ronnie mcgowanOn the eve of the People’s Vote March Ronnie McGowan explains why his participation is in part the repayment of a debt of gratitude to his parents, and to the generation which forged a new Europe.


There was a chill wind blowing through Europe in the 1930s. It was felt in the tenements on the north banks of the river Tay; more precisely it was felt in Kinnaird Street, on the Hilltown in Dundee.

Archie Brown, a ship’s carpenter from Port Glasgow, was chopping up household furniture to be burned in order to help keep warm his youngest daughter, Florence McGillivary Brown. My mother. Not exactly the best use of a skilled craftsman’s talents – he was more  like an artist really – but in those dark days, needs must.

This difficult start in life burned a fierce stoicism, earthy humour and deep passion into young Flo’s psyche that was to last a lifetime. She was born in 1927, leaving school at fourteen with no qualifications, and starting work as a laundry girl. She loved ice skating. It’s where she met the love of her life, Norman Anderson McGowan, my father.

He was two years older and brought up on Hill Street at the foot of the Law, on the Hilltown, where else. He left school at fourteen too, without certificates, although he was brilliant at mental arithmetic and algebra, which I only learned, to my shame, after he died; I was in my fifties and had been teaching maths for thirty years. His was a reserved generation.

On leaving school he worked as a ‘message laddie’, delivering groceries on a bicycle. In his spare time he went ice skating. When war came Norrie wanted to enlist, but his eyesight wasn’t great. Eager to do his bit for king and country he joined the Merchant Navy as a ‘ship’s flesher’, and was involved in the D-Day operations.

I saw him cry once, during a documentary about the navy’s role during the war and the part played by HMS Hood. “There were Dundee boys on the Hood”, he said. He’d wanted to crew on that iconic battlecruiser.

After the war, out of the rubble and the broken hearts, there came visionaries. Jean Monnet was one. He had plans for a different kind of Europe.

The post-war period was politically exciting for the young couple embarking on a marriage that would endure for fifty nine years. They saw in the Attlee government, and the NHS which nursed their four children. They joined the Labour Party and, on their patch, on the northern periphery of Dundee, they became the Labour Party. Dedicated, unstinting in effort and energy, in pursuit of a better place for everyone.

This commitment was eventually recognised with the title Lord and Lady Provost, quite an achievement for a bingo-loving retired school dinner lady. Florence McGillivary Brown, the late bloomer. The family was very proud as it assembled from all parts to witness the chains of office being bestowed; but they were not half as proud as the parents were of their children and many grandchildren, who devoured and still benefit today from the opportunities social democracy offered, argued for, fought for and won. Teachers, university lecturers, lawyers, precision engineers, trade union activists and, yes, a ship’s carpenter too. All carrying forward in diverse ways the values of the socialist couple from the Hilltown.

And it’s really no coincidence that the confidence and drive of these ‘baby boomers’ ran in tandem with an emerging European Union with opportunity at its core. Indeed the family all campaigned hard for their member of parliament, George Thomson, who would later become an EU commissioner.

This sense of being a vital part of a continent, forging strong fraternal links in a peaceful environment of cooperation and trade was something of which my parents were keenly aware and they played their part in delivering it. They’d lived through the dark times and would never countenance a return. Their ambition was always upwards, never dwelling on their past. And the Labour Party was their guiding beacon, shining across a Europe in union.

That’s why I’ll travel to London this Saturday to join the march for a People’s Vote. I’m repaying a debt of gratitude, to family history and to the European Union. The stakes are high. We will march together in hope for a peaceful, gentler future. And for me every step will be a reminder of that young shivering girl who overcame adversity and helped in so many small ways to make a better world.



Put It To The People, the People’s Vote March, will assemble in London at 12 noon on Saturday 23 March. Full details of how to get involved are here.

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9 thoughts on “A people’s vote

  1. Enjoy the march. With any luck it’ll make the Tory Govt stop worrying about their own internal instability and put the good of the people first. Only a second vote can clear this bourach while retaining the merest hint of integrity for the politicians at the heart of the problem.

