us field Socialist Party candidates and fight strong campaigns in many areas. Andy played his part in the successes we have been able to achieve since then. He was and will be very fondly remembered.

We wish you all the very best and hope that your memories of Andy will be some comfort in the months and years ahead.

From your comrades in Ireland,

Signed:

Ruth Coppinger TD,

Joe Higgins former TD and Member of the European Parliament,

Mick Barry TD and

Paul Murphy TD and former member of the European Parliament.

Dundee FC was Andy’s team. His passion for the Dees knew no bounds and he was enraged by the way the club was run by certain owners and chairmen that had sent the club into administration. Writing for the Socialist newspaper in 2010, Andy commented: “I have been a Dundee supporter for 35 years. The club have been dogged with dodgy owners and Chairmen while the ordinary supporter are asked to help finance them by buying shares and bricks and the like. If anything, this convinces me even more that football should be taken under the democratic control and ownership of ordinary supporters.”

Andy’s health deteriorated in the later years of his life and he was unable to get out much. Yet he continued to as much as he could manage.

Harvey Duke remembers: “Andy was the best possible ally you could have in any struggle. In late 2010, we worked together to set up a campaign against unemployment in Dundee. One of the things we did was publicly challenge Tory hatchet man Iain Duncan Smith to debate the horrendous effect of his welfare cuts. He eventually bottled it, but Andy came along to every meeting and event he could to keep supporting the idea that Welfare cuts are a crime against humanity. In the last few years, Andy had to draw on all his tenacity and courage to battle against illness and a Welfare System that as recently as last year tried to cut his benefits. Although he found it increasingly hard to walk, he still had the same determination as when he walked from Scotland to London in 1990.

For years after that epic trek, comrades would make the Big Man chuckle by stopping any mention of that feat by joking: “People’s March, blah blah blah.” I cannot remember once when he didn’t laugh. 

Fighting fascism, selling papers, going on marches, discussing his heroes – Mohammed Ali and Malcolm X – these are the things I will always remember about Andy Armstrong. A great comrade. A marvellous human being.” 

The testimonies for Andy, whether from his friends, comrades or family members are uniform in their warmth and affection. They all speak to Andy’s humour, his love for music, his hatred of injustice in all its forms, his determination to overcome adversity and the obstacles that were erected in front of him.

We’ll all miss Andy, but we can console ourselves by remembering a friend and a comrade and a life well, well lived. Our condolences go to Andy’s sister Aileen, his mum Ellen and all Andy’s family and friends.