Professor Ailsa McKay, Professor of Economics at the Glasgow School for Business and Society in Glasgow Caledonian University, passed away yesterday morning, officials at the university have confirmed.
Sources close to McKay said she had been battling cancer for over a year.
McKay was renowned as a leading feminist economist, and delivered a rousing speech at the Radical Independence Conference in Glasgow last year before a 1,000-strong audience of left-wing activists in the Marriott Hotel.
Since 2012, she had also been part of the Scottish Government’s 8-member Expert Working Group on Welfare and Constitutional Reform.
As a proponent of both Scottish independence and a citizens’ basic income – a proposed government policy guaranteeing a basic level of income for all in Scotland – she made an indelible mark on the Scottish political landscape.
McKay was also a Board Member of the left-wing Jimmy Reid Foundation.
She makes her final contribution to Scottish politics in a forthcoming Common Weal report on welfare, which Robin McAlpine describes as “one of the most important contributions to the welfare debate in Scotland [… which] represents exactly the caring, compassionate – and passionate – thinking that characterised Ailsa”.
First Minister Alex Salmond led tributes to McKay in the Scottish Parliament, describing her as “a leading voice in campaigning for gender equality”.
He told the chamber during First Minister’s Questions: “This week, as we look forward to International Women’s Day, above all I think it is important that we note her astonishing contribution as a feminist economist, both in arguing the case for women into work, and in being the principal author and arguer for many years for the transformation of childcare that will make that possible.”
Other admirers took to social media to praise McKay’s legacy.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “So sad to hear of the passing of Prof Ailsa McKay. An inspirational economist & feminist, she is a huge loss. My thoughts with her family.”
Christina McKelvie MSP wrote on Twitter: “Words cannot express the loss of such a fantastic woman.”
Mark McDonald MSP, who joined the Scottish Parliament last year, tweeted: “Have just learned of the passing of Prof Ailsa McKay. I attended an event she spoke at recently and thought she was just fantastic. Sad news”
Former MSP Carolyn Leckie described McKay as “a legend before her premature death”.
Professor Pamela Gillies, principal and vice-chancellor of Glasgow Caledonian University, wrote to staff earlier today: “I am deeply saddened to have to inform you that Professor Ailsa McKay passed away yesterday morning.”
In her message, published here in full, Gillies recalls first meeting McKay and asking “why she didn’t hold a Chair or prominent leadership role and she answered in her characteristically blunt and straightforward way that women were just not encouraged or supported to go for promotion”.
“She and I determined all this would change in the University and it did. Ailsa became a role model and a feisty one at that, and was justly proud of the part she played in shifting the University’s culture. Now a third of our professors are women. But, it was Ailsa’s contribution to changing government policy, especially in relation to women’s contribution to the nation’s finance and to childcare, that will forever be her most significant achievements in the public realm.
“In her far too early death, Scotland has lost an important force for good, the University has lost a greatly valued, committed and intellectually vibrant colleague and I have lost a dear friend.
“Professor Ailsa McKay will be missed by so many, but a scholarship founded in her name by the University she loved will inspire future generations of young, similarly feisty scholars to debate and to act for social change.”