Happy Special Birthday Ian Hamilton, QC!

14 Sep

This weekend sees another milestone in the remarkable life of Ian Hamilton, QC – his 90th birthday. In recognition of the event, his long-time colleague and friend, Sheriff Kevin Drummond, QC, writes:


 I mentioned casually in conversation to a fishing colleague last week that I was going to Lochnabeithe to visit Ian Hamilton: my colleague doesn’t know Ian and has never met him but he asked me to convey his respect and his admiration “for what he did.”

He was of course referring to “ The Stone,” for that is how Ian is, and probably always will be, characterised in the public  perception…..whether he likes it or not, and he doesn’t. It happened 65 years ago.


There is so much more to Ian Hamilton than “The Stone”.  It is difficult to avoid clichés when talking about Ian but, as time goes by, icon and legend are words which increasingly and inevitably come to mind. “Wee Hammy….The Ancient Mariner ….or Ham the Bam” scarcely seem consistent with iconic status but his professional colleagues at the bar simply know a caring, humane man of principle and integrity who has never compromised his political or any other principles even when his own personal and professional best interests were on the line…..and were Ian’s ever on the line.


When your principles and your personal best interests coincide life can be comfortable: when they are in fundamental conflict then you find the measure of the man. Few members of the bar began their careers by suing the Lord Advocate: in the oft quoted decision in constitutional law of MacCormick v Lord Advocate (which some think was about post boxes and some about parliamentary sovereignty) it is occasionally forgotten that the “Glasgow University student”, the second Petitioner, was Ian Hamilton.


Ian’s principles haven’t changed … but something has changed: the political climate of today has transformed many of Ian’s views from what were once fringe minority to debatable mainstream.


I visited Ian and his wife Jeanette last week in his idyllic West Highland home where loch, hill and sky merge seamlessly and Cruachan rises on the horizon. During some recent email exchanges with him I had realised that ten years had passed since a group of Glasgow legal practitioners organised a black tie tribute dinner in the Glasgow Arts Club to celebrate his 80th birthday. I chaired the sell-out dinner but we had not met face to face since that night and the decade seems to have passed in the blink of an eye.


He may be a little frail now but he wears his 90 years well. I formed the impression that he is almost uncomfortable with the fact that his views have become mainstream. It’s just not something he’s used to, having spent so much of his life in confrontation with “establishments” in many guises. When he was in practice as a busy defence advocate he was the classic lifelong representative of the underdog and wears it as a badge of honour because in every context, he sees the absence of effective opposition as dangerous.

There is no paradox in that position because he always was, and yet remains, his own harshest critic.


Happy Birthday Ian , from all of us.