Alison Balharry, May 62-Dec 23.
by Andy McColl
I got to know Alison in Jan 2022, having seen her long enough on twitter, where her bravery, intelligence, knowledge and wit shone like a beacon. Early on I happened to see her tweet when she mentioned the names on some of the Alphabet women who accused Alex Salmond. I think drink was involved in that moment. She went to ground for a while, and cleverly “played the game” with the polis and so got away with that infringement. She was bold enough to walk the walk, not just talk it.
We became good twitter then telephone friends (I’m in France), then met in Dundee later that year. I initially knew nothing about her history at the BBC or Al-Jazeerah, where her career was a great succes. She produced the BBC Scotland morning programme in the days of Lesley Riddoch. She mentored her long-time partner to go on to have a career at the Beeb from a very inauspicious start. She kept almost nothing a secret about those days. Not in a gossipy way, but just total honesty. That was Alison - honest to the point of no filter. She was a pivotal presence on the Yes Scotland media team in the run up to the indyref where her knowledge of how to handle the media jungle was invaluable.
By the time I got to know her, she had no fucks left to give. (And I won't apologise for that industrial language, in deference to her sensibilities - she'd disown if I did so). That was Alison, no prisoners taken. I remember calling her Ali early on, and she shot me down in flames. Only her dad called her Ali - so no-one else was allowed that privilege. She talked about her dad constantly, and her papa - they were huge positive influences in her life, politics, Scottishness. They were already long-time dead, but her mum lived in a local care-home (until she passed away at a ripe age this summer). Oh, she loved her mother implicitly, always laughing that she (Alison) was the Carrie Fisher to her mother's Debbie Reynolds.
One of my life's treasures is one of her dad's books on Burns that she gave me as a Christmas present last year. I know how much that, her dad, and Burns meant to her.
That was Alison. Always kind, generous, quick to laughter, quick to find joy and pleasure in life. But sometimes quick to anger. Sometimes very angry, at the state that Scots had allowed their country to fall in to. Her sense of morality burned deep within her. She would often say she hated Scotland, but actually she loved oor wee country. What she hated was what Scotland had become. Her weekly supermarket shop was never complete without a chat to the homeless lad sitting at the door. She'd usually slip him a £20 note. She was as kind and generous as she was intense. Intensely clever. Intensely interested. Intensely opinionated. Intensely unforgiving. She was just a 5ft3 blonde nerve ending unprotected by flesh. Too sensitive for this modern Scotland.
She'd never been a party political animal, but I encouraged her to join Alba, realising that her media expertise could help the party and therefore Scotland. It didn't last long. She saw cant and politicking everywhere. She was pure. Pure of heart. Rough as you could be, but never really with true malice - her mouth would shoot off but she'd never want to actually hurt anyone. She did though, and that was her biggest flaw. Which of us is without flaw though?
One final thought - journalist that she was, she loved this magazine and Ken for creating it. (*)She was constantly proselytising for Independence - be it with the delivery driver or the checkout girl - if you've any time for her, please think about supporting this endeavour - she saw its importance in the cultural and political reawakening of our nation.
Slainthe Alison, one of the immortals - it was a huge pleasure (mostly!) to have come to know you. We'll finish what you didnae. Enjoy your wine, wherever you are.
(*) NB This piece was written for I-Scot magazine and is reproduced by permission of the author. Any support, as requested by Alison, should be directed to Ken McDonald, iScot Magazine - A Scottish Magazine for those O Independent Mind