Isobel calls time on her political career

Isobel; Strong, retiring as a councillor on Bute
Isobel; Strong, retiring as a councillor on Bute

A familiar name will be absent from the ballot paper for the Council elections next month.

Councillor Isobel Strong is standing down after serving Bute on Argyll and Bute Council for the last 18 years.

First elected as the member for Rothesay West in 1999, she successfully defended the seat in 2003. In 2007, when Bute converted to a three-member ward she was sent back to Kilmory, successfully flying the SNP banner again in the election of 2012.

But Isobel’s political involvement goes much further back. She first met husband-to-be, Robin, when both canvassed for John Smith, as members of Glasgow University Labour Party, in the East Fife by-election of 1961. John Smith is often described as “the best Prime Minister Britain never had” and Isobel says:” The Labour party of John Smith and Donald Dewar was a far cry from the Labour Party of today.”

In 1970 they canvassed for Norman Buchan, Joint Under Secretary of State for Scotland, as he successfully retained the West Renfrewshire seat for Labour.

In 1974 they joined the SNP, believing that the movement towards devolution was at best grudging from Westminster and very urban centred.

After graduating from Glasgow University, followed by Jordanhill College, her first teaching appointment was at Woodfarm High School in Thornliebank, transferring to Greenock High School when they moved to Gourock.

Moving to Rothesay in 1971 may have been beneficial to the Strongs, but it certainly was for the town and its organisations, which they fully embraced and which were to benefit from their talents, freely given.

While Robin made the daily commute to IBM in Spango Valley, Isobel concentrated in bringing up son Robin and daughter Christine, but found time to work part-time in Southpark Residential School and then in the Benefits Office. Soon, however, she resumed her teaching career. A 6-month commute to Greenock High School, ended with her appointment to Rothesay Academy in 1979 to teach geography, history and modern studies. She took early retirement at the end of Strathclyde Regional Council in 1997, then working as a guide at Mount Stuart for two summers.

Robin had been elected to Rothesay Town Council in 1972, serving until local government reorganisation in 1974. His commute on Council duties from Glebelands to Castle St. was somewhat less daunting than the fraught 150 mile round trip to Kilmory that Isobel was to face. She puts her success at the first time of asking down to the high profile that Robin enjoyed locally as a leading light in the Bute branch of the SNP and as Convener of the Argyll and Bute Constituency Association.

The long trip to Lochgilphead round Argyll’s fretted west coast involves much more than merely the two monthly Council meetings, with executive committee meetings in between. Recently one of Isobel’s remits has been the Policy and Resources committee, while she also sits on the Islands’ Task Force for Argyll and Bute and the Harbour Board, which oversees all the harbours in the area.

Locally she is the chairman of Bute Drug and Alcohol Forum and is a member of teamBute, which was instrumental in driving a re-think on the plans to close Thomson Home day centre.

One of her driving concerns has been to try and ensure that the frail and elderly can be cared for on the island and not have to be transferred to the mainland, with the stress and costs that implies for families.

Both she and Robin sat on Bute Highland Games committee for many years. Robin also served Bute Shinty Club and Rothesay Golf Club, being Captain of the latter in its centenary year of 1992. Robin died in 2003.

Her attempt to be elected to Westminster in 2005 was unsuccessful.

After serving as Depute Provost and Education Spokesperson, Isobel was honoured by being appointed Provost of Argyll and Bute Council in 2012 to 2013. She remembers the highlights as attending the General Assembly in Edinburgh and also a lovely day on Iona, hosting the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins.

A downside to her time as Provost was undergoing open-heart surgery, being whipped away to the Golden Jubilee Hospital by helicopter.

Now, in well-deserved retirement, she looks forward to regular visits to London to visit grandsons Sean (8) and Fraser (6).

It is hard to believe, however, that with her instinct to help and be involved, that Rothesay has seen the last of this lady in its public life.