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Cyril Corcoran: Scottish independence activist for 70 years supporting Yes

CYRIL Corcoran was a supporter of independence long before it was a mainstream view. Since the 1950s he has wanted home rule for Scotland and that indy fire has been burning bright ever since.

Now 81, The National caught up with the Yes campaigner to find out why his conviction has never wavered.

“I started 70 years ago,” he says over the phone, fresh from a hospital appointment. “I must have been maybe 15 years old. It was home rule then and I always wanted it.

“I have always wanted freedom for our country. I joined the SNP later in the late 50s or 60s.”

Although he joined the Scottish National Party around 70 years ago, Corcoran is a fairly new but nonetheless well-loved activist in the party.

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Despite being in his 80s, the Borders veteran got involved in activism for the reason thousands of young people across Scotland did it – 2014.

“I have always voted for the SNP and when the referendum came around, I decided to get involved,” he explains. “I was mostly active in the background until, you could say, I sort of sprouted when it came to the independence referendum.”

What he learned through his activism was much more than politics. Friendship, Corcoran says, stood out from his campaign. While traveling across the country, meeting friendly faces along the way, Corcoran said he felt accepted by the movement he had been a part of since before most of his peers were even born.

Corcoran has long believed in independence, at a time when it was seen as just a fringe idea. It’s stuck with him all this time, and it’s only gotten stronger too, just as independence has moved from the periphery of Scottish politics to its boundary line.

“I think more and more people are starting to realize what Westminster is doing,” Corcoran said. “Young people today are starting to think ‘what’s going on?’ There are so many things in this country that we have. We deserve to be an independent country.

Corcoran is happy to see how things have changed with young Scots overwhelmingly supporting Yes.

But it wasn’t always like that, as he pointed out. “It was a funny thing. Most people kept it to themselves. If you said you were SNP, you would be ridiculed and everything.

During his time as an independent activist, the frontier met countless activists like himself, as well as high-profile politicians, including Nicola Sturgeon. He says he remembers the day he met the SNP leader: “I think the first time was quite funny. I was at the conference in Glasgow. I came down for breakfast and she was sitting there. I said ‘good morning, Prime Minister’ and then I had my breakfast. And then I was at a lunchtime event and the doors at the top of the stairs opened and it was Nicola, and she said ‘again?’

“Later that night I was walking into the dining room and she was there again. She laughed and said ‘are you stalking me?’

Corcoran would meet Sturgeon again shortly after the event, when the pair were pictured sitting next to each other for a Cycling Without Age charity event, both seen laughing.

Having lived through various periods of division and turmoil within the SNP, Corcoran said he hoped the whole Yes movement would be more united.

“I wish everyone was more or less united. I keep thinking about all that divisive and falling stuff.

CORCORAN says he is 95% sure Scotland will eventually gain independence, but does not know when that will happen.

He believes Boris Johnson being the prime minister and scandals such as partygate will convince many no voters to switch sides. “More and more people are starting to see it through,” he said, adding that it’s the older generation who aren’t convinced yet.

The 81-year-old started out as a grocer, working in mills, hotels, construction sites and traveling with the circus before finally landing in his own taxi.

He also spent just under two years in the army, being sent to Libya. A little warmer than Galashiels, he remarks.

He married his wife Ray in 1966. “It was a bad year for me,” he jokes, “because I got married and England won the World Cup.”

Reflecting on his support for Indy, Corcoran said what he wants to see most is a better life for the next generation.

He says, “The reason I’m doing it now is so that the children have a better life than ours. In the 50s and 60s we were promised a better life, but now it is deteriorating. I want a better life for young people growing up now, so they can be free and make their own decisions.

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Recently, Corcoran was diagnosed with lung cancer, which has spread throughout his body. He was receiving chemotherapy, but after the interview informed The National he had been removed, with the NHS believing it would do more harm than good.

He has previously struggled with health issues, battling alcoholism, depression and anxiety. But was happy to report that at the end of the month he will be 30 years sober.

But his campaign continues undeterred, and wherever there is an independent street stand, he says he will be there.

Teresa R. Cabrera

The author Teresa R. Cabrera