  2. What a brilliant story. Worthy of a film or a play. Dundee puts the strongest light in people … and your family story is inspirational. Have a great day and thanks again for the hopeful beacon.
    Would be marching with you but for recent op.✊

  3. Thanks for that lovely comment Paul, it’s going to be some week ahead, and who knows!

  4. What a great family story Ronnie you are a credit to them thankyou for sharing their story.
    The march possibly a million on it I think the PM will ignore it .
    I voted remain I see nothing good in Brexit .I also acknowledge 17 million voted to leave .I signed the peoples vote petition .First time I have signed anything like that .
    On the news I saw Tom Watson for Labour and our FM Nicola deliver very powerful speeches . For me PM Cameron learned nothing from the Scottish Indy Ref and I voted no in that as well.
    He organized a EU ref just to sort out the Euro Sceptics in his own party and see of UKIP that went well he gave them the chance to get what they wanted .
    He had no plan how to run a campaign .And no plan on what to do if he lost no plan B
    Nigel and Boris no plan on what to do if they won .
    Did anyone even think we would see preparations having to be made for the military to intervene how do we maintain basic foodstuffs medication etc staff shortages especially in the NHS .
    EU citizens having to register to stay an 88 year old originally from Denmark I think been here since 1960 .Crying on tv
    A 74 year old brought here aged 4 months from Germany told to register
    I am on medication oxygen equipment manufactured in the USA and Australia medication in England under license from EU countries so I am worried about supply problems .
    A lot of NHS staff dealing with me are from EU countries what happens to them .What is wrong with going to the people telling us this is what is on the cards if we leave do you still want to leave yes or no.
    Westminster is a disaster not a political leader on display we are crying out for someone to take this by the scruff of the neck and say we cant sort this we have to go back to the people who sent us here the public .Who thought we knew what we were doing .
    And yes I want Brexit stopped .
    The Cabinet is in open revolt the Speaker has to rely on a ruling made in 1604 the PM takes to the telly tells us she is on our side .I must have missed that
    As I write this BBC say a Mosque attacked in Birmingham 5 this week
    And all the online threats against MPS Anna Soubry went public on CH4 News last night on Police advice she has to stay in London this weekend told don’t go home as her partner is away.
    Oh really I must have missed that

  5. Sorry that sorry I must have missed that after Anna Soubry should not be there .
    Was supposed to be after PMS remarks made on the Telly I wrote it twice

  6. David, thank you and you make a lot of powerful observations. What is being presented is a very different beast from what was campaigned for and I think it legitimate to ask again if that is what people want. If it is, so be it.
    Anna Soubry walked past me in Parliament Square, I shook her hand and wished her Good Luck and she thanked me for being there. We seem to have forgotten the mantra after Jo Cox was murdered, that more unites us than divides us. Never was that truer today, and I hope your issues with medical supplies is sorted out, we definitely did not vote for that kind of scenario.

  7. Thank you for your comment Ronnie
    I was just hoping with a huge crowd there would be no terrorist outrage
    BBC parliamentary channel had the New Zealand parliament debate about the shooting in New Zealand the Prime Ministers speech was simple moving and inspirational a Prime Minister showing Leadership to her people in a time of trouble .When she sat down I joined in the applause .
    The opposition leaders also proved themselves up to the occasion .The house adjourned for the day .
    I look at the lack of Political leadership from all Westminster leaders .
    The EU campaign was for me a disgrace for me it never got past immigration Dodgy funding a famous red bus Politicians without a clue .
    We were told all will be well .Its not who told us we would have no deal contingency planning involving the military
    Hundreds of millions set aside for contingency planning on a wartime scale .
    I am in the Labour Party but I have to pay attention when SNP MP Ian Blackford warned for the 2nd Time that on Privy Council terms he has seen the full extent of the UK Governments emergency planning its horrendous .
    The FM has also said the Scottish Governments Resilience committee has extensive emergency plans in place as have Councils the Finance Secretary says a no deal Brexit will mean an immediate Scottish Austerity budget .
    We were not told any of this would even need to be contemplated .
    So yes I say it has to go to another vote .
    With all politicians being forced to do Jeremy Paxman type hostile questioning

  8. The London to Dusseldorf plane landed at Edinburgh by mistake crew and Air Traffic Control did not notice until there was a welcome to Edinburgh announcement .
    Wrong flight path being blamed on wrong paperwork and the PM thinks she has problems haha

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