I first met Ailsa when we approached her to become a Board Member of the Reid Foundation. I immediately liked her. As a professor of economics she was of course a very bright woman, capable and with a sharp and original mind. The Foundation benefited greatly from her knowledge, particularly on issues of welfare and welfare economics. She was a passionate advocate of feminist economics as anyone who heard her wonderful speech to the Radical Independence Conference would appreciate. In fact, I spoke to one female delegate afterwards who told me that she’d never taken any interest in economics before that but that she saw things completely differently now.
Ailsa was instrumental in providing the economic case underpinning the Scottish Government’s proposals for free, universal childcare. She chaired our inaugural Jimmy Reid Memorial Lecture which was given by Alex Salmond. Childcare came up as a topic of conversation over coffee before the lecture. When the First Minister later asked her to do some work on childcare economics her response (as she later told me) was so typically Ailsa – “are you serious about doing this? If you’re serious about this policy, if you mean it, then I’d be delighted. But you have to mean it.”
People use phrases such as ‘no nonsense’ and ‘to the point’ about strong women. That wasn’t the Ailsa I got to know. She was full of fun and mischief and when we met for a coffee to talk economics we often failed to get to ‘the point’ for ages. What she wasn’t was small-p politic – if you suggested a daft idea to her there would be no pause before she made clear you knew it was daft. It was that combination of brightness, directness and fun that made Ailsa so pleasant to spend time with.
I met her quite a few times after the cancer diagnosis. Determined doesn’t begin to describe her attitude. She was as clear as could be; “I’m not lying down for this, not without a fight”. The last time I met her was a few weeks ago over lunch. She was planning all the work she wanted to do, the contributions she wanted to make to Scottish life. We’re all the worse off for that fact that she won’t be able to deliver it.
She leaves behind a young family; all our thoughts are with them.
But she also leaves behind one last policy contribution. The last contact I had with her was at the end of last week when she signed off the joint authorship of a major Common Weal report on welfare. I think it is one of the most important contributions to the welfare debate in Scotland and it represents exactly the caring, compassionate – and passionate – thinking that characterised Ailsa.
She will be greatly missed by us all. She is very greatly missed by me personally.