Independence activist

Tributes to Scottish independence campaigner and drugs expert Rowdy Yates

TRIBUTE was paid to a drug rehabilitation expert and Yes activist who died of Covid at the age of 71.

Rowdy Yates MBE has drawn on his own experience of heroin addiction to become a respected voice in treatment and recovery over a career spanning over 50 years.

After overcoming drugs in the 1970s, he co-founded the Lifeline Project and became an Honorary Senior Fellow at the University of Stirling’s Faculty of Social Sciences.

The grandfather was also executive director of EWODOR (European Working Group on Drugs Oriented Research) and honorary vice-president of EFTC (European Federation of Therapeutic Communities).

Living near Trinity Gask in Perthshire, he was also an active campaigner for Scottish independence.

Yates earned his childhood nickname through his rambunctious behavior and the popularity of the TV show Rawhide, whose popular character Rowdy (played by Clint Eastwood) shared his surname. He used the nickname throughout his life and died surrounded by his family at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee on Valentine’s Day.

His wife Kathleen, who is supported by sons Sam, Christy and Calum, shared how he spoke on Facetime with his granddaughters from the hospital, managing to joke around with them. The five daughters – Faith, Hope, Grace, Serena and Zoe – helped keep him active in his later life.

The couple met in Manchester, where the Lifeline project was based. “He always shot from the hip,” she says. “He was a very direct person. He just wanted to do his best and the best he could for people whose lives were affected by addiction.

A founding board member of Phoenix Scotland, Yates left Lifeline in 1993 to become director of the Scottish Drugs Training Project (SDTP) at the University of Stirling. It closed in 2001, after which he became a faculty member specializing in addictions teaching and research. He authored over 40 papers on theory and practice and continued to publish after his retirement in 2016 until his death.

A passionate musician, he recorded songs to raise funds for the EFTC and brought his expertise beyond borders. Members of the Addiction Federation and the World Federation of Therapeutic Communities are among those who paid tribute to him.

Yates received an MBE for drug prevention services in 1994. He regularly questioned the effectiveness of drug policies and championed a user-centred health and treatment approach. And he has spoken out against some politicians’ reactions to calls for a new direction, telling the Herald in 2012: “Every time a politician mentions anything about drug law reform, they get instantly the white feather as a conscientious objector to war. drug. It becomes an annoyance. This is not a serious political debate.

His determination to do well continued in the hospital where, prior to his transfer to intensive care, the behavior of another patient caught his attention. The man was disrespecting the nurses, Kathleen explains, and Rowdy told him to “stop treating the nurses like that, stop treating this place like a hotel and show some respect.”

“As Rowdy was moved,” Kathleen says, “the nurse in charge gave him a big hug and said ‘thank you so much for saying that, because we can’t tell’. That’s just the way he was; even though he was very sick, he couldn’t stay without trying to help.

“He was passionate about good addiction services for addicts because everyone deserves a chance to turn their life around.”

Teresa R. Cabrera

The author Teresa R. Cabrera