A tribute to Robbie Simpson

Robbie Simpson, long-standing Lib Dem activist, died suddenly in Geneva at the beginning of January. He was 30 years old. To lose such a talent, and such a friend as Robbie, is a tragedy beyond comprehension. To try and summarise his impact is nearly impossible, but I hope this goes some way to remind us all of the wonderful friend we have lost.

I met Robbie at my first meeting of Glasgow University Liberal Democrats in September 2009. He was a very tall, kind looking man, although it took me three weeks to understand his accent (which was not unique to his village but in fact entirely unique to him). After spending the first two years of his Computing Science degree commuting by bus from Ayrshire (two hours each way every day), he had finally moved to Glasgow and was able to get involved in student politics. Within the month we, with many others, were being swept away by waves of Cleggmania, pounding the streets of Glasgow North with the indefatigable Katy Gordon.

Robbie stayed involved in student activism, becoming a member of Glasgow University’s Student’s Representative Council. He became the Treasurer of Liberal Youth Scotland (after an internship at Deutsche Bank, he stood unopposed for the unenviable position with the slogan ‘Vote Robbie – he speaks bank’) where he had a profound impact on both the youth wing and those he met through it. He turned it from a small group of activists into a credible voice within the party, and helped build a coordinated network of young Lib Dem campaigners across Scotland. He supported younger members to become involved, and was a kind and friendly ear. Those he met through Glasgow University Lib Dems and Liberal Youth Scotland remained some of his closest friends.

Robbie (left) campaigning in Bearsden

Robbie was a familiar face at party conferences, where he would greet old friends with a warm smile and a twinkle in his eye – a good sign that he had identified where mischief could be made. Robbie had an impish sense of humour and he liked to stir things up, but to call him a troublemaker overlooks what he wanted to achieve. Robbie saw it as his responsibility – and the responsibility of all young activists – to speak truth to power and to hold the party’s leadership to account. I can’t deny that he liked causing mischief, but he did it to keep the party honest. Perhaps his finest example was to challenge none other than Sir Menzies Campbell, whose local party had brought a motion calling for RAF bases to remain open. Robbie spoke boldly and passionately about the need to de-escalate conflict and questioned whether this was really the best use of defence spending at all in a post-Cold War era. As the media team remarked to journalists later, Robbie’s ‘pacifist views were well known within the party’.

Robbie was an incredibly smart man, though as Alistair Carmichael has said, he wore it very lightly. One member has commented how they noticed that although student activists often talked over each other in the conference bar, when Robbie spoke we all fell silent and hung on his every word. His was a wisdom to be cherished. He also had a great skill for understanding the party’s constitution, leading to many technical constitutional amendments and for psephology, as anyone who spent an election with him and his spreadsheets can attest to.

He had an extraordinarily wide knowledge of international affairs. In 2012 we both travelled together to Tbilisi, Georgia, to meet with youth activists from the Caucasus on an exchange. It sparked a love of travel that led him all over the world – from working for CERN in Geneva, to his holidays to Bosnia, Croatia, Georgia, Armenia and Uzbekistan. It also made him near enough an authority on many areas of international politics, particularly where this related to human rights. Some of you may remember our joint attempt to get lobbyists for the government of Azerbaijan removed from conference on these grounds. He was a long standing Amnesty member and passionately stood up for human rights and civil liberties at any opportunity.

I was lucky enough to be Robbie’s political partner in crime, particularly as students, and then later on pushing for change together within the party. Some of my fondest memories of him are of late nights of political plotting and scheming, laughing and drinking. Although he had stood as a candidate, and showed great insight, it was often doing this that he was happiest – creating change from behind the scenes.

Robbie is survived by his parents, Doreen and Robert. He leaves behind him an enormous network of friends who are the better for knowing him, and a significant legacy within the party. We can remember him best by doing what he did so well – being kind to our friends, and never being afraid to speak truth to power.

Anyone wishing to contact Robbie’s parents, or to be informed of funeral arrangements, should contact Sophie at sophie(dot)bridger1(at)gmail.com

* Sophie Bridger is a former by-election candidate and President of Liberal Youth Scotland. She was Scotland’s diversity champion and lives in Glasgow.

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