Willie MacRae death play comes to Biggar

Actor Andy Paterson as Willie MacRae  in his one-man play looking at the death of the activist.
Actor Andy Paterson as Willie MacRae in his one-man play looking at the death of the activist.

Playwright and actor Andy Paterson comes to Biggar Corn Exchange this Thursday, November 17, with his one-man play, 3000 Trees: The Death of Mr William MacRae.

The play was a sell-out at the 2014 Edinburgh Festival Fringe

The critically acclaimed performance tackles the death, in 1985, of SNP politician, lawyer and anti-nuclear campaigner Willie MacRae who was found dying in his car on a lonely highland road with a single gunshot wound to the head.

It was believed by many at the time that MacRae’s death, far from being a suicide, was murder.

If MacRae’s death was a suicide, the circumstances are bizarre to say the least. His car was found some distance from the road in what initially looked like a road traffic accident.

MacRae was unconscious, his hands folded in his lap and the gun he had been shot with was later found some 60ft from the car.

Documents and other items were missing from the car.

Theories abound. If MacRae shot himself – why pack a bag for a weekend at his holiday cottage, and why phone ahead to have the fire lit for his arrival? Those who saw him leave Glasgow on the weekend of his death describe his mood as upbeat – happy. Friends and colleagues find it difficult to believe that MacRae died by his own hand.

Andy Paterson’s one-man show sees MacRae himself reflect on the events leading up to his death. Was he under surveillance on the day he died? What happened to the dossier he was compiling on the Douneray nuclear plant?

MacRae had successfully led a legal challenge to stop nuclear waste being buried in the Ayrshire hills. A colourful and larger than life character, he had served in the Royal Indian Navy, was a gifted lawyer and stood for leadership of the SNP in 1979.

Dark rumours surround MacRae – whispers about alcoholism, depression and his private life. There were allegations of involvement in terrorism.

Paterson’s play takes a journey from MacRae’s service as an officer in the Royal Indian Navy (at one point as an aide de camp to the last Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten) where he was quietly marked out as ‘subversive’ for supporting Indian independence, through his anti-nuclear campaigning, his involvement with radical terrorist groups and on to his death.

Throughout this journey, the complex and sometimes troubled MacRae tells his own story.

‘I’ve been interested in the Willie MacRae case since I worked as a journalist in the 1990s’, says Andy Paterson, who these days is a full-time actor, producer and writer.

‘Nothing about the way Willie died adds up to his death being a suicide. There are many theories around as to who may have killed Willie – he was investigating the nuclear industry and NATO in Scotland, as well as the illegal drugs trade.

‘More recently it has come to light that Willie had compiled a dossier on senior paedophiles in the legal establishment and at Westminster. So far no copy of this has been found, but it was known to exist at the time of his death’.

Over the years there have been repeated calls for a formal inquiry into his death. Winnie Ewing conducted an investigation on behalf of the SNP, but found herself refused access to all the documents relating to the case. She concluded that she could say with any certainty that the prominent activist killed himself.

More than 30 years after his death, the story of Willie MacRae’s final days remains controversial. As the years have passed more evidence has come to light that points to this drama unfolding as a murder rather than a suicide.

Those who have tried to investigate or campaign have often been harassed - during an Edinburgh run of this show a death threat was made to the venue manager, warning that the play’s run should be cancelled.

Following on from its sold-out Fringe run in 2014, the play continues to tour.

‘This is a rolling tour’, says Andy, ‘With dates being added all the time.’

3000 Trees: The Death of Mr William MacRae is at Biggar Corn Exchange on Thursday at 7.30pm. There will be a Q&A session with Andy Paterson after the show where he will share some of his research into Willie MacRae’s death. Tickets are available on the door priced £12/10 or online at www.3000treesbiggar.brownpapertickets.